Grief is the common reaction to the loss of a loved one. Normal grief produces feelings of sorrow, guilt, anger, and other emotions. After a period of time, these feelings become less intense, and acceptance of the loss occurs. When the loss creates debilitating reactions that do not subside over time, this is called complicated grief. Acceptance of the loss is difficult, and a return to normal life is not possible. Complicated grief occurs when an adaptive response to a loss is blocked.

Complicated grief can result when there is a loss of a relationship that was difficult, or when there was a strong bond with the loved one. It can seem at times that the grief has taken over and will not let go. The upsetting thoughts can cause negative behaviors, which then cause a dysregulation of emotions. Avoiding reminders of the loss can also interfere with adaptive coping. It may be scary to feel the intensity of emotion. It can also feel like you are betraying the person who passed, if you don’t feel enough. Questioning and “what ifs” are also other thought processes that can keep you stuck in grief.

For some people, the feelings of loss are debilitating and don’t improve even after much time has passed. In complicated grief, painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that you have trouble accepting the loss and resuming your own life. Everyone grieves in their own way, and it can take some time before things return to normal. Symptoms of grief do not subside, or even become worse when complicated grief is present. Healing from the loss is not possible in this situation, due to the intensity of the feelings of loss. If daily functioning continues to be impacted, feelings of hopelessness or disbelief are present, there is intense longing for your loved one, you are not able to focus on anything but the loss, or life holds no purpose, then you should talk to your doctor or a professional to get help.