How many types of grief are there and what do they mean

Table of Contents

Grief is a natural reaction to loss. It’s individual and unique to the bereaved person, their circumstances and relationship with the deceased person. It comes in different forms and its effects differ from person to person.

This is the complete list of the different types of grief. Scroll down for more information and examples.

Abbreviated grief

As the name suggests, abbreviated grief is a type of grief which doesn’t last as long as expected. That could happen in the cases of death after a terminal illness or be the result of insufficient attachment to the deceased person. 

Examples of abbreviated grief:
    • A child grieving the loss of someone they don’t know very well – ie a distant relative. 
    • A widow or a widower who finds love soon after the death of their spouse.
    • A career of a terminally ill loved one.

Absent grief

Absent grief is when people don’t show any signs of grief, particularly in the early stages of bereavement when there’s shock, disbelief and/or numbness. In the case of absent grief, people appear to be unaffected by their loss.

Examples of absent grief
    • Parents who put their own grief aside in order to support their children. 
    • People who stay “strong” either for someone else or because they are pressured into it.
    • People who who are unable to deal with the death of a loved one.

Anticipatory grief

In some cases, grief happens in anticipation of the death rather than after its occurrence. That type of grief is known as anticipatory grief. It’s often experienced by the loved ones as well as the dying person. 

Examples of absent grief
    • A person who has lost their independence and/or ability.
    • A terminally ill person and/or their loved ones.
    • The book Tuesdays With Morrie is based on the anticipatory grief of the dying Dr. Morris Schwartz and his student – Mitch. 

Chronic grief

Although the symptoms and intensity of grief decrease with time, occasionally there are exceptions. In those instances, the bereaved person doesn’t show any signs of improvement. That type of grief is referred to as chronic grief.

Examples of chronic grief
    • A bereaved person who was heavily dependent on the deceased.
    • A person grieving a particularly affecting loss.
    • People grieving severe losses due to war or natural disaster.

Collective grief

Collective grief refers to a loss which is experienced by a group of people together. That loss can be the death of a celebrity or an important figure in a particular community such as a politician or a leader. It could also be a substantial loss in the event of a natural disaster, natural tragedy, war conflict etc. 

Examples of collective grief
    • The sudden death of George Michael caused collective grief to his fans across the world.
    • The tragic death of Princess Diana affected millions of people.
    • The recent earthquake in Lombok cause mass devastation to the small Indonesian island.

Complicated grief

When grief is persistent for a prolonged period of time and begins to interfere with day-to-day life preventing the bereaved person from completing different tasks, that could be a sign of complicated grief. They may feel intense sorrow and pain, inability to think about anything else but their loss, longing for the deceased person, numbness, detachment, isolation.

If left untreated, complicated grief can have a negative effect on the mental and physical health of the bereaved person. If you recognise these symptoms, please seek help from a qualified professional. 

Examples of complicated grief
    • Parents grieving the death of a child.
    • The deceased person was involved in a tragic accident or they committed suicide.
    • The bereaved person was in a dependent relationship with the deceased. 

Cumulative grief

As we go through life, we are likely to face more than one death. Cumulative grief emerges when these losses occur in short periods of time between one another and we are left to deal with multiple deaths in a quick succession. 

Examples of cumulative grief 
    • A tragic accident involving more than one family member.
    • An elderly person experiencing the deaths of family members and friends without having enough time to process and heal from each one of them.
    • Unexpected death of a friend followed by that of a family member.

Delayed grief

Delayed grief is when there is a significant gap between the initial loss and the bereaved person’s reaction to it. That can be due to individual circumstances and/or other responsibilities. Some bereaved people feel the need to be “strong” for others or suppress their grief.

Examples of delayed grief
    • A widowed parent who is left to take care of the children on their own. 
    • A bereaved person who must take care of other matters or honour prior commitments.
    • A person left to care for their surviving parent.

Disenfranchised grief

A bereaved person can experience disenfranchised grief when the death of their loved one or the person whose death they mourn is not acknowledged. That could be due to stigma or the result of unrecognised grief such as the death of an ex spouse or partner. 

Examples of disenfranchised grief
    • The death of an offender who commits suicide while serving their sentence. 
    • The death of a spouse who was having an extramarital affair. 
    • The death of a patient, client, co-worker, celebrity, foster child or parent etc.

Distorted grief

Grief is a natural reaction to loss which is expressed in different ways by different people. Distorted grief is characterised by extreme reactions and behavioural changes. That type of grief is often accompanied by guilt, anger, hostility towards oneself or others, self-destructive and other behavioural changes. 

Examples of distorted grief
    • A death which was caused by medical error or ignorance – ie the doctors failing to spot vital signs/symptoms or dismissing patient’s complaints altogether. 
    • A parent losing a child in tragic/unforeseen circumstances – ie in an accident, mass shooting a school etc.

Exaggerated grief

Exaggerated grief is characterised by intensified reactions to the loss which become worse over time. In those cases, the bereaved person is likely to indulge in self-destructive behaviour and activities such as substance abuse. They can also exhibit suicidal thoughts, irrational fears and/or nightmares. 

Inhibited grief

In the cases of uninhibited grief, the bereaved person doesn’t show a reaction to their loss. They may be reluctant to do so either because they find it inappropriate or because they were brought up to show little to no emotion.    

Inhibited grief is likely to make itself known in the form of physical signs and symptoms. Often via various aches and pains such as migraines, stomach upsets etc. If left untreated, it can have an affect on the mental health of the bereaved person.

Examples of inhibited grief
    • A bereaved person grieving the death of a loved one who took an overdose could be reluctant to show the true extend of their grief.
    • A sibling or parent mourning the tragic death by suicide of a family member.
    • A widow or widower mourning the death of a spouse who had an extramarital affair.

Masked grief

Bereaved people who suffer masked grief are unable to recognise out-of-character symptoms and behaviours as reactions to their loss. Instead, they “mask” them as physical symptoms and/or maladaptive behaviour. 

Examples of masked grief
    • A parent who develops some sort of an illness soon after or on the anniversary of their child’s death.
    • A sibling showing similar symptoms to the cause of death of their brother or sister.

Normal grief

Grief is a normal, natural and necessary response to a major loss such as the death of a loved one. Although individual reactions are unique and circumstantial, bereaved people are likely to experience changes in their behaviour as well as some physical and emotional symptoms such as shock, confusion, crying, sadness, fatigue, difficulties concentrating, disturbed sleep etc. This is normal grief and in time, these symptoms weaken enabling the bereaved person to function normally.

Examples of normal grief
    • The death of a family member, relative, friend, co-worker, celebrity etc.
    • The loss of job, income, home, car, status etc.
    • Divorce or a breakup.

Which types of grief have you experienced?

Help us keep this grief resource complete and up to date. Share your thoughts and advice in the comments sections below so that newly bereaved readers can benefit from your experience.

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