Identifying Complicated Grieving
Complicated grieving is the technical name that grief professionals give to a grieving process that gets stuck at some point, making it impossible for the bereaved to successfully start or conclude the grieving process. Complicated grieving is often a sign of unresolved problems in the relationship between the bereaved and the deceased that make it more difficult than usual for the bereft person to grieve.
Whereas a traumatic loss almost always makes for complicated grieving, you need to keep in mind that not all complicated grieving involves traumatic losses. Human relationships are sufficiently varied and complex to create all sort of snags (some traumatic and some not) that can interrupt the grieving process.
If you find that you’re unable to start grieving the loss of a loved one or you aren’t getting through the grieving process, stop and take stock of the relationship you had with your lost loved one. Depending upon the intricacy of the relationship and its particular problems, you may not be able to really assess it without the help of a mental health professional. However, by working through the issues that stand in your way of grieving a loved one, you not only ultimately free yourself from the grief but also create a new appreciation for yourself as you honestly face all the aspects (good and bad) of your erstwhile relationship.
Complicated grieving in one-sided relationships
Almost all the relationships you build with your loved ones are complex and multifaceted. Sometimes, however, these relationships aren’t as balanced as you may like them to be. Unbalanced relationships — especially those in which one person doesn’t have anywhere near as much influence or power as the other — can often result in some level of complicated grieving when the person wielding the greater influence dies.
Unfortunately, after the death, it’s far too late to rectify the balance of power, and you’re left to deal with whatever damage this imbalance caused. Bereft of a particularly powerful person in your life (whether a parent or a spouse), you may experience an overwhelming sense of abandonment and emotions that vacillate between great anger and acute apprehension.
Both the anger and the fear come from the same place of uncertainty — not knowing whether or not you have what it takes to survive on your own. Instead of focusing on grieving the loss, you can only focus on the predicament that your new status confers on you. Before you can feel the grief, you must first deal with your lack of confidence and all the emotions that your insecurity engenders. Many times, this requires the help of a mental health professional other than a grief counselor who can help you work on these aspects not entirely related to the pain of your loss.
Complicated grief in excessively dependent relationships
Relationships in which the two people are exceedingly dependent upon one another for emotional support (sometimes referred to as a codependent relationship) can also result in complicated grief when either person dies. This kind of dependent relationship may exist between a child and parent, but it more commonly occurs between spouses and life partners.
Typically, the two companions are so close that one or both feel as though they couldn’t live without the other. Then, when one of the two dies and this misgiving is finally tested, the survivor finds himself hard-pressed to grieve the loss.
Losing the person who defines you in so many ways is sometimes too much too handle. As a reaction, you refuse to acknowledge the loss in an effort to ward off grieving. More importantly, denial keeps you from having to admit that the loss is real and that you have to change a great deal in order to thrive rather than survive.
Instead of continually denying the loss, some survivors of codependent relationships refuse to stop mourning the loss of their loved ones. In essence, they create a perpetual mourning in which they safely reside. This too is a defense against real grieving (a process that has a definite end, even when there’s no set timetable for reaching it). Perpetual mourning represents an effort to keep the dependent relationship alive in some form and to insulate the survivor and keep him from having to adjust to the new reality. The only way for such a person to break through this kind of stalemate is for him to realize that the end of the grieving is not synonymous with the end of the relationship.