What is Unresolved Grief?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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Unresolved grief refers to an extended grieving process for a person, situation, or relationship that is gone. While many people experience grief over a serious loss, the process can be extended and worsened if unresolved issues, feelings, or other complications occur. People experiencing unresolved grief may have been unable to disclose important feelings or revelations in regards to the situation, or may be unable to move on due to ambiguous issues surrounding a disappearance or probable death.

Grieving is a normal process that people experience in different ways. Not only is the death of a loved one or the loss of an important relationship a very sad experience, it causes a shift in perspective for the grieving person, who must now learn to cope with a different world. This process can be difficult and contribute to many associated issues, including depression or substance abuse. Generally, however, the grieving person will eventually adapt and learn to navigate in the new world, and with time may be able to feel resolved about the situation, even if sadness never fades entirely.


One of the most common situations that causes unresolved grief is when emotional issues have not been resolved by the grieving person and the person who has died or departed from contact. Secrets, unfinished arguments, and misunderstandings never worked out can all lead to extended grieving. The regular burden of grief can be expanded by the guilt and knowledge that things were not settled before the death or departure of an important person.

The death of children or young people can cause unresolved grief in close friends and relatives. Part of this complication comes from the fact that parents and friends have hopes, dreams, and plans for the young person and his or her future, which will now never come to pass. As with many unresolved grieving situations, people may feel it is objectively wrong for a person to die with so many things unfulfilled and a future full of promise. Parents may also fall into unresolved grieving patterns out of a belief, mistaken or otherwise, that they did not perform their role as a protector and have failed the dead child.

When a person disappears, is kidnapped, or is listed as missing in action in a military effort, unresolved grief can occur due to lack of real knowledge. The idea that a loved one could still be out there, alive and in need, may torture many grieving people into an ever-deepening spiral of pain and guilt. Additionally, some psychological studies show that people accept death better when presented with physical evidence of the death; it may be an important part of beginning the process of closure.

If a grieving person does not have an outlet for the expression of feelings, grief may remain unresolved. A closeted person who loses a lover may have no available recourse to discuss his or her pain and grief over the issue, for fear of exposure. A teenager who has a miscarriage may be unable to talk about her feelings of loss due to fear of punishment or discovery. Ignoring or hiding emotional pain can have serious consequences on both the grieving party and those around him or her.

It is important, in any situation where grief cannot be expressed to friends and family, to seek out professional help. The Internet can be a great source of anonymous grief support, as well, through support websites that require no personal details. Anyone experiencing signs of depression or suicidal thoughts should find immediate help from professionals.


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