Grief is a normal part of the human landscape—it’s natural for us to struggle with sadness, anger, and even guilt after the loss of a loved one. Under normal circumstances, grief crashes down on us like a wave, disrupting our lives, and restructuring routines—but with time, it should fade. We’re able to focus on good memories instead of bad ones.

Complicated Grief is different. In contrast to the normal grieving process, complicated grief is both intense and long-lasting. It persists for months or even years, churning under the surface. Think of it as quicksand—the longer you struggle, the deeper you sink—but even if you try to remain still, you’re still stuck in place.

Signs of Complicated Grief

Since everyone grieves differently it can be difficult to determine when the normal grieving process has crossed the threshold into Complicated Grief. Some of the areas that you should consider when trying to understand which category you fall into are:

  • How much is your grief impacting your ability to function?
  • Have you accepted the loss of your loved one?
  • Are you hanging onto things in a way that’s causing distress?

Here are some of the additional signs of Complicated Grief:

Avoidance

One of the more obvious, earliest signs of Complicated Grief is avoidance. This might manifest itself in avoiding the attendance at funeral arrangements, family gatherings, or other memorials. Other people may delay handling matters of the estate for as long as possible, which can create conflict within the family. Another common example of avoidance is delaying the distribution or disposal of assets—a need to hang onto someone’s wardrobe after they’ve gone, or reluctance to part with mundane items, even those which previously held no sentimental value.

Some aspects to consider around things like this:

  • How long have you delayed handling possessions?
  • Are there areas of the house or city you’re avoiding?
  • Do you feel the desire to avoid shared hobbies?
  • Have you started avoiding family members or friends you associate with your lost loved one?

All of these behaviors might be natural or even healthy at times—they’re a survival mechanism. But if left untreated, they can lead to isolation, depression, and negative outcomes.

Intense Longing

It’s normal to yearn for the people we’ve lost—but when those feelings are too intense, they can derail our ability to take care of ourselves. Spending time thinking about a lost loved one is healthy, but not at the expense of your own future. This sort of intense longing can turn into a sense of despair and hopelessness.

Loss of Purpose

Oftentimes, particularly in the case of a longer-term relationship, or the loss of a family member, the death of a loved one can be accompanied by a loss of purpose. Goals that once seemed important no longer matter to us. It’s hard to get motivated to study for a test or meet deadlines at work, in the aftermath of a tragic loss.

This loss of purpose can extend itself to other areas. Hobbies like art, writing, or music.

Physical Symptoms

A person’s emotional state can directly impact the balance of their hormones. Hormones like cortisol are produced during times of stress and have a wide range of physiological effects. In some cases, these can even cause long-term symptoms or changes in the body.

Some examples of physical symptoms associated with Complicated Grief are:

  • Restlessness
  • Weight Changes
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Issues with Memory
  • Inability to Focus

Seeking Support

People experiencing Complicated Grief often have trouble seeking support for it. While the grieving process normally enables people to work through the death of a loved one, for others it’s difficult to navigate alone. A trained therapist can help you work through your feeling, come to terms with your loss, and start getting your life on track. If you’re looking for help, please don’t hesitate to reach out for grief counseling.