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10 Types of Grief Explained

10 Types of Grief Explained

Two people hugging to show support for each other during grief.

Grief is a powerful, multifaceted emotional response to loss. And although grieving affects virtually everyone at some point, it can show up differently for every person and situation. Understanding its variations is not only crucial for those navigating their own sorrow but also for friends and family striving to provide support.

There are many different forms of grief. Some of the most common types include:

  1. Normal grief
  2. Anticipatory grief
  3. Complicated grief
  4. Disenfranchised grief
  5. Collective grief
  6. Ambiguous grief
  7. Absent grief
  8. Secondary grief
  9. Cumulative grief
  10. Traumatic grief

Whether you are grieving personally or aiding someone in their grief journey, recognizing these forms can help navigate the healing process.

Understanding Grief

Grief is a deeply personal experience. It can stem from the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, or major life changes. As people grieve, they navigate a rollercoaster of emotions, from sadness and anger to confusion and even relief. Grief is a natural response to loss, and while the way it manifests can vary, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. 

Grief can cause deep emotional pain and even lead to depression. If you or someone you know is struggling with grief, reaching out for help can make a world of difference. Distress Centre is here to offer support when you need it through crisis counselling. Distress Centre provides a safe space for individuals to talk about their feelings and receive guidance during difficult times. 

1. Normal Grief

Grief shows up in various ways, and there’s no one “normal” type. However, what’s often seen as normal or uncomplicated grief is an expected response to a significant loss, typically characterized by stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages are non-linear and you may go back and forth between stages throughout the grieving process. These feelings ebb and flow naturally, leading to eventual reconciliation with the loss, though the grief often never ends fully.

2. Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is a term used to describe the mix of emotions experienced when someone is anticipating the loss of a loved one. It’s a unique form of grief that begins before the actual loss occurs. 

This type of grief can be particularly challenging, as individuals may find themselves navigating feelings of sadness, anxiety, and even relief simultaneously. The emotional ups and downs of anticipatory grief are completely normal, and it’s essential to recognize and validate these complex emotions. 

It’s okay to seek support and acknowledge that this process is part of the journey toward eventual healing and acceptance.

3. Complicated Grief

When grief becomes consuming and hinders a person’s ability to function, it morphs into complicated grief. Complicated grief goes beyond the “normal” grieving process. It involves a prolonged and intensified state of mourning, often accompanied by an inability to accept the loss. 

Individuals experiencing complicated grief may find themselves in a cycle of intense longing and emotional pain, with feelings of emptiness and disbelief lingering for an extended period. Long-lasting and intense, this type of grief may require professional intervention, like grief therapy or support groups, to manage its overwhelming nature.

4. Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief is a term used to describe the experience of losing someone or something that is not openly acknowledged or socially validated. 

This type of grief can stem from various situations, such as the loss of a pet, the end of a non-traditional relationship, or the death of someone society may deem as less significant. The unique aspect of disenfranchised grief is that the bereaved individuals may feel unsupported or misunderstood in their mourning process due to the lack of recognition from others.

5. Collective Grief

This collective sorrow is experienced by a community following significant tragedies, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Participating in memorials or community services can be cathartic for those sharing this communal heartache.

A woman sitting at a dining table with her head in her hands because she is experiencing grief.

6. Ambiguous Grief

Ambiguous grief or loss surfaces from situations without closure, for example, when a loved one goes missing. Uncertainty fuels this type of sorrow. Counselling and finding support from others in similar predicaments can assist in coping with this indeterminate form of grief.

7. Absent Grief

Absent grief is a form of complicated grief that refers to not feeling the expected emotions of grief after a loss. In some cases, individuals may feel numb, disconnected, or even relieved after a loss, which can be confusing or distressing for them and those around them. 

It’s essential to recognize that absent grief does not mean the absence of love or the lack of significance of the lost relationship. Each person’s emotional response to loss is unique, and there is a wide spectrum of responses to grief. 

Compassion, patience, and self-care are crucial during this time, and seeking professional help from a therapist or counsellor can also provide valuable support.

8. Secondary Grief

Secondary grief springs from the ripple effects of a primary loss, encompassing the subsequent losses that unfold. Such could be the loss of identity, the loss of friends, or the loss of financial stability. Recognizing these secondary losses as legitimate forms of grief is crucial for holistic healing.

9. Cumulative Grief

When losses pile up before one has the opportunity to resolve each individually, it leads to cumulative or compounded grief. The compounded effect can be overwhelming, and taking time to grieve each loss separately is often necessary.

10. Traumatic Grief

Traumatic grief follows losses that are sudden, unexpected, or violent. Symptoms may overlap with post-traumatic stress disorder, necessitating therapeutic interventions to navigate complex emotional scars.

Dealing with Grief

Each grief tapestry is unique. In forging paths toward healing and comfort, it’s vital to acknowledge and validate grief in its many manifestations. For those offering a shoulder, understanding these varieties equips you to provide more empathetic support. Remember, grief’s journey isn’t to be travelled alone—seeking help is both a courageous and crucial step in the healing process.

If you’re dealing with grief or wondering how you can help a friend or loved one who is grieving, Distress Centre is here to support you. Reach out to us to learn how we can help and gain access to resources and a community ready to help.

In the spirit of respect, reciprocity and truth, Distress Centre Calgary would like to honour and acknowledge Moh’kinsstis, and the traditional Treaty 7 territory and oral practices of the Blackfoot confederacy: Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, as well as the Îyâxe Nakoda and Tsuut’ina nations. We acknowledge that this territory is home to the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3 within the historical Northwest Métis homeland. Finally, we acknowledge all Nations – Indigenous and non – who live, work and play on this land, and who honour and celebrate this territory.