Many assume that grief is associated only with the loss of a loved one. Psychology shows us that this is very often not the case, but those suffering grief from things other than the death of someone are often told to “snap out of it.” Grief is, quite simply put, a response to loss. The loss can be of something tangible or intangible. It helps to recognize that disappointments, abuse, recognizing one’s limitations, losing a job, or so many other things can elicit a grief response. People suffering a loss need time to grieve, and such time depends upon how important the loss was.
Everyone grieves in different ways. Some people stoically plow through loss and essentially feel working is the best way to deal with it. Others need to cry or keep themselves away from other people for a time. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross did great work on the stages of grief, which can help people gain understanding as to the process of grief.
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Defining loss that will cause grief is very difficult. It depends much on the perception of the individual. For some people, losing a job is simply a life lesson. These people move onto the next job or job hunt without perceiving this as an emotional blow. For others, loss of a job could seem earth shattering, causing them to question all the decisions they made about their choice of career, or to feel great self-directed negativity.
Some people experience grief when they find out that a future path they wanted to take is now closed to them. For example, a woman who has tried to get pregnant and finds there is no way for her to do so, may mourn the future she expected to have, a future that included carrying and having her own children. Even if the loss is future directed, it can still cause grief in the present. Being shut out from wished for things can cause tremendous grief, again proportionate to a person’s perception.
Children grieve too, for small things, like a friend moving away or having to change schools. One expects a child to perhaps grieve at the death of a pet, but parents may fail to recognize the grief children feel during transitional times. Most therapists recommend that parents not dismiss their children’s first grieving experiences, as this may shape the way in which children are able to recognize grief, mourn, and at the appropriate time move on from the first sad feelings that grip them.
It is not necessary to encourage a child to grieve more, because again, children will respond in individual ways, as adults do. However, leaving open the opportunity for children to discuss their feelings, enabling them to express their feelings by giving them an emotional language, and practicing extra patience around a grieving child may be one of the best things one can do for such a child.
In considering grief, it’s important to remember that it is a response to many different kinds of losses, that is individual, and that it is influenced by the person’s perception of the loss. A couple that loses the ability to have children may grieve in very different ways. Of key importance is the recognition of grief instead of its dismissal. People cannot recover from grief they fail to acknowledge.