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Overcoming Complicated Grief

Updated: May 19, 2021

Sometimes when we lose someone, whether by ending a toxic relationship, or when they die without a chance to remedy unresolved conflicts or betrayals, the process of grief can be complicated. We may feel abandoned all over again, angry that we could not get the justice or the closure that we deserved, or confused by our feelings of profound sadness and isolation. As we are approached with condolences and hear the kind words often spoken about those who have passed, we can also feel unheard, invisible, or misunderstood, as if the person they are describing could never have caused us harm. This can bring on guilt and shame for not being able to celebrate the good things about the person as much as others, remembering the deceased with bitterness revival and continued yearnings for the intimacy that could not be achieved without trust. When the loss was accompanied by a traumatic scene, we may not only experience profound loss, but may be distressed by reliving the experience in our bodies and minds, exhausted by what our neurological system responded to as an existential threat.

When complicated grief hits us, it is first important to step away from ourselves a bit, and simply take note of our thoughts and behaviors. This sort of intellectualizing, though leaving us stuck with our emotions in the long run, can help us gain and maintain the ability to choose when and where we weep, scream, or yell- expressing emotions that are perfectly natural in this situation, yet often discouraged. Just as we care for a deep flesh wound by debriding and packing and covering it with treated materials, emotional wounds require thoughtful care.

Despite being a rather normal emotional response, most complicated grief requires both trauma informed and grief therapy. We need to unpack and disarm the psychological weapons that we use against ourselves, revealed through an analysis of self-talk and unhealthy habits or interpersonal tensions. Once we do engage in therapy, the weight of complicated grief is lifted, resulting in a surge of energy, focus, and empowerment to turn our tragedies into triumphs.

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