After Loss: Reasons Why We Grieve Differently

Grieving isn’t an experience that is talked about very much in our society. After a family or friend dies, it might be odd to see that some people grieve by staying quiet, while others get angry and others keep talking about their loved one again and again.

The process of grieving is not linear. It’s a process that goes through various cycles. Yet, the understanding of grief is relatively new in psychology.  Additionally, the treatment of grief is a fairly recent addition to the mental health field. Previously, grief was incorporated into the treatment of other mental illnesses. However, in the 1970’s, grief counseling began to emerge. Certainly, the book by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, titled Death and Dying in 1969, could have implemented this change. She outlined five distinct stages to the grieving process based on her long-time work with her own clients. These stages denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Another popular theory in the treatment of grief is the four steps developed by psychologist J.W. Worden. He theorized that the four tasks to grieving are accepting the reality of the loss, working through the pain of grief, adjusting to life without the deceased (or loss), and maintaining a connection to the deceased (or loss) while moving on with life. Whether working with the stages developed by Kubler Ross or Worden, knowing them can serve as a map of the challenging road that grieving presents.

But even with these theories that can provide guidelines for what to expect as we grieve, it’s still a process that might be different for everyone. Someone might be angry for the most of their grieving process, while someone else might experience more depression.

One Norway study with adolescents found that beneath the façade of coping, teens were actually found to be internalizing their psychological struggles after a death of a friend or loved one. The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, worked with grieving teens using a method called the Body Awareness Program (BAP). The teens, ages 13-18, were interviewed on the experiences of their body during their grieving process. They were also given certain coping mechanisms to use.

Even among teens, who will tend to hide their feelings of grief and loss, the process will be different for everyone. The following is a list of reasons why people might experience grief differently:

  • Our past experience. The various experiences that we have from childhood and previous losses can influence the way we grieve today.
  • Past support. The way that we were able to express our feelings of grief in the past can influence how we express grief now. If friends and family were supportive in our grief and they gave us the freedom to grieve in various ways, then we might continue to feel that freedom to grief in the ways necessary today. Furthermore, the length of time between losses can also influence how quickly we heal.
  • Other stress. Other stress in life, such as a recent move, financial issues, problems with family or struggling with an illness ourselves can add to a loss and affect the way we grieve.  If there is a significant amount of stress in life it can exacerbate the way we respond to the loss.
  • Previous mental health history. If we are already experiencing depression or anxiety or another form of psychological illness, experiencing a loss might make our mental illness worse. Furthermore, if we have harbored suicidal thoughts and the loss we experienced was also due to suicide, we might have particularly strong feelings of grief, anger, loss, or betrayal.
  • Family culture. Some families welcome feelings while others don’t. A family that hides their feelings and don’t allow the expression of emotions will make it difficult to grieve now. However, it’s important to know that all feelings are important and valid. All feelings should be allowed their full expression. Doing so facilitates healing and growth.

Other reasons why teens might grieve differently include the role they played in our lives, the circumstances surrounding their death, and our relationship with the deceased. Grieving may look differently for adolescents, teens, and young adults, and that’s perfectly okay.