Why the Grieving Process Isn't the Same for Everyone

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We grieve when we lose someone or something that is important to us in some way. Grief and mourning are normal human reactions to loss. Grieving can affect the way we feel, think, act, and behave.

It’s important to note that everyone grieves differently and there’s no right or wrong way to mourn. Several factors can play a role in the grieving process.

This article explores some of the different reactions to grief, factors that can affect how we grieve, and some coping strategies that may be helpful.

Common Causes of Grief

The grieving process varies based on the person and several other factors, says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University. Below, she outlines some of the factors that can affect how people grieve.

Causational Factors

These are some of the potential causes of grief:

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Loss of a friendship or relationship
  • Loss of a job, business, or income
  • Loss of control
  • Loss of independence
  • Loss of a physical ability
  • Loss of social support
  • Loss of a home
  • Loss of rights
  • Loss of identity
  • Traumatic events or disasters
  • Changes to daily life

The cause of the loss has important implications on the grief process, says Dr. Romanoff. For instance, she explains that losing a loved one to natural causes might elicit different reactions than a loss caused by a crime or injustice.

Situational Factors

Dealing with an unexpected loss all at once can be very difficult. Examples of an unexpected loss include losing someone to a tragic accident or losing your home to a natural disaster. Someone who is experiencing an unexpected loss may have trouble accepting it and be in denial. They may also feel angry rather than sad, especially initially.

On the other hand, if a person had advanced warning about the impending loss they might experience anticipatory grief, which allows them to let go of the relationship through a gradual transitional period. Examples include losing an elderly parent who hadn’t been keeping well, or being diagnosed with early-stage cancer.

Personal Factors

Personal factors can also play a role in the grieving process. These are some of the factors that may affect how someone grieves:

  • The person’s resilience levels
  • The person’s ability to manage and regulate emotions
  • The scale and importance of the loss to the person’s life 
  • The support they have among friends, family members, colleagues, and the community

For instance, someone who has trouble dealing with stressors or doesn’t have the support of loved ones may take the loss much harder and have difficulty coping with it.

Cultural Factors

Cultural factors can also play a role in the way we grieve. For instance, in some cultures, grief is considered a private affair that is expressed quietly; whereas in others, it is discussed with others and shared more openly.

Different cultures also have different rules, rituals, traditions, and celebrations around the grieving process.

Different Reactions to Grief

These are some of the different reactions people may experience while grieving, according to Dr. Romanoff:

  • Feeling shocked or numb
  • Feeling distressed or anxious
  • Feeling sad and overwhelmed
  • Feeling angry or hostile
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed
  • Feeling abandoned or lonely
  • Being preoccupied with the loss and thinking about it repeatedly
  • Wishing for a different outcome or wondering what they could have done differently
  • Experiencing changes in sleep, appetite, weight, and energy levels
  • Experiencing changes to daily patterns and routines
  • Using substances such as alcohol, nicotine, or drugs
  • Engaging in risky or unsafe behaviors

People may experience a few of these reactions or many of them. Their reactions may vary in duration and intensity. They may even go back and forth between different emotional reactions.

Various situations can also trigger emotional reactions. For instance, it's common for someone who has lost a loved one to miss them around the holidays and feel sad and lonely.

After experiencing these reactions to grief, most people eventually reach a stage of acceptance. This doesn’t mean that people are fine with the loss or happy about it; however, it means that they have processed the emotions related to the loss and come to terms with their new reality.

Coping With Grief

Dr. Romanoff shares some strategies that can help you cope with grief:

  • Perform a ritual: Rituals can be a constructive way to express your grief. You can perform a ceremony, hold a gathering, give a speech, make a book of memories, plant a tree in remembrance, or perform any other gesture that honors your loss and is meaningful to you.
  • Don’t suppress your emotions: Don’t try to avoid or suppress your pain. Allow yourself to experience all the emotions that arise from the loss and let these reactions unfold naturally. Holding them back can cause them to manifest in other, less healthy ways.
  • Find outlets for your emotions: When you’re dealing with a lot of emotions, it can be helpful to find ways to expend them. For instance, some people get into physical exercise, whereas others get into painting, singing, playing an instrument, drawing, cooking, gardening, or other new hobbies. 
  • Seek support: Create a network filled with people you can go to for support or to share your feelings. You may find support among friends, family members, or colleagues. You can even seek out a support group, where you can share your feelings with others who have had similar experiences. They can be a source of advice and inspiration.
  • Give it time: Be patient with yourself. Grief looks different for each individual person and situation. Allow your own reactions to unfold naturally and don’t judge yourself if you don’t feel like you’re healing as quickly as you expected to. Avoid thinking things like “I shouldn’t be feeling this way right now.”
  • Get help if you need it: If you feel like your grief is overwhelming you and you’re unable to cope, seek help from a mental healthcare provider such as a grief counselor, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist. They can help you explore your emotions and develop coping skills to manage them.

It’s important to remember that everyone copes with grief differently. While one person may prefer talking to others about their loss, another may prefer writing their feelings in a journal. Physical activity may help some people feel better, whereas for others, creative outlets may be more helpful.

A Word From Verywell

The grieving process can be painful and difficult. However, it’s important to let yourself grieve in your own way and time. Accept all the emotions you experience and work on finding coping methods that work for you.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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