Complicated Grief: What Is It and How Do You Treat It?

Complicated grief is also known as persistent complex bereavement disorder. It represents an intense, prolonged emotional response to the loss of a loved one, and can significantly impair your ability to function in daily life.

Unlike the typical grief process, which tends to gradually lessen in intensity over time, complicated grief lingers. It can become deeply entrenched and often worsens, leading to substantial distress and potentially long-term psychological issues.

If you search mental health treatment centers California, for instance, you can find out about support and treatment options. In the meantime, it is highly relevant to note that the condition affects as many as 10% of bereaved individuals. Here’s some more information to help you understand more about complicated grief.

Understanding the Distinction Between Normal and Complicated Grief

A good starting point would be to learn how normal and complicated grief differ. Grief is a natural, universal response to loss, characterized by feelings of sadness, yearning, guilt, anger, and fear. However, it usually moves through stages, allowing you to come to terms with your loss and eventually find a way to move forward.

In contrast, complicated grief is marked by a stagnation of this process, where individuals remain mired in intense longing and preoccupation with the deceased. You might also experience intrusive thoughts or distressing memories at the same time.

There can also be a tendency to exhibit avoidance behaviors, steering clear of reminders of their loss, or conversely, seeking out such reminders as a way to stay connected to the deceased.

This condition can lead to significant impairments in personal, social, and occupational functioning.

Symptoms of Complicated Grief

How do you know you are experiencing complicated grief?

Typical key symptoms of complicated grief include –

Persistent and intense longing or yearning for the deceased.

Preoccupation with thoughts or memories of the deceased, sometimes to the exclusion of other thoughts.

Avoidance of reminders of the loss or, conversely, excessive focus on these reminders.

Difficulty accepting the death and a sense of disbelief.

Intense emotional pain, sadness, or guilt related to the loss.

Feeling that life is meaningless or empty without the deceased.

Difficulty engaging in social activities or returning to a routine.

Disturbances in sleep or appetite.

Thoughts of wanting to die to be with the deceased.

Treatment Approaches

The treatment of complicated grief focuses on therapeutic interventions that help you process the loss, alleviate the intense pain of grief, and gradually engage with life again.

The most widely recognized and effective treatment is Complicated Grief Therapy (CGT). This is a specialized form of psychotherapy that combines elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy with techniques addressing the unique aspects of grief.

CGT aims to facilitate the expression and processing of emotions related to your loss and challenge unhelpful beliefs about it. This approach can help you to begin rebuilding a meaningful life in the absence of your loved one.

Other therapeutic approaches may include options such as –

Grief counseling – Providing support and guidance through the grief process.

Support groups – Offering a space to share experiences and feelings with others who have experienced similar losses.

Medication – While not a treatment for grief itself, antidepressants or anxiolytics may sometimes be prescribed to help manage symptoms of depression or anxiety that can accompany complicated grief.

Coping Strategies

In addition to the importance of receiving professional treatment, several coping strategies can help combat complicated grief.

Establishing a routine to bring structure to your daily life.

Engaging in physical activity and self-care practices.

Seeking support from friends, family, or faith communities.

Finding ways to honor the memory of the deceased, such as through memorial activities or charity work.

Make no mistake, complicated grief is a profoundly challenging condition. However, with the right intervention and support you can find pathways to healing and renewed engagement with life.

It’s crucial for anyone struggling with the symptoms of complicated grief to seek professional help to navigate this difficult journey towards recovery.