Understanding Complicated Grief

Embracing the Non-Linear Nature of the Grieving Process

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Understanding Complicated Grief

"If there is one way to save someone it’s by letting them know you love them."

Grief is an inevitable part of the human experience, customarily connected to losing a loved one or something significant in our lives. A deeply personal journey that affects individuals differently, even though it’s a universal human experience. The reality of grief is that is is a far more intricate, non-linear and complicated process that does not adhere to the prevalent notion of a linear sequence of stages. While some people may swiftly find comfort and acceptance, others may grapple with their emotions for an extended duration which can result in a condition termed complicated grief. Recognizing the non-linear nature inherent in the grieving process, its characteristics and the significance of normalizing this conversation is near to my heart.

The Non-Linear Nature of Grief

Traditionally, grief was thought to follow a linear progression of stages, as popularized by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her “Five Stages of Grief” model – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, research and personal accounts from those experiencing grief have shown that the grieving process is far from a predictable, step-by-step journey. In reality, grief is better understood as a dynamic and ever-changing process, with emotions and experiences often intertwining and recurring.

Grief is not confined to specific timelines, nor does it have a clear endpoint. Instead, it often ebbs and flows, presenting itself in different intensities at unexpected moments. Like when an old song comes on the radio while driving, or a smell as your walking down the street, or you come into proximity of somewhere you haven’t been in a while and memory lane hits you like a ton of bricks and you fall apart and start ugly crying. So many factors play crucial roles in shaping the grieving process and nobody can prepare you for the nature of the loss, or the individual coping mechanisms you’ll need.

Complicated Grief: also known as prolonged grief disorder or persistent complex bereavement disorder, is a condition that can develop in some individuals after a loss. Unlike typical grief, complicated grief is characterized by the prolonged and intense struggle to accept the reality of the loss. It hinders the healing process and can have severe emotional, physical, and psychological consequences.


Signs of complicated grief may include:

    • Intense longing and preoccupation with your loss or the deceased.
    • Persistent feelings of disbelief or denial regarding the loss.
    • Avoidance of situations, places, or people that trigger memories of the deceased.
    • Difficulty envisioning a future.
    • Bitterness or anger related to the loss.
    • Excessive feelings of emptiness and emotional numbness.
    • Trouble finding joy or pleasure in life.
    • Self-isolation and withdrawal from social interactions.
    • Engagement in numbing activities. 

None of these are a sign of weakness or inadequacy in coping with loss. Rather, it reflects the profound impact the loss has had on an individual’s life and their struggle to navigate through the complex emotions it brings forth.

The Importance of Support and Understanding

Understanding the non-linear nature of grief and acknowledging the possibility of complicated grief are essential steps toward providing support to those who are grieving. Instead of imposing rigid expectations on grieving individuals to “move on” or “get over it,” it is crucial to create a supportive and compassionate environment that allows for the expression of grief in all its complexities.

Complicated grief and non-linear healing

Some ways to offer support to someone experiencing grief

  • Active Listening: Be a compassionate listener without judgment. Let the grieving individual express their feelings and emotions freely, emotions felt and seen and validated subside, repressed emotions can last a lifetime.
  • Patience: Grieving takes time, and there is no set timetable for healing. Avoid rushing or pressuring the person to “move on.”
  • Validation: Validate the grieving person’s feelings and experiences. Avoid dismissing or trivializing their emotions.
  • Offer Practical Assistance: Grief can be emotionally and physically draining. Offer practical help, such as running errands, helping around the house or preparing meals.
  • Professional Help: Encourage seeking professional support, especially in cases of complicated grief there are many types of therapy, counselling, coaching and support groups that might be beneficial.

Grief is a natural and inevitable response to loss and raising an understanding of the non-linear nature of grief is helpful for everyone. Cultivating compassion, awareness and support networks for those who are grieving can change lives. Communication, acceptance and acknowledgment that everyone’s journeys are and will be unique and personal. For individuals experiencing complicated grief, professional help and a supportive network of friends and family are crucial in providing the necessary space for healing and growth. By embracing the complexities of grief, we can create a more empathetic and understanding society, allowing individuals to find their paths to acceptance and eventual healing.

Some Resources

Here is a link to some canadian resources: https://www.chpca.ca/resource/grief-and-bereavement-resource-repository/

I have no affiliation or connection to this site nd is meant for informational purposes only.

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are purely, and entirely, my own. I do not claim to be, nor make an effort to be, an expert on a certain topic, product, or service.  I will only endorse companies, products, and services I believe are worthy of endorsement, and serve to enhance the experience for my readers.  All product or service claims should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.



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Leigh Craig at river photo by Emmy @sadinthegarden

Leigh Craig

Certified C. Hyp. RTT® Hypnotherapist, Coach & Bioenergetics Practitioner.

Ever evolving imperfect human. A passionate seeker of knowledge, creator, writer, artist, herbalist, healer, entrepreneur and mother.

Leigh Craig @inviteyourpower © All Rights Reserved.