Grief is a natural response to losing something you value, but there are many circumstances of loss beyond the death of a loved one, and therefore, many different types of grief.
When something is important to you, be it a person, place, pet, or object, its disappearance from your life can provoke a sense of loss. This void left behind is associated with feelings of grief; a mourning for what used to be.
Grief is an individual process, and while various staged models of grief exist to help us understand the concept clearly, there’s no wrong way to process a loss — of any kind.
1. Abrupt grief
Abrupt grief, a form of common grief, can occur when any sudden or unexpected loss occurs.
Simone Koger, a licensed marriage and family therapist associate and certified grief counselor from Spanaway, Washington, explains this type of grief can be related to:
- job loss
- relationship breakup
- any other form of loss that comes as a shock
How to manage
Abrupt grief, also known as traumatic grief, can happen anywhere, at any time.
It’s OK to step away from whatever you’re doing and allow yourself to experience the sudden emotions you may be experiencing. It may be best to avoid driving until you’ve had a few moments to process the information.
Calling a trusted family member or friend for immediate support can help.
2. Prolonged grief
Prolonged grief is any grief that stays with you long-term.
It can often interfere with daily life, and if it reaches a level where it significantly impairs important areas of function, it may be diagnosed as prolonged grief disorder, also known as complicated grief.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), prolonged grief disorder is defined by intense longing and preoccupation with thoughts or memories of a loss.
Research from 2021 found it’s a condition that tends to present with anxious and depressive avoidance behaviors.
“Complicated grief can last for months or longer with emotions that look like depression or anxiety, and this makes it difficult to feel like getting out with others or enjoying things you did for fun,” explains Jerry Kiesling, a master of social work and licensed clinical social worker in Colombia, Missouri.
How to manage
Resolving prolonged grief may require the guidance of a mental health professional.
Prolonged grief-specific cognitive behavioral therapy, known as PG-CBT, can help you reduce grief-related thought avoidance, while finding new ways to process grief without intense feelings of anxiety, anger, or guilt.
3. Absent grief
The absence of feeling grief when you experience devastating loss is also a form of grief.
Absent grief, explains Heather Wilson, a licensed clinical social worker from Blackwood, New Jersey, can occur when you’re not able to grieve because you are numbed by shock, denial, or dissociation.
“This can happen if the death is sudden or traumatic,” she says. “Denial is a significant contributor to why one may be experiencing this type of grief.”
How to manage
When you’re experiencing denial, part of that process may be to convince yourself you don’t need support or help with grief.
You may not be open to facing why grief is absent.
If family and friends are urging you to talk with someone, or are suggesting they’re concerned about your grieving process, it may be worth it to take their advice and seek professional guidance.
4. Delayed grief
Delayed grief may appear as absent grief at first, but rather than remaining unexpressed, this is a form of grief that can slowly emerge as the weight of a loss becomes reality.
“This can be a natural grief cycle for some,” says Koger. “Sometimes, even knowing the person, relationship, pet, place, or thing is gone, can be hard to accept.”
How to manage
As a part of natural grieving, allowing delayed grief to process may not require any special intervention.
But if you feel pent up, or “stuck” in this stage, Koger suggests small steps toward building loss acceptance, like visiting a place you used to go to often with that person, for example.
5. Disenfranchised grief
Experiencing loss can be difficult as it is, but when your loss is stigmatized or disregarded by society, it can add a layer of distress, known as disenfranchised grief.
“This is a grief category I personally don’t think is highlighted enough,” Koger states. “It relates to when your society or culture does not recognize your loss as valid. This can come from a lack of awareness or education around specific topics such as suicide, substance misuse, STDs, leaving a religious faith, and many other topics.”
How to manage
You may not be able to change your culture or the society that’s responsible for disenfranchised grief, but you can find support networks that empathize with your loss and recognize what you’re experiencing.
Speaking with a professional in mental health may be the first step. A therapist can guide you to support opportunities that can help you gain a sense of grief validation.
Helping spread education and awareness about stigmatized topics may also help with this form of grief.
6. Collective grief
Sometimes loss can affect a nation, a people, a culture, or the entire world. This community-level form of grief is known as collective grief.
It’s an experience common after tragedies like war, mass shootings, hate crimes, and violations of human rights.
How to manage
Coming together in groups can be a powerful way to move through collective grief with others sharing the experience.
Vigils, memorials, peaceful protests, marches, and ceremonies are just a few of the opportunities that can allow you to express grief.
In some situations, such as hate crimes or human rights violations, activism may help you manage collective grief by providing a sense of purpose and justice.
7. Climate grief
Climate grief and ecological grief, often used interchangeably, are terms used to describe a sense of loss related to the environment.
As awareness of environmental concerns grows, it can be natural to feel a sense of loss as ecosystems decline and natural resources are lost.
You may also feel a sense of loss akin to climate grief known as solastalgia, or an innate longing for “the good old days” when the environment was less manipulated.
How to manage
Changing the environment may take generations, but you can do your part and possibly diminish feelings of grief by participating in recycling endeavors, joining revitalization efforts, and helping grow environmental awareness.
8. Secondary loss grief
Grief may have a primary cause, like the death of a loved one, but sometimes you experience loss as a result of loss, like having friends or family pull away due to a divorce or death in the family.
Hope Weiss, a licensed clinical social worker from Longmont, Colorado, says this is what’s known as secondary loss.
How to manage
You don’t need to validate your grief to anyone.
It’s okay to feel a sense of loss for the subtle changes that surround a primary loss, and it’s okay to grieve for people, places, and things that may not have been a part of your everyday life.
Journaling about your feelings or speaking with a mental health professional can be ways of expressing grief without fear of judgment.
9. Anticipatory grief
When you know the inevitable outcome is loss, you may start to feel grief before you actually lose what’s important to you.
This type of grief, known as anticipatory grief, can occur during situations with long-term illness, relationships where divorce has been looming for years, and other situations where you can see the outcome before it happens.
How to manage
It’s never too early to speak with someone about grief.
Early intervention by a mental health professional may help you find ways to manage grief in long-term situations and can help you prepare for the loss when it occurs.
Tips to cope with grief
While some types of grief may respond to specific interventions like environmental activism, there are some general ways to manage grief in any form.
Honoring your loss
Finding a way to honor your loss can help bring a sense of closure and peace. Kiesling recommends choosing a memento or a routine that holds meaning for you.
“Many people choose a symbol that is worn on or next to their body. A necklace, an item that the person cherished, a favorite place to eat, etc.,” he says. “You may want to adopt a regular routine of doing something that person did in their daily life. Some people use a prayer, have a drink that the person often had, or sit in a quiet place that allows you to remember your loved one.”
Expressing grief, especially to someone else, may feel challenging or embarrassing. To help you process what you’re feeling, you can try your hand at journaling.
“Just as a friend, family member, or therapist can be there to witness what people are experiencing in their grief, so can people be a witness to themselves,” says Weiss.
Setting and keeping boundaries
Boundaries can help you cope with grief by preventing a sense of overwhelm, says Koger.
“An example I use is if you have gone through a break up and have them on social media. You can mute their account or delete them so they are not actively at the front of your mind, amplifying your grief.”
If you’re experiencing grief and would like more information on mental health resources, you can speak with a trained mental health representative at any time by calling the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.
You may find additional grief resources through:
- treatment/services locator
- SAMHSA’s tips for coping with grief after a disaster or traumatic event
- The Center for Complicated Grief
- helping children cope with emergenciesTrusted Source
- Center for Grief Recovery and Therapeutic Services
If this is an emergency and you need immediate assistance, you can reach help by dialing 911 for medical aid or 988 for suicide or mental health crisis assistance.
There is no “normal” form of grief, just as there isn’t a “correct” way to process grief. Some types of grief may be more complex than others, more long-term, or may require professional guidance to work through.
It’s natural to grieve loss. If your grief feels too intense for too long, or is impacting your everyday life in negative ways, speaking with a mental health professional may help.
- Boelen P. (2021). Symptoms of prolonged grief disorder as per DSM-5-TR, posttraumatic stress, and depression: Latent classes and correlations with anxious and depressive avoidance.
- Comtesse H, et al. (2021). Ecological grief as a response to environmental change: A mental health risk or functional response?
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- Koger S. (2022). Personal interview.
- Lenferink LIM, et al. (2021). DSM-5-TR prolonged grief disorder and DSM-5 posttraumatic stress disorder are related, yet distinct: Confirmatory factor analyses in traumatically bereaved people.
- Rosner R, et al. (2011). Treatment of complicated grief.
- Weiss H. (2022). Personal interview.
- Wilson H. (2022). Personal interview.
- What is complicated grief? (n.d.).
- What is grief? (n.d.).