How Grief Goes Wrong

Listen to this obituary

There are several reasons to get a blank piece of paper and outline one’s complicated grief reactions.

  1. Chronic grief reactions are excessive in duration and never come to a satisfactory conclusion. Anniversary reactions are common ten years and longer though they themselves do not always indicate chronic complicated grief. Perhaps they just indicate a good mind for dates and times.

The treatment for chronic grief may involve facing the fact that a loved one is gone; never to return. Other people may need assistance to deal with ambivalent feelings toward the deceased. Others may yearn for a relationship that never was, but might have been, or once was. Therapy identifies and resolves which tasks of grieving have not been resolved and focuses on their resolution.

  1. Delayed grief reactions are sometimes called inhibited, suppressed, or postponed grief reactions. In this case, the person may have had an emotional reaction at the time of the loss, but for a myriad of reasons it was not sufficient to the loss. Later on, in a loss occasion, a person may “come apart” and the clue is that the intensity of his or her grieving seems excessive. Some of the grieving which was not adequately done at the time of the original loss is carried forward and is being experienced at the time of the current loss.
  2. Exaggerated grief reactions. This is when a person experiences grief feelings that are overwhelming and it leads to maladaptive behavior.

The griever is often unaware that their symptoms are related to a loss (we call this “masked grief”), but in exaggerated grief the person is often aware their symptoms and behaviors are related to a loss, and they seek help.

Clinical depression is a common response to exaggerated grief. However, by definition, most grievers are not clinically depressed. They may become such.

Anxiety, alcoholism or other substance abuse, PTSD, and even manic episodes may develop.

  1. Masked grief is where a griever is experiencing problems which cause them difficulty, but they do not see unresolved grief as the cause. Masked or repressed grief usually manifests itself in one of two ways: either it is masked as a physical symptom or through some type of maladaptive behavior. Sometimes the physical symptoms being experienced by the survivor mimic those experienced by the deceased. We call this “facsimile illness.”

There are a number of clues to unresolved grief:

* The person being interviewed cannot speak of the deceased without breaking out in fresh intense grief.

* Some relatively minor event triggers an intense grief reaction.

* The person who has sustained the loss may be unwilling to move material possessions of the deceased.

* Unresolved grief may be evidenced by individuals who make radical changes in their lifestyle after a loss.

* Unaccountable sadness at a certain time each year.

* A phobia about a certain illness or about death in general is often related to the specific illness that took the deceased.

Has YOUR grief gone wrong?

Picture of Doug Greenway

Doug Greenway

These blog articles are written by the retired minister and former educator and counselor, Doug Greenway. He'd love to hear from you with your comments, questions, or suggestions for future topics. You may reach Doug at

Leave a Comment