Different Types of Grief

Published May 5, 2020
Senior woman in despair

Being aware of and understanding the different types of grief there are can help you better identify what you or a loved one are experiencing. Being able to put words to what type of loss you have gone through can feel empowering and assist you in finding appropriate resources.

What Is Grief?

When the term grief comes up, some people will automatically think of typical or common grief. The reality is that grief is a unique experience that will vary based on the person and situation and there really isn't a "common" type of grief. Grieving is a process that each individual will experience and process differently based on personal and situational factors. Grief can last for weeks, months, or years, depending on the individual and the circumstances surrounding their loss.

Lesser Known Types of Grief

There are many types of loss that can lead to unique grieving processes that some individuals may be unaware of. Some include:

  • Complicated grief can occur if you experience prolonged, debilitating symptoms of grief after a loss. This can be impacted by the type of loss you experience, your level of support, and your natural personality factors.
  • Dysfunctional grief, otherwise known as persistent complex bereavement disorder, may be diagnosed by a mental health professional if you or a loved one experiences intense, persistent symptoms of grief for at least 12 months that severely impact your ability to function in your everyday life.
  • Traumatic grief can occur if the loss of your loved one feels traumatizing to you. Often those who experience traumatic loss have loved ones who passed away suddenly, violently, or due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Ambiguous grief can occur if you lose a loved one in a way that leaves you with limited or no answers and results in you having no closure. Examples may include having a child kidnapped, and if your loved one's body hasn't been found during wartime or a natural disaster.
  • Disenfranchised grief is grieving the loss of an individual or notion that isn't culturally or societally recognized. Examples of this may include mourning the loss of an abusive partner, grieving after a miscarriage, and mourning after deportation.
  • Inhibited or masked grief may look like someone who isn't outwardly grieving the way others would expect after a loss. Their symptoms of grief may come out in physical symptoms like gastrointestinal issues, headaches, and body tenseness.
  • Absent grief occurs when an individual carries on without showing any visible signs of grief. They may experience physical expressions of grief without being aware of their cause.
  • Environmental grief is grieving the loss of a meaningful environment or habitat. Environmental anxiety can prelude and accompany this type of grief.

Situation/Expectation Related Grief

Situations and expectations can lead to different types of grief. Some include:

  • Pandemic related grief can occur when you experience a loss due to a pandemic, during a pandemic, and/or grieve the loss of your normalcy after learning about a pandemic.
  • Collective grief is grief that takes place after a group loss. This can be due to war, a pandemic, mass shooting, and natural disasters.
  • Divorce grief can occur if you experience grief related symptoms during the process of and post divorce. You may grieve the loss of what your relationship used to be and feel uncertain regarding your future.
  • Diagnostic grief can occur if you or a loved one learns about a diagnosis that will forever change your/their life. Examples of diagnoses that may spark this type of grief include chronic illnesses, developmental disorders, as well as terminal illnesses.
  • Loss of self can spark the grieving process if you feel like part or all of yourself is no longer present anymore. You may miss aspects of yourself and your life and grieve their non-existence.
  • Loss of agency can trigger the grieving process. Examples of loss of agency include experiencing an accident that changes your physical and/or mental functioning, as well as going through the aging process and no longer being able to do everything you used to be able to.
Divorce grief

Intimate Loss

Losing a loved one can lead to intense feelings of pain. This type of loss can feel very difficult to reconcile. Some types of intimate loss include:

  • Grief due to the loss of a child can feel beyond excruciating to process. This type of loss may shake you to your core and can take a long time to work through.
  • Partner related grief occurs when you lose a spouse or partner. This can bring up intense feelings of sadness, numbness, and anxiety among other feelings. Losing someone who you've built a life with can take some time to process and adjust to.
  • Pet grief can occur after losing a beloved pet. This type of loss may also be considered disenfranchised if you don't have others who view this loss as legitimate. This can make this process feel even more painful.
  • Familial grief can occur if you lose someone in your family like a sibling or parent. This type of loss can completely shift your family dynamic, regardless of what age you are when they pass away.

Child and Teen Grief

Children and teens may experience grief differently than adults do. Although some symptoms of grief may overlap, children and teens experience grief in their own unique way.

  • Teen grief can look different from adult and child grief. Teens are stuck in between being adults and children and may have a hard time knowing how to appropriately behave, as well as what's expected of them during this time. They may experience more emotional outbursts that appear to come out of the blue, have decreased self-esteem, and have trouble focusing.
  • Child grief encompasses how a child experiences the grieving process. Depending on age and maturity, they may express symptoms of grief differently, and may have a difficult time understanding their emotional process.

Timing Related Grief

Some types of grief are impacted by timing. Grief related symptoms can show up before someone passes away, or long after they are gone for various reasons. These types of grief are known as:

  • Delayed grief is when you experience symptoms of grief months to years after the loss of a loved one. Delayed grief may occur as your brain's way of protecting you after experiencing a painful loss. For many, this type of grief may appear out of the blue, and you may not understand why you suddenly feel differently.
  • Anticipatory grief can occur if you or a loved one is diagnosed with something that could lead to passing away. Anticipatory grief may occur as a way for you to begin preparing yourself for this impending death.
Man drinking whiskey

Resources for Those Grieving

As you move through the grieving process, it's important to find appropriate resources that can provide you with support during this time. Because grief is unique to every individual you may want to consider trying out a few coping interventions to see which ones work best for you. The stage of grief you are experiencing may also impact what feels best to you. If you are having difficulty with acts of daily living, or are having thoughts or harming yourself or others, it's critical to reach out for help immediately. Your safety is of the utmost importance.

Why Understanding Types of Grief Is Important

Grief, no matter which type you are experiencing, is always a complex process that each person will work through differently. Finding appropriate resources during this difficult time may help you feel more supported as you move through this painful process.

Different Types of Grief