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6 Unexpected Things You Might Not Know About Grief


1. There Are Five Stages

Mourning follows five stages. Since grief is different for everyone, some people can skip a step or experience them in a different order. But generally speaking, the first stage is denial (this offers unrealistic hope but hope nevertheless), followed by anger when the reality hits. Wondering what they could have done differently and depression are the next steps and then the process culminates in acceptance.

These steps offer a healthy way to overcome grief - but only when they lead to acceptance. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Should something interfere with the steps, it can prevent proper grieving. At other times, people simply cannot accept the loss.

2. Grief Can Cause Mental Illness

Grief does not always dissolve into acceptance. It can fester and turn into mental illness. That emotionally healthy people can hit rock bottom and never get up (mentally speaking), remains a controversial debate. But at least one Australian university has found evidence that supports the transition from grief to mental illness.

The heartbreaking feelings that follow loss are considered normal. But there comes a point when the bereaved moves on. The 2008 study estimated that as many as 15 percent of people cannot move on. Their endless pain spirals into self-harm, addiction, depression, and withdrawing from society.

Sadly, loss-induced mental illness rarely responds to traditional grief counselling. Some professionals feel that the phenomenon should be classified as a psychiatric disorder. If this suggestion is approved by the medical field, the condition will be called Prolonged Grief Disorder.

3. College Grief Is Real

Something surprising is often behind the decision to drop out of college. “College grief” hits most new arrivals on campus. Some get over it quickly. The unlucky ones feel the symptoms so acutely that they throw in the towel.

College grief is triggered by endings. Leaving home. Saying goodbye to the parents and younger siblings. Moving out of state or going overseas. The environment and people are unfamiliar. Sometimes a fresh start is a little too fresh. Homesickness kicks in and after months of failing to adjust, the need to return to the life they knew becomes overwhelming.

Most students are groomed from a young age to believe that everybody is happy when they go to college. When they arrive and mourn old times (which is a healthy form of closure), freshmen often feel that they are different or “wrong” for college. As a result, college grief contributes to their decision to go home.

College grief prevents many young people from following their dreams.

College grief prevents many young people from following their dreams.

4. A Friend’s Death Equals The Loss Of Family

A death in the family is still viewed as the “primary” grief to which no other heartache can compare. For this reason, too many people mourn a friend without the same social support. For instance, being allowed to go on compassionate leave because a friend died is unheard of in the workplace.

In 2019, scientists proved that the death of a friend is not a trivial loss. The pain and disruption equalled the loss of family. The painful fact was revealed after the researchers interviewed 26,000 Australians (of which 9,500 had lost a close companion).

The bereaved’s life quality dropped sharply, sometimes for as long as two years. The most frightening discovery concerned their health. The grieving group was plagued by poor health that lasted, on average, for as long as four years after losing a friend. The non-grieving group also fared better socially and mentally.

5. Narcissists Keep People From Grieving

Narcissists want everything to be about them. Even when their spouse, family member or a friend is grieving.

Normally, the bereaved become the focus of a social support group - but for a narcissist any focus on another person is unacceptable. A narcissist might find ways to turn the attention back on themselves. For instance, if their spouse lost a parent, the narcissist forces their partner to take care of them by pretending to be ill. Or when friends offer sympathy to the spouse, the narcissist only talks about how he or she suffered the loss (and therefore needs to be the centre of support).

This type of behaviour is detrimental to anyone who is trying to process their loss. Grieving is an instrumental part of recovery but when the narcissist in their life keeps interfering, the bereaved person is thrown into a painful limbo that often lasts for decades.

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Couples who share a long and loving history are most at risk of the Widowhood Effect.

Couples who share a long and loving history are most at risk of the Widowhood Effect.

6. The Widowhood Effect

“She died from a broken heart” is a well-known saying. Romantic prose aside, grief can kill you - and not because you refused to eat. In 2018, researchers discovered that bereavement can threaten one’s health.

This is called the “Widowhood Effect.” The name highlights an unfortunate fact. Couples are more at risk to develop this condition. Why? Inflammation. The harder the loss, the more inflammation flares inside the body. This sounds tame but inflammation is behind many deadly conditions. Couples are more at risk because losing a beloved spouse is one of the most traumatic events in life.

The Widowhood Effect slams the bereaved with a higher risk of having strokes, heart attacks and premature death. At the end of the day, it shows that grief is not just an emotional trial but a potentially physically dangerous one as well.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Jana Louise Smit


Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on December 23, 2020:

Hi MG. Yes, the mind is so complex. I think it will take a long time before we discover everything about it, especially when it comes to emotions like grief.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 23, 2020:

This is a very interesting article and I learned a lot about aspects of grief. Never realized it.

SP Greaney from Ireland on December 23, 2020:

A few of these I had never heard of. I definitely think different types of grief impacts us all differently. I have heard of this one before "she died from a broken heart” but I never knew it was called The Widowhood Effect.

Carolyn Fields from South Dakota, USA on December 21, 2020:

You bring up some excellent points in your article. Thank you for writing this.

Personally, I have experienced many different kinds of grief - from a beloved pet, to my husband. Each is different. It is important to process the loss, and learn how to live in the "new normal."

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 21, 2020:

Some of these effects of grief I knew, and others I had never thought about. Number 3 was a surprise.

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