My understanding of grief and loss comes in part from my advanced psychoanalytic training at the Los Angeles Institute and Society of Psychoanalytic Studies and from reading the classic paper that Sigmund Freud, the renowned psychoanalyst, published in 1917. Titled "Mourning and Melancholia," Freud explores the two distinct yet intertwined processes of mourning and melancholia, shedding light on how individuals cope with grief.
In the realm of mourning, individuals externally experience their pain and sorrow. The world around them may appear altered, desolate, or heart-wrenching. However, a remarkable shift occurs as they allow themselves to embrace and process this transformative change fully. The pain of loss gradually metamorphoses into a potent motivation, propelling them to rebuild and move forward. Freud describes mourning as a finite and transformative process, ultimately culminating in acceptance. Despite the profound changes wrought by loss, individuals find the strength to engage with the external world again.
Five types of loss that can turn into grief:
Here are just five of the many types of loss that can turn into grief:
Loss of a loved one
Loss of a dream
Loss of a support system
Loss of health
Loss of a partner/parents
When Grief Becomes More Complicated.
Freud noticed that sometimes people don’t come through the process and seem stuck in an intricate and often enigmatic pattern of complicated grief he called melancholia. He saw that sometimes the agony of loss in melancholia was so painful it resides within the unconscious mind, obscured from our awareness, where it exerts a profound influence on our psyche. In this state, grief lingers, unable to be processed by the conscious mind. Consequently, individuals find themselves trapped in a cycle of internalized pain, with the anguish often directed inwardly.
An Example Of Grief and Loss
Consider the common experience of losing a job, especially in contemporary times. While the loss may be a shared experience for many, it remains intensely personal for each individual. The job loss can trigger self-doubt and self-blame, leading to negative emotions. People may question their competence or ability to express gratitude adequately. This may even evoke memories of earlier life experiences that elicited similar feelings of incompetence and unworthiness.
In this scenario, shame and worthlessness take hold, and individuals may struggle to confide in others. They fear that friends or family will discover their inadequacies, further intensifying their isolation. The emotions become overwhelming and generalized, becoming ingrained in the unconscious mind—the hallmark of melancholia.
In contrast, when facing a job loss in a state of mourning, individuals have the opportunity to externalize their pain. This may involve discussing the loss with a trusted friend, a therapist, or a family member. By verbalizing their feelings of anger, sadness, and anxiety, individuals provide their pain with specificity. They also contextualize their emotions within the "external world."
Freud's ideas from over 100 years ago still offer a unique perspective on the importance of processing one's feelings. He suggests that rather than internalizing the pain and anxiety of loss, true healing occurs when we articulate and make sense of our emotions. This process allows us to regain perspective and prevent our emotions from becoming buried and unprocessed. That’s where therapy comes in, and a trained therapist can help you explore feelings, process them, and move through the grieving process.
Five Types Of Loss That Can Cause Grief
1. Loss of a Loved One
One of the most profound forms of loss is the death of a loved one. Whether it's the loss of a parent, sibling, friend, or even a cherished pet, this type of loss can evoke intense grief in young people. It doesn't matter if the death was expected or sudden; the pain of losing someone close is profound.
You can lose a loved one to things other than death, a breakup, a friend moving to another country or state; you might lose a parent to dementia before they die. Perhaps, in some ways, you can lose a loved one if they are unfaithful to you as there’s a loss of the way you see them, although that might fit more into the next category.
2. Loss of a Personal Dream
Sometimes, circumstances arise that make achieving one's dreams seem impossible. This loss of a personal dream can be devastating for a young person who had set their sights on a particular goal or aspiration. A couple I worked with recently had their sites set on adopting a rescue dog, only to find out that the owner returned at the last second to reclaim it. Technically, they never had the dog, but they had a vision and a fantasy of what their life would be like with him, and we had to process it and grieve the loss of this dream. For couples who lose a baby to miscarriage, this is even more of a traumatic loss.
3. Moving and the Loss of Home, School, or support system.
Moving to a new home is a significant life change often accompanied by a sense of loss. Young people may find themselves grieving the familiarity and comfort of their old home as they adapt to new surroundings and routines.
4. Illness and Loss of Health
A challenging medical diagnosis that affects someone's physical well-being can also lead to grief. Coping with the idea of significant health changes or limitations can be emotionally distressing for individuals at any age, but especially when they are still in their formative years. Embracing this new reality often requires a considerable amount of inner strength and resources.. As the initial shock subsides, individuals should find themselves on a path towards self-discovery, resilience, and adaptation if it’s grief, and may get stuck if that process is impaired.
5. Coping with Divorce
Divorce is a complex process that can impact not only the adults involved but also any children in the family. Young individuals going through their parents' divorce may experience grief as they witness changes in their family dynamic. I work with many adults who are going through a divorce or are recently divorced, and no matter how contentious the divorce is, there is usually always grieving.
The Five Stages Of Grief.
You might be reading a lot online about the five stages of grief, but as a profession, we are beginning to look for new ideas and understanding.
The original idea is that after a loss, most people go through the “Five Stages of Grief,” an emotional cycle identified by psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Originally intended as a descriptive framework, the five stages model has evolved into something more prescriptive. Bereaved individuals may feel an unwarranted pressure to conform to expected reactions and, in doing so, believe they are grieving incorrectly.
Grief is a deeply personal journey, and no two people experience it in precisely the same way. It transcends any rigid five-stage construct, manifests in countless forms in reality, and is felt in infinite ways. When we insist on painting grief as universally uniform, we inadvertently isolate and intensify the pain of those for whom it doesn't resonate.
There's no definitive right or wrong way to grieve. Every individual's experience is uniquely valid. As you navigate your own journey of grief, may you find solace in knowing that whatever you're feeling is perfectly acceptable.
Symptoms of Grief and Loss
Some of the more common symptoms of grief include
Changes in eating habits
Isolating from friends or social isolation
changes in sleep
sadness, hopelessness - signs of depression
Loss of interest in things that brought joy in the past
Mood swings, including anger, irritability and agitation
Please get help immediately if you have more thoughts about suicide.
Resources for dealing with Grief and Loss
The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) has some ideas if you're in Los Angeles.
All There Is by Anderson Cooper - a wonderful podcast from CNN / Anderson Cooper that was inspired by the loss of his mother.
This is a grief website about grief that is very in-depth
If you want something more practical, here are some ideas for journaling and mindfulness.