Experts Outline The Five Types of Grief And Their Emotions

Grief is not limited to the loss of a loved one, nor is it limited to intense crying, profound sadness, and other overwhelming emotions. Every life transition is accompanied by loss and grief, according to Emily Stone, Ph.D., owner and senior clinician at Unstuck Group. She says that grief can be triggered by both sad or tragic events (such as a house fire, an infertility diagnosis, or the loss of a job) and happy occasions, such as a child graduating from kindergarten or going off to college, due to what is lost due to the change.

Healing requires an acceptance of the possibility that there are various types of grief. Skylar Ibarra, MSW, LCSW, a therapist based in California, tells Health, “When we recognize and name what’s happening emotionally within us, we can be kinder to ourselves throughout the process.” “Once they recognized their grief for what it was, they were able to begin the healing process,” she says.

Types of Griefs a Person May Experience

1. Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief can be caused by anticipating loss or change. Health quotes Robin Hornstein, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and co-owner of the Philadelphia-based mental health practice Hornstein Platt & Associates, as saying, “We end up experiencing the loss before it even occurs.”

That has the potential to be destructive. Hornstein recalls a child diagnosed with a fatal illness who anticipated a premature death. Currently, the person is in their 80s. “As their actual death approaches and they are ill, they have realized how much time they have spent worrying,” Hornstein explains.


People engage in this behavior because it gives them a sense of control. “Anticipatory grief is the way in which our mind and body prepare for a loss. This works to make the ‘after’ of the loss a little less intense “Ibarra says.

2. Delayed Sorrow

Not always is grief experienced immediately: Stone says that sometimes people are unable to process loss. She notes that this can be due to cognitive or emotional factors, such as a young age or trauma. “I frequently observe delayed grief in clients during life transitions, such as a wedding, graduation, or the birth of a child,” Stone says.

Ibarra explains that this type of grief “can feel overwhelming, confusing, and unjustified at first because we do not immediately recognize that we are grieving a long-ago loss.”

3. Absent Grief

It may appear to those around you, as well as to yourself, that you are not grieving something you believe you should be, or that your grief does not resemble that of others. Ibarra explains, however, that there can be numerous explanations for a non-standard response.

According to Hornstein, shock, a sense of relief that someone is no longer in pain, and a lack of understanding of how to grieve can all lead to absent grief. “Sometimes it could be related to already processing the loss, such as a parent who is abusive or a long-suffering loved one,” she says.

A person may experience grief without even realizing it. “Many people associate grief with uncontrollable sobbing, ripping clothing, inability to get out of bed, etc.,” says Ibarra. She says that it can also manifest as anger, difficulty concentrating, or extreme anxiety. She notes, “These are not the typical grief reactions we see in the media, but they are what I observe in my office.”

4. Restrained Grief

“Inhibited grief is typically defined as grief that a person is consciously attempting to suppress,” explains Ibarra. According to Hornstein, this may appear as overwork or excessive activity. “Unfortunately, this does not stop the grief; it merely transforms it into a more difficult form,” she says.

Ibarra compares it to ignoring a pebble in one’s shoe: If you do not remove it, a blister will develop. “You must now contend with both the pebble and the blister,” she explains.

5. Disenfranchised Grief

Stone notes that this type of grief is not recognized in our culture. This may be due to the event’s perceived lack of significance or your personal circumstances. She explains that you may not be able to mourn openly and completely the loss of an extramarital lover.

It can also be a form of grief that is difficult to explain, according to Hornstein. She says, “I once cried literally over a death on a long-running television show and felt an intense sense of sadness.” She says that taking time off due to Poussey’s death on Orange Is the New Black may not make sense to others.

“There are so many instances in which a loss is ignored or glossed over by society,” Stone says. This can be a difficult and solitary journey for the individual experiencing the loss.


There Are Additional Types of Grief

Ibarra states that people may experience environmental distress due to the deteriorating climate. Ibarra adds, “Another one that many people experience is ongoing grief following a diagnosis and living with a long-term disability.” Or, individuals may mourn the loss of the desired future (this can occur due to an infertility diagnosis, the loss of a job, and so on). 

Hornstein notes that there can also be intergenerational unresolved grief. She provides the example of genocide victims’ survivors, who will never know their predecessors. “They may harbor a sense of fear/doom that this could happen again or is still happening in a different way and exhibit grief symptoms that manifest in familial patterns,” Hornstein explains. She notes that it is observed among BIPOC people in the United States.

“This type of grief is difficult and requires unpacking so that feelings can be expressed and steps can be taken to become more present and find ways to feel safe,” Hornstein explains.

Diverse Strategies For Coping With Grief

Depending on the type of grief an individual experiences, coping methods may vary. “If a person is experiencing a delayed grief reaction due to a crisis, then the crisis must be addressed first,” says Ibarra.

General Strategies Applicable In All Griefs

1. Kindness to Oneself

“If you recognize that you are grieving, be compassionate, give yourself time, let go of the need to be perfect, do not judge the quality or duration of your grief, and respect your feelings,” advises Hornstein.

2. Practice Memorializing

Ibarra states that creating a memorial for a deceased person or thing can be cathartic and therapeutic. “This could be a letter that is burned or an altar that is maintained for years. It enables us to accept the reality of the loss, creates a space to feel our emotions, and build a new life moving forward, which are all essential steps in the grieving process “she says.

3. Beware of Displaced Grief

Hornstein says that this can take the form of crying over flowers rather than missing a deceased person. “Allow your sorrow to guide you to your destination,” advises Hornstein.

4. Signs You Should Seek Assistance

“No one escapes grief,” Hornstein says.

Ibarra notes that although the process is normal and necessary for long-term health, it can be difficult and painful. And the grief you feel for one thing or event may be very different from that you feel for another, so your reaction may feel foreign and unsettling. Ibarra states, “You deserve support as you navigate this experience.” She states that this is true for anyone experiencing grief. Nonetheless, there are a few signs that you should seek assistance.


5. You Believe You Desire it

Ibarra states, “You do not need to be broken and nothing must be wrong with you to seek the assistance of a professional”; that is if you believe you could benefit from assistance, seek it out.

6. Your Daily Routine is Deteriorating

Hornstein recommends seeking assistance if you are unable to carry out normal daily activities such as taking regular showers, arriving on time to work, etc. She says that difficulty sleeping or an inability to eat are also indicators of the need for assistance.

7. You Have a Protracted Feeling of Despair

Certain emotions, such as intense, out-of-control anger or prolonged hopelessness, can indicate the need for professional assistance, according to Ibarra.

8. You Suffer From Survivor’s Guilt

Hornstein suggests seeking professional help if you experience guilt for being alive or a desire to harm yourself. Ibarra adds, “You do not need to wait until things are extremely difficult to seek assistance.”

  • Do you believe that understanding types of grief can help us navigate our emotions more effectively?

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