Types of grief: The Many Variations of Emotional Response to Loss

Types of grief: The Many Variations of Emotional Response to Loss
5 minute read

Daniela Fortino

The Many Types of Grief and How They Manifest

Grief is an emotion we all experience in our lives, although it is often misunderstood. This is partly because grief is profoundly personal and something that everyone experiences differently. However, there are some commonalities in the ways people perceive and experience it. This article outlines some of the most common types of grief.

What is grief?

Many people associate grief with the death of a loved one. However, grief is not only connected to death. More broadly, it is a response to a loss, an end, or a change in what is familiar to something in life. Besides death, grief can be present at the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the onset of poor health, and other loss experiences. Grief can also be experienced in physical, spiritual, social, cultural, behavioral, and cognitive contexts.

Types of grief

Here are definitions of more than a dozen types of grief that people can encounter in their lives.

Normal grief or common grief

Although the term may suggest otherwise, there is no norm for how grief is experienced. Normal grief is simply an umbrella term for grief that follows a pattern that would be expected.

Generally speaking, normal or common grief is an emotion that is present but allows a person to continue life and move past the loss over time. Emotions and grief symptoms are likely more intense initially, but they gradually lessen over time as a person starts to accept a loss.

Anticipatory grief

As the name suggests, this is a type of grief that occurs before a loss. For example, anticipatory grief may arise when a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal disease. People begin the process by accepting and understanding that there will be a loss in the future. In the case of someone with a terminal illness, you know that they will die and begin grieving their death as their health deteriorates.

Anticipatory grief can be a complex emotion to navigate because you may feel guilty or conflicted for experiencing grief before the loss. In the case of a loved one, you may have mixed feelings about beginning the grieving process while they are still alive. For some, this grief may lessen the impact of the loss, but this is not always the case. However, it may help prepare for the loss and provide time to find closure.

Complicated grief

Complicated grief is a prolonged and challenging response that affects a smaller percentage of people. It is characterized by intense emotions that may hinder the ability to perform everyday tasks and prevent a person from moving on. For example, if a person always did their grocery shopping with the person they lost, they would avoid the task because it reminds them of their loss.

The individual experiencing this type of grief should seek support because they are at a greater risk of developing self-harm behaviours or mental illness.

Other types of grief that fall under the umbrella of complicated grief include:

  • Chronic grief. This grief is characterized by strong, prolonged feelings of hopelessness and avoidance of a loss that does not improve over time.
  • Delayed grief. This type of grief occurs or worsens long after the loss, often more so than when it initially occurred. For some people, this happens when they subconsciously suppress feelings to avoid coping with the loss. This can also happen when someone experiences multiple losses at one time.
  • Distorted grief. This is characterized by extreme or unusual reactions to loss. This can include intense feelings of guilt or anger, self-destructive behaviour, hostility towards others, and so on.

Cumulative grief

Cumulative grief occurs when a person experiences multiple losses within a short period of time. This type of grief can also be challenging to navigate because a person is often not given enough time to grieve each loss. As a result, grievers are more likely to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and numb.

Masked grief

Masked grief is when a person manifests symptoms, emotions, and behaviours that are out of character. They might experience headaches, heartburn, sleep deprivation, and other disorders. These may hinder their ability to function normally.

However, people experiencing this kind of grief cannot see the connection between the change in feelings and behaviours and the loss. This, too, may be more likely to occur when experiencing several losses during a short period of time.

Exaggerated grief

This type of grief is similar to complicated grief. It is characterized by extreme and intense emotions and reactions that can manifest in different ways. This can include things like self-destructive behaviours, substance abuse, nightmares, the development of mental illness, and more.

Disenfranchised grief

Disenfranchised grief happens when those around a person who is grieving invalidates their loss. This could be due to societal and cultural norms, age, significance, stigmatization, and more. An example of this would be the onset of grief with the death of a pet. Many, especially those that have not had pets of their own, may not view this as a significant death or understand why anyone would grieve this type of loss. When a person experiences this type of grief, they can find it difficult to process emotions because they feel misunderstood or unworthy of the grief. This can lead to the suppression of emotions.

Secondary loss

Secondary loss is when a loss impacts several areas of someone's life. It often leads to more loss stemming from the initial loss. For example, a person loses a spouse and experiences common grief. That results in the loss of a job because of extended absenteeism at work. The job loss causes unmanageable financial problems that result in a foreclosure of the griever's home. In this scenario, the individual would now grieve the loss of their job, house, and their loved one.

Inhibited grief

Like delayed grief, inhibited grief happens when a person avoids accepting the loss and focuses their attention on other things. The distraction helps them avoid feeling the pain of the loss. As a result, the individual typically shows minimal or no signs of grief for an extended period. However, if left untreated, it can lead to physical symptoms such as exhaustion, migraines, nausea, and more.

Absent grief

Absent grief is similar to inhibited and delayed grief. The griever avoids and suppresses their reactions to the loss. However, this is a more extreme version in that the individual resorts to severe levels of avoidance or denial. Grievers show absolutely no signs of grief and carry on their life like the loss did not occur.

Collective grief

This type of grief is experienced by a collective group, such as a community, city, or country. It results from an event that affects or impacts the collective group, such as war, natural disaster, or a terrorist attack.

Abbreviated grief

As the name suggests, this type of grief is short-lived. This happens because the loss is filled by something else, or there was little attachment to what was lost. This can also be part of the anticipatory grief process.