What Exactly Is Complicated Grief?

Creative Arts Therapy Source | New York and New Jersey_Creative Arts Therapy Source | New York and New Jersey

Grief is a universal, unavoidable human experience. Complicated grief, as the name implies, is a far more severe version of loss and bereavement. It’s difficult to accurately quantify its reach but experts believe about 10 percent of those who are mourning will experience complicated grief. The official name is “Prolonged Grief Disorder.” Again, the name does a good job of describing the condition.

We’ll detail the most common symptoms below. For now, complicated grief is more extreme than typical grief. The person feels preoccupied with the loss — as if a part of them has died, too. Generally speaking, complicated grief does not go unnoticed by the people in the mourning person’s life.

The Primary Criteria of Prolonged Grief Disorder

  1. The death of someone close to the bereaved took place at least 12 months ago. For children, the time period is six months
  2. For the entire time since the loss occurred, the person longs for the deceased loved one. This yearning extends to the point of obsession.
  3. At least 3 of the following 8 symptoms must be present every day for at least one month:
  • Disbelief or denial about the death
  • Feeling as if a part of you has also died
  • Extreme emotions — anger, sadness, bitterness, and more
  • Avoiding any and all reminders of the death
  • Emotional numbness
  • Unable to reenter into typical daily life
  • Seeing life as meaningless
  • Intense, chronic loneliness
  1. The loss results in an inability to perform daily functions as they pertain to social life, work, hygiene, and more.
  2. The length of severe bereavement time far exceeds any expectation of “typical.”
  3. Grief symptoms cannot be better explained by another mental or physical cause.

Common Symptoms of Complicated Grief

Some of these symptoms are touched on above but let’s present a more complete list.

  • A state of mourning that is more typical immediately after the death occurs
  • Cannot accept the death to the point of avoiding any and all reminders OR non-stop rumination on the loss, seeking as many reminders of the deceased as possible
  • Unable to trust others
  • Feeling numb, detaching from friends and family
  • No longer enjoy activities that once gave you pleasure (including sex)
  • Bitterness, anger, resentment
  • Blaming yourself or believing you didn’t do enough to prevent the death
  • Difficulty keeping up with normal routines
  • Feeling life has lost its purpose and is no longer worth living

For children, you can add:

  • Waiting for the deceased person to return
  • Fearing others will die soon, too
  • Extreme moods
  • Going back to the place where they last saw the deceased

Risk Factors for Prolonged Grief Disorder

  • A history of substance abuse, mood disorders, or anxiety disorders
  • Traumatic childhood
  • Lack of a support system
  • Ongoing conflicts with others connected to the deceased
  • Enduring multiple losses in a short time period
  • Experiencing financial and/or physical crises in the midst of your bereavement

Do You Think You or Someone You Know is Dealing With Complicated Grief?

Despite the long lists and details above, there are some factors to consider. Firstly, each person expresses their emotions in a very unique way. In addition, how people grieve can very much be impacted by cultural differences and/or the environment in which they were raised. This is why it’s critical that you speak to someone with experience in this area.

Complicated grief can be addressed, managed, and resolved. This process is best attempted with the guidance of a therapist. Your weekly sessions will be a safe space to work through the hows and whys of what you are feeling. You can thrive again while maintaining love and respect for the deceased through grief counseling. I would love to help you along that path. Let’s talk soon.

Creative Arts Therapy Source offers in-person therapy on Long Island. Online therapy is available across New York & New Jersey.