Monday, June 27, 2022

When Grief Is Delayed and Unresolved

[Reviewed and updated February 22, 2024]

Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on.     ~ Rabindranath Tagore

A reader writes: I found your Grief Healing websites via Google and I appreciate the wonderful articles and online support group you offer. I'm a man, 44, and through some wonderful recent life experiences I am just now getting in touch with some very old and very deep sadness. It feels like grief but there's no person I'm grieving over; it's the loss of a normal childhood that I'm feeling deep sadness over. Are there grief support groups on the Internet that help guide people in my situation? Thanks very much.

My response: Without knowing the specific details of your situation, I can only tell you that in some instances, when a significant loss is experienced in one's childhood, it certainly is possible for the individual to remain "stuck" in an unresolved and long-lasting state of grief. 

This form of complicated grief usually stems from some sort of traumatic death, but can also be the result of a relationship that was highly dependent or highly conflicted, so that the bereaved adult may later suffer symptoms of grief including anxiety, separation distress and depression, as well as symptoms of post-traumatic stress, such as guilt, extreme agitation, hypersensitivity, and intrusive (unwanted and uncontrolled) thoughts.

You say you feel as if you are mourning "the loss of a normal childhood," which tells me that something traumatic may have happened to you at a time in your life when, as a child, your development was still in progress and you didn't have the cognitive, emotional and social resources and skills required for coping with it. Understand that, because you couldn't deal fully with whatever feelings you had at the time, those feelings didn't "go" anywhere ~ they just lay dormant, waiting to be dealt with at a later time. As you say, "through some wonderful recent life experiences" you are "just now getting in touch with some very old and very deep sadness." Regardless of whatever has triggered it, your grief has come into your conscious level of awareness, and now, years later and when you least expect it, you are feeling it. 

Certainly I believe that reading articles about grief would be helpful to you, as there is great benefit in learning all you can about what is normal in grief and what you can do to manage your reactions to it. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. (See, for example, some of the articles about delayed grief listed below.)  I'm not aware of any online groups specifically aimed at complicated or delayed and unresolved grief, but if you are seeking the comfort and support of a virtual support group, you are most welcome to join the one I moderate.

My concern, however, is that you may need more than what an online support group can offer you. You may benefit more from the sort of "in person" counseling you would find in a grief support group or by meeting individually with a certified grief counselor who is trained in and specializes in treating Prolonged Grief Disorder. I don't know what symptoms you are experiencing now, but if they've been bothering you long enough and have been strong enough to be getting in the way of your ability to function in your daily life, you might consider seeking professional help. Such a step can be enlightening and even life-changing, and I hope you will think of it as a gift you can give yourself. Certainly you are worthy and deserving of it.

Afterword: Thank you for the thorough and well thought out reply. The interesting detail of my story is that I had a lifetime of ADD healed with a modality called Brain Integration Technique. Now that my ADD is gone I'm able to be aware of and present with my body and feelings. So, it's natural that old feelings start to surface. I have started to see a counselor and the grief energy is starting to move. Thank you again for your kind reply. You've given me some useful things to work with.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here


Image by Esmoth from Pixabay
© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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