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What Is Unresolved Grief

Man with unresolved grief


What Is Unresolved Grief

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What Is Unresolved Grief

I grieved for my mother for 30 years, but I couldn’t help it. I looked for her on the street, sobbed when I saw other mothers and daughters having fun. Even shopping for clothes made me sad because it was something we used to do together. This was beyond typical sadness, I had unresolved grief.

My First Experience In Grieving

My mom died of cancer a few years after I married, and three weeks before my son was born. A few months later my husband quit his job and didn’t find another for nine months. All three events, marriage, death of a loved one, and loss of a job are high stress. My coping skills always kick in when times get tough, but I didn’t stop active suffering about my mom. People do get stuck in their losses and it isn’t always a death. It can be a change of circumstance, or even marriage itself. It’s important to recognize what you’re feeling so you can take steps to lift the burden.

For me and the loss of my mom one problem was I did not have the opportunity of a proper “goodbye.” Even though I had sat with my mom throughout her illness and was pregnant for nine months of it, she never gave me her blessing or wished me well with my baby. She was not able to say goodbye. Doubly painful was the fact that my children grew up without a grandmother. This was cause for my grieving on their behalf, too. Grief is often about much more than just the passing because of the many extra feelings associated with it. This is also true for job loss, change of circumstances, moving, etc. There are some 40 life experiences that can cause grief.

Although sorrow is a normal reaction, unresolved grief has a more traumatic impact. As a result it can have a negative effect on one’s life. You may be asking yourself, “How do I know if I have unresolved grief?” 

Signs of Unresolved Grief

Although many of sufferers try to pretend that they are “over it” for various reasons, the following are some of the tell-tale signs that someone is grieving:

  • Preoccupation with sad or painful memories
  • Refusal to talk about the loss at all
  • Increase in alcohol, food, drug, or cigarette usage.Antisocial behavior
  • Overindulge in hobbies, work, or exercise activities
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Isolation from friends and family

How Children Express Unresolved Grief

  • Develop behavior problems
  • Have Fear of being alone
  • Become more aggressive
  • Perform worse at school

How Teens Express Unresolved Grief

  • Using drugs
  • Drinking Alcohol
  • Stealing
  • Have unprotected sex
  • Become accident prone
  • Withdraw from friends
  • Have difficulty completing schoolwork

Young children may show unresolved grief by developing behavior problems or expressing fears about being alone, especially at night.

If left untreated, the long term effects can be devastating to future relationships and every day activities, such as work and what used to be enjoyable hobbies. Here are some things that can be done to help resolve the unsettled feelings.

Validate Feelings

Everyone has a right to sad feelings. Even though others may not understand your feelings or fail to empathize with you, it is important for you to empathize with yourself. It is also important for you to empathize with children and teens who are suffering. Give everyone permission to process, naturally, the loss they have experienced.

Reach Out

No matter how small it may be, build a support network. Whether it is that one special friend who can listen without judgement, or an online group on social media. It’s important to have someone to turn to if you need a shoulder to cry on or a new outlook in order to get you through a rough moment.

Some Causes Of Unresolved Grief

Unresolved grief can be caused by pretty much anything big or small. If something, someone, or an event was important to you. You may not even think something that happened long ago may continue to nag at you now. There are some 40 life events that can cause unresolved grief. Here are some:

  • Death of a spouse
  • Divorce
  • Marital separation
  • Imprisonment
  • Death of a close family member
  • Personal injury or illness
  • Marriage
  • Dismissal from work
  • Marital reconciliation
  • Retirement
  • Change in health of family member
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Gain a new family member
  • Business readjustment
  • Change in financial state
  • Death of a close friend
  • Change to different line of work
  • Change in frequency of arguments
  • Major mortgage
  • Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
  • Change in responsibilities at work
  • Child leaving home
  • Trouble with in-laws
  • Outstanding personal achievement
  • Spouse starts or stops work
  • Begin or end school
  • Change in living conditions
  • Revision of personal habits
  • Trouble with boss
  • New working hours or conditions
  • Change in residence
  • New schools
  • Change in recreation
  • Beginning or ending church activities
  • Change in social activities
  • Minor mortgage or loan
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Change in number of family reunions
  • Starting a new eating habit
  • Vacation
  • Christmas
  • Minor violation of law
  • Loss of Trust, Approval, Safety and Control of one’s body

There is no definite point in time or a list of symptoms that define unresolved grief. Unresolved grief lasts longer than usual for a person’s social circle or cultural background. It may also be used to describe grief that does not go away or interferes with the person’s ability to take care of daily responsibilities. People with unresolved grief who do not seek treatment are more likely to develop other mental health and physical problems.



Leslie Glass is the founder of Reach Out Recovery and the winner of the 2016 ASAM Media Award. Leslie is also the creator of Recovery Guidance, the information website for those seeking addiction and mental healthcare for professionals nationwide. Leslie is a journalist, director/producer of award-winning documentaries, and the author of 15 bestselling novels. Leslie has served as Chairman of the Board of Plays For Living, was a member of the Board of Directors of Mystery Writers of America. She has served as a Public Member of the Middle States Commission of Higher Education, as a VP of The Asolo Theatre, and was a Trustee of the New York City Police Foundation.

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