The Problem With Postponing Your Grieving

Experiencing grief is a normal reaction to significant losses including the passing of a loved one, miscarriage, or the dissolution of a meaningful relationship, and can also arise from events like losing a job.  Grieving is a crucial aspect of life, yet it often gets sidelined due to the pressing demands of work and family commitments. Postponing grief, whether consciously or otherwise, can have various consequences on an individual’s emotional and physical health. In cases where grief is postponed, the associated symptoms and feelings don’t diminish over time. Instead, they tend to intensify, similar to a pot left unattended on a stove.

Impact of Postponing Your Grieving

Postponing grief can create several interconnected issues that can negatively impact a person’s overall well-being. When grief is delayed, the emotions associated with the loss don’t just disappear; instead, they tend to accumulate and intensify. This build-up of emotional stress can be overwhelming when it finally comes to the surface, often manifesting more intensely than it might have initially.

This unresolved emotional turmoil can also have significant physical health repercussions. Emotional stress, especially over a prolonged period, can lead to a range of health issues, such as sleep disturbances, high blood pressure, headaches, and a weakened immune system. The body and mind are closely connected, and prolonged emotional distress can manifest in various physical symptoms.

Psychologically, postponing grief can contribute to mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and in some cases, even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People may not develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with their loss, which can lead to harmful behaviors like substance abuse or social withdrawal.

The Five Stages of Postponed Grief

The stages of postponed grief, also known as delayed grief, typically follow a pattern similar to regular grief but occur at a later time, often due to the individual initially avoiding or not recognizing their feelings of loss. The stages are:

  1. Initial Postponement: During this stage, a person might be busy with life’s demands—work, family, or other stressors—and may not acknowledge or even recognize their grief. They might attribute their feelings to stress, depression, or other factors.
  2. Emergence of Grief Symptoms: Despite the delay, the symptoms of grief eventually surface, often unexpectedly. This can include intense sadness, irritability, anxiety, and other emotions typically associated with grief.
  3. Recognition and Acknowledgment: The individual begins to recognize that their emotional and perhaps physical symptoms are related to a past loss. This realization is crucial for moving forward in the grieving process.
  4. Emotional Processing: Like traditional grief, postponed grief involves processing emotions related to the loss. This can include sadness, anger, guilt, and longing.
  5. Reintegration and Acceptance: The final stage involves integrating the loss into one’s life and narrative. This includes accepting the reality of the loss, adjusting to life without the deceased or the lost relationship/job, and finding a way to move forward.

Grief is a highly individual process, and these stages can vary greatly in duration and intensity from person to person. Not everyone will experience all of these stages or in this order. Seeking support through counseling or therapy can be helpful, especially in cases of delayed grief.

Symptoms and Consequences

Delayed grieving, where an individual postpones or does not immediately acknowledge the process of grieving a loss, can lead to a range of symptoms and consequences that affect emotional, physical, and social well-being.

Symptoms of Delayed Grieving:

  • Emotional Symptoms: These can include unexpected bouts of sadness, irritability, anger, and anxiety. People might experience intense longing or yearning for the person or thing they’ve lost. Emotional outbursts, depression, and feelings of guilt or regret are also common.
  • Physical Symptoms: The stress of unresolved grief can manifest physically. Common symptoms include sleep disturbances (like insomnia), headaches, changes in appetite leading to weight loss or gain, aches and pains, and an overall decline in physical health. Chronic stress can also lead to more severe health issues like high blood pressure or heart problems.
  • Behavioral Changes: This can involve withdrawal from social activities, loss of interest in hobbies or activities once enjoyed, or an inability to carry out daily tasks. There might also be increased reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse.
  • Cognitive Symptoms: Difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and a general sense of mental fog or confusion are often reported in cases of delayed grief.

Consequences of Delayed Grieving:

  • Worsened Emotional Health: Delaying grief can lead to more intense and prolonged emotional pain. The grief may become more complicated over time, potentially leading to conditions like major depression or complicated grief, a persistent form of intense grief that can be debilitating.
  • Physical Health Risks: The prolonged stress of unresolved grief can exacerbate or contribute to long-term health issues. Chronic stress is a risk factor for various diseases, including cardiovascular problems and weakened immune function.
  • Impaired Social Relationships: Delayed grieving can strain relationships with family and friends. The grieving individual might appear distant or disconnected, causing misunderstandings and conflicts. This can lead to a feeling of isolation and lack of social support, which are crucial for healthy grieving.
  • Impact on Daily Life and Functioning: The symptoms of delayed grief can interfere with an individual’s ability to function in daily life. This includes challenges in maintaining work responsibilities, caring for family, and managing personal affairs.
  • Longer Healing Process: Postponing grief can extend the overall time it takes to heal from the loss. The natural process of grief, which allows for emotional processing and eventual acceptance, is stalled, delaying emotional recovery and adjustment to life after the loss.

Understanding and recognizing these symptoms and consequences is crucial, as it can encourage individuals to seek support and address their grief in a healthy, constructive manner.

Grief Assistance in the Denver Area

If you’ve experienced a loss that hasn’t been fully processed, we encourage you to seek support. Grief counseling can be a valuable resource in managing and understanding your emotions, often more effectively when done with individuals outside your immediate social or family circle.

Take a look at our  Depression Treatment Page for more information. Then we invite you to call us at 720-551-4553 for a free 20-minute phone consultation with a marriage specialist. You can schedule your appointment via phone, or the contact page on our website.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Self Care Impact Counseling envisions a new age of counseling for adolescents, adults, couples & groups that makes a REAL difference with core values of GROWTH | BALANCE | COMPASSION | INNER HARMONY.