The Impacts of Delayed Grief
Grief is a natural response to any significant loss, whether that’s the death of a loved one, a miscarriage, or the end of a long-lasting relationship. It can even be caused by job loss.
While the grieving process is a natural and necessary part of life, it isn’t always convenient. Often, the demands of work and family life take priority over the process of emotional healing. Whether intentional or not, delaying grief can have a range of impacts on a person’s emotional and physical well-being.
When the normal grieving process is delayed, the symptoms and emotions attached to grief don’t subside over time. They simmer and boil over, like an unwatched pot left on the burner.
Period of Delay
One way to understand delayed grief is to break it up into two different periods: a period of delay, and the period when it finally bubbles over. During the period of delayed grief, you may be so busy dealing with other worries—financial matters that need to be taken care of, children who need support, or changes to your routine or employment—that you don’t have time to consider where your feelings are coming from. You may attribute them to depression, general stress, or any number of other sources.
People who experience delayed grief frequently don’t connect the changes in their behavior to their unresolved grief. Some of the most frequent symptoms experienced by people during this time include:
- Irritability & Anger
- Unexpected Sadness
When someone delays the grieving process, the emotional impacts of the loss are stretched out over time, with symptoms intensifying. Whether by necessity or choice, prioritizing the concerns of day-to-day life over the grieving process causes the emotional impacts to persist in the background like a low buzz until it eventually gets loud enough to demand attention.
Over time, the loss may seem sharper and more important. The inability to move on or difficulty in accepting the death may lead to increased isolation and anxiety, or feelings of hopelessness.
Here are some of the additional symptoms to look for:
- Intense Sadness
- Persistent Longing
- Desire to Isolate
- Increased Anxiety
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Unexplained Outbursts
- Periods of Depression
- Feelings of Guilt
Unresolved or delayed grief can also cause changes in the body. Increased stress levels associated with the delayed grieving process can lead to a wide variety of negative physical impacts, including:
- High Blood Pressure
- Weight Gain
- Aches & Pains
- Issues with Heart Health
Our emotional and physical lives are closely entwined. The complex relationship between our emotional state and our physical bodies is well-understood scientifically, but we often don’t think of our emotional wounds as physical wounds that need to be healed. The reality is that without taking the time to allow our bodies to heal those wounds naturally—through the grieving process—we risk making the injury worse.
When people are grieving, they look to friends and family for support. People who are delaying their grief may find that difficult. They may be upset when people try to confront them about the loss, or connect with them over feelings. Often, this causes conflicts within families and social circles. One person responds to grief with avoidance and increased focus on practical matters, while others are focused on capturing and protecting their memories.
In either case, there’s no right way to grieve. Even if you’re not in a place where you can understand or connect with someone during the grieving process, it’s important to maintain those connections and find ways to communicate and heal together.
If you feel you went through a loss that you never fully processed, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for support. Grief counseling can be an effective tool to help you organize and manage your feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to process and express those emotions with people who are outside your family or circle.