Understanding the realities of grief can help you process your own grief or support a grieving loved one.
Chances are good that you’ve either experienced grief firsthand, known someone going through it, or have seen media portrayals of it. And while you may think you know exactly what grief is, you should keep in mind that a lot of myths about grief get spread around as undeniable facts.
Grief is often not easy to go through or understand. However, understanding the grieving process may help you move through the process or support a loved one going through it.
Grief is your response to loss. While you may associate grief with the loss of a loved one due to death, you can experience it due to the loss of anything that holds meaning to you. You may experience grief due to:
- losing a job
- a breakup
- the death of a pet
- financial problems
- a life changing illness or injury
- the failure of an institution like a religious organization or government to fulfill its promises
Also, grief is more than emotional. You can also experience physical, mental, and behavioral changes.
Certain factors can also influence a person’s experience with grief. Your religion, cultural background, family, and
Grief tends to be a layered experience and everyone’s response to grief will likely be different. Because it is so personal and complicated by so many factors, it can be hard to understand.
It can be difficult to talk about as well. When people aren’t open about grief and how it makes them feel, grief can become this mysterious entity to others. The discomfort and closed nature around grieving can lead to misunderstandings like why grief is making you feel or act a certain way.
Learning about some common myths surrounding grief may help you manage your own grief or console a grieving loved one.
Time heals all wounds
Chances are good, you’ve heard the expression that “time heals all wounds.” But this isn’t entirely true. Time isn’t magic.
While time doesn’t necessarily make grief disappear, it can change it. It can give you a chance to work through some of the shock and sadness and move toward acceptance.
A 2008 study found, for instance, that the predominant emotions after loss change with time. While in the beginning a person may largely experience disbelief, anger, and sadness, over time, the dominant emotion tends to be yearning.
The grieving process timeline varies for each person, but research suggests that the majority of people will have reached acceptance after a few years. Research from 2017 studying grief among the elderly, for instance, found that approximately 75% had completed their grieving process within the 6-year timeframe of the study.
Time, therefore, doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, but it should help reduce your emotional pain. If your pain isn’t subsiding, you may be experiencing complicated grief and might want to consider professional help.
Avoiding pain can help you move on
Ignoring your feelings surrounding grief won’t make it go away, just as ignoring a toothache won’t fix your tooth. In fact, it can affect your long-term health.
A 2013 study found that emotion suppression — when you intentionally avoid distressing feelings — may increase your risk of an earlier death, including your risk of passing away from cancer.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your grief, it’s likely best to speak with a professional instead of bottling everything up inside. Discussing your grief may initially feel more painful than trying to avoid it, but this is ultimately what will help you heal.
The five stages of grief are linear
The five stages of grief is a theory that Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed several decades ago. The five stages include:
These five stages were initially seen as a source of truth for understanding grief, but now grief is considered a little more complex than what the five stages of grief presents.
The main myth the five stages of grief created was the idea that grieving is a linear process. In reality, people move in and out of different emotions at all different stages of the grieving process.
For instance, simply because you went a few weeks feeling angry about your loss and now you’re feeling hopeless about the future, doesn’t mean something won’t spark your anger again.
In fact, some days you may feel completely fine and feel as though you have fully accepted your loss and other days you may feel like you haven’t made any progress at all. This is all common and completely okay. You are healing more than you realize, even if some days it doesn’t feel like it.
Put simply, the grieving process is unpredictable.
Crying makes grief worse
If you feel comfortable, allowing yourself to cry when you feel the need to can feel quite cleansing. According to a
A 2015 study noted, however, that it may take some time for the effects of crying to lead to a more positive mood. The study revealed that while crying may lead to an initial deterioration of mood, it tends to increase overall mood after an hour or 2.
When and where you cry is completely up to you. While for some people, crying around others is preferable so you can be comforted, for others, crying may be a more private experience. Both are completely okay and natural.
You have to be strong to not bring others down
You may feel like you don’t want to burden a loved one or friend by sharing your pain, but the people in your life who love you will want to be there to support you. In fact, by sharing and opening up, you are creating an opportunity for connection. You don’t have to tough it out alone.
What sharing your pain looks like, varies for everyone. This can mean:
- crying in front of loved ones
- talking about emotions
- asking for a hug
- discussing meaningful memories
Depression and grief are the same thing
Depression shares some common elements of grief. And it can be hard for you to tell the difference between the two. In fact, you can experience them both at the same time, as grief sometimes triggers depression.
But they’re not the same condition and often need different treatments. One way to tell the difference is that you will likely not experience feelings of worthlessness or self-loathing with grief. You may have some symptoms of depression, however, such as withdrawing from social situations or changing sleeping patterns or appetite.
It’s helpful to remember, grief and grieving is a complex emotion. You may feel overwhelmed with emotions, experience physical pain, or have trouble completing everyday tasks for a while. You can also move through stages of grief quickly, slowly, or not really much at all.
Although each person’s grieving experience is unique, there are some tips on grief you may want to keep in mind:
- Moving through stages of grief tends not to be linear.
- Anyone, at any age, can experience grief.
- It can be harmful to conceal or suppress your feelings.
- Grief does not just occur due to death. You can grieve the loss of a friend, job, relationship, or any number of things that held significance in your life.
- You are not alone. Help is always available, whether it’s from a mental health professional, a friend, or a family member.
Grieving is a complicated, emotional, physical, and mental process. Though nearly everyone knows about grief, it is very easy to develop misconceptions about what grief is, how it works, and how to manage it. This is because grief affects each person a little differently.
However, no matter how grief is impacting you, leaning on others for support tends to help. You can reach out to friends or family, or you can look for help from counselors, psychologists, or other professionals. You may also want to consider connecting with other grieving people in a support group, either online or in person.
If you have trouble finding a local provider, you could check a resource like Griefshare.org, which can connect you to local support. You can also ask your primary care provider for recommendations.
What’s key to remember is that no matter how you decide to grieve, it’s more than okay and you’re not alone.