Category: 

What Is Complicated Grief?

A grief center may offer counseling to those who have experienced the death of a loved one.
With complicated grief, the bereaved may feel intensely lonely and disinterested in life.
A person experiencing complicated grief can undergo personality changes.
Complicated grief is a very intense form of grief often accompanied by frequent and intrusive thoughts about the dead.
The grief process varies widely and is different for each individual.
A person experiencing complicated grief may not be able to return to work.
In some cases, grief therapy is part of a broader treatment plan.
Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
Over 33% of the 800 plant species on the island of Socotra off the coast of Yemen are not found anywhere else on Earth.  more...

September 19 ,  1957 :  The US conducted the world's first underground nuclear explosion in Nevada.  more...

Complicated grief is a form of grief in which the bereaved becomes, in a sense, stuck, unable to process the death of a loved one. While grief is an entirely natural and normal response to death and it takes many different forms, complicated grief is a cause for concern because it traps the bereaved in a cycle which she or he cannot break free of. Studies on this form of extreme grief suggest that as many as 10% of people may experience complicated grief after the death of a loved one, and the circumstances of the death can have an impact on whether or not complicated grief will occur. The history of the bereaved can also make a difference.

Someone who experiences complicated grief is thrust into a very intense form of grief which is accompanied by frequent and intrusive thoughts about the dead. This can include hallucinations in which the bereaved thinks that the deceased is still alive. This form of grief can be accompanied by severe depression, including suicidal thoughts, and the bereaved may feel intensely lonely, disinterested in life, and unable to participate in daily activities.

Ad

A sense of longing for the dead is often present as well. While people in complicated grief are aware on some level that their loved one has died, the death is difficult to process, and the bereaved may cling closely to reminders of the dead. In fact, in brain imaging studies of people who experienced complicated grief compared with people who experienced more healthy grieving, researchers noted that the reward centers of the brain were activated when people experiencing this form of grief thought about the dead, suggesting that the brain is in part encouraging the bereaved to cling to the dead.

Someone experiencing this form of grief can undergo personality changes, may not be able to return to work, school, and a social life after the death, and can be at risk for maladaptive behaviors. Psychotherapy can help the bereaved explore and process the death, working through it instead of becoming stuck in a holding pattern of grief. Another thing which can help with complicated grief is a bereavement group.

It is important to recognize that people grieve in different ways, and that the emotions of a person in the days immediately following the news of a death do not necessarily predict complicated grief. People also experience lingering sorrow as they process a death over weeks, months, and years, and this is entirely normal and healthy. In complicated grief, however, someone appears to be stranded in the state she or he was in immediately after news of the death, experiencing unusually intense emotions and moods.

Ad

More from Wisegeek

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

anon279161
Post 1

My daughter and her son have become house bound and very anxious for about two years. This happened after the death of my son. They were all very close. We have had many bad things happen in our lives and we are just barely surviving. Is there help?

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email