Types of Grief

Reaction to loss is complex and diverse. Professionals in the field of counseling have identified some helpful categories for grief trends that have been commonly observed. These are helpful when thinking about the various ways loss is handled in our lives. The following summaries are borrowed from the website What’s Your Grief.

Anticipatory Grief

As its name suggests, ‘Anticipatory Grief’ is the reaction to a death you were able to anticipate such as when an individual dies from a long term illness. As soon as you accept and understand someone you love is going to die, you begin grieving.

Complicated Grief

Refers to grief reactions and feelings of loss that are debilitating, long lasting, and/or impair your ability to engage in daily activities. Other types of grief such as ‘Chronic Grief’, ‘Delayed Grief’, and ‘Distorted Grief’ all fall under the blanket of ‘Complicated Grief’.

Chronic Grief

Strong grief reactions that do not subside and last over a long period of time. Continually experiencing extreme distress over the loss with no progress towards feeling better or improving functioning.

Delayed Grief

When grief symptoms and reactions aren’t experienced until long after a persons death or a much later time than is typical. The griever, who consciously or subconsciously avoids the reality and pain of the loss, suppresses these reactions.

Distorted Grief

Extreme, intense, or atypical reactions to a loss – odd changes in behavior and self-destructive actions. Anger and hostility towards oneself or others are common.

Cumulative Grief

When one experiences a second loss while still grieving a first loss.  This is also referred to as “bereavement overload” or “grief overload”.

Prolonged Grief 

(Similar to ‘Chronic Grief’) Grief reactions that are prolonged and intense. The griever is incapacitated by grief and daily function is impaired on a long-term basis. The griever spends much time contemplating the death, longing for reunion, and is unable to adjust to life without the individual.

Exaggerated Grief

An overwhelming intensification of normal grief reactions that may worsen over time. Characterized by extreme and excessive grief reactions possibly to include nightmares, self-destructive behaviors, drug abuse, thoughts of suicide, abnormal fears, and the development or emergence of psychiatric disorders.

Secondary Loss

When a loss impacts many areas of one’s life, creating multiple losses stemming from the “primary loss”.  Though it is easy to think our grief is solely the grief of losing the person who died, our grief is also the pain of the other losses caused as a result of this death.

Masked Grief

Grief reactions that impair normal functioning however the individual is unable to recognize these symptoms and behaviors are related to the loss. Symptoms are often masked as either physical symptoms or other maladaptive behaviors.

Disenfranchised Grief

One’s grief is ‘disenfranchised’ when their culture, society, or support group, make them feel their loss and/or grief is invalidated and insignificant. This can occur when the death is stigmatized (suicide, overdose, HIV/AIDS, drunk driving), the relationship is seen as insignificant (ex-spouse, co-worker, miscarriage, pet), the relationship is stigmatized by society (same-sex partner, gang member, partner from an extramarital affair), the loss is not a death (Dementia, Traumatic Brain Injury, Mental Illness, Substance Abuse).

Traumatic Grief 

Normal grief responses experienced in combination with traumatic distress suffered as a result of a loved one dying in a way perceived to be frightening, horrifying, unexpected, violent and/or traumatic. Distress is extreme enough to impair daily functioning.

Collective Grief

Grief felt by a collective group such as a community, society, village, or nation as a result of an event such as a war, natural disaster, terrorist attack, death of a public figure, or any other event leading to mass casualties or national tragedy.

Ambiguous Loss

Losses that lack clarity and can lead to different views of who or what has been lost. Individuals and those around them may question whether a loss has occurred or if this is a loss that should validate deep emotional responses (such as with disenfranchised deaths).

Inhibited Grief 

Occurs when an individual shows no outward signs of grief for an extended period of time. The individual inhibits their grief, eventually leading to physical manifestations and somatic complaints.

Abbreviated Grief 

A short-lived grief response. The grieving process often seems shorter because the role of the deceased is immediately filled by someone/something else*, because there was little attachment to the deceased, and/or the individual is able to accept and integrate the loss quickly due to ‘Anticipatory Grief’.

Absent Grief

This is when the bereaved shows absolutely no signs of grief and acts as though nothing has happened. Characterized by complete shock or denial, especially in the face of a sudden loss. This becomes concerning when it goes on for an extended period of time. This does not account for differences in how we grieve and it’s important to note that just because you can’t tell someone is grieving doesn’t mean they aren’t.


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