What Is The Definition Of Grief?

Reviewed by Rashonda Douthit, LCSW

Published 01/08/2021

Most of us know the basic definition of the word “grief.” Grief refers to emotional suffering, sorrow, anguish, regret, or distress caused by a loss of some kind. It is a complex emotion. Often, grief pairs with other feelings, such as pain, numbness, guilt, or sadness. If used informally, “grief” can also indicate sass or inconvenience. Someone might say, “stop giving me grief” or exclaim “good grief!” when referring to an annoyance. If someone says that they’re grieving, they’re generally referring to the former. It’s easy to grasp the basic meaning of the word “grief.” What’s harder to understand is the true impact that grief has on a person, especially if one has not gone through it themselves in the past.

What Is Grief In Psychology?

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Perhaps, you found this page by searching “grief psychology” or “grief definition psychology.” The basic definition of the word “grief” can give you some insight into what grief feels like, but because grief is such a weighty term, it can’t always be summed up in a quick sentence or two. The American Psychological Association dictionary of psychology describes grief with greater complexity, saying: “the anguish experienced after significant loss, usually the death of a beloved person. Grief is often distinguished from bereavement and mourning. Not all bereavements result in a strong grief response, and not all grief is given public expression (see disenfranchised grief). Grief often includes physiological distress, separation anxiety, confusion, yearning, obsessive dwelling on the past, and apprehension about the future. Intense grief can become life-threatening through disruption of the immune system, self-neglect, and suicidal thoughts. Grief may also take the form of regret for something lost, remorse for something done, or sorrow for a mishap to oneself.” This is an in-depth description that can help you understand grief related to psychology and the mental health effects that may come with grief.

Grief Vs. Mourning Vs. Bereavement

You might wonder, “What is the difference between grief and mourning?” The best way to describe the difference between the two is that grief is internal, where mourning is external. Mourning refers to the expression of the term “grief.” As stated above, bereavement is also a term with a different meaning; it refers to the time or period that occurs following death or loss. Many people fear losing a close loved one more than anything else. It is, by far, one of the most painful things that a person can face. When someone wonders, “what is the grief process like?” a common question is, “how long does grief last?” The answer is that it depends on the person and the situation. Grieving isn’t simple, and it’s not something to judge.

Stages Of The Grieving Process

The grieving process is often described using five steps or stages referred to as the five stages of grief. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is common for someone to get to a specific stage of grief and then re-experience a previous stage of the grieving process. For example, someone might go through the bargaining stage and then return to denial for some time, or someone could experience depression and then return to anger during the grieving process. These five stages were identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969, and they are widely used to depict the different feelings or states someone encounters during the grieving process to this day.

The grieving process does not just apply to circumstances where grief is attributed to someone’s passing. It also applies to the grief caused by losing a job, a breakup, or another situation where something is lost. That is why if you look up “the stages of a breakup” online, you will come across the same steps. Often, people going through a breakup, divorce, or separation will experience these stages as well, and they can certainly impact a person’s mental health in these circumstances as well.

There are more than five potential stages that you might encounter during the grief process, which is why some experts and some articles about grief say that there are actually seven stages of grief. Those seven stages are shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, reflection, loneliness, the upward turn, reconstruction and working through, and hope and acceptance. Again, someone might experience one stage and proceed to revisit a previous stage. Grief looks different for everyone. If it impacts a person very severely, they might even experience what’s called “complicated grief.”

About Complicated Grief

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Grief is always extremely painful, but the term complicated grief is used to describe the grief that expands past the typical or expected symptoms of grief, both in terms of duration and severity. Complicated grief refers to an atypically or abnormally pervasive and persistent grieving process or reaction to grief. If someone is experiencing complicated grief, they will feel intense feelings of sadness, denial, anger, guilt, regret, and possibly, blame or other painful emotions. The grief will impede someone’s ability to engage in daily activities, enjoy life, experience happiness or a positive mood, and so on, for longer than expected. Someone may experience pervasive emotional numbness and withdraw from others for a long period - even longer than is typical during the grieving process. Complicated grief is something that can impact a person's life severely. Here are some of the potential signs of complicated grief:

  • Extreme sadness, rumination, or pain regarding your loss
  • Difficulty concentrating on anything else except for your loss
  • Trouble with completing or engaging in daily obligations or life activities
  • Emotional numbness
  • Denial, or trouble accepting ones passing
  • Withdrawal for others or detachment
  • Blaming yourself, or the belief that you could have prevented someone’s passing
  • Feeling as though there is no reason to live, or as though living isn’t worth it without your loved one present
  • Depressive symptoms

If someone is experiencing complicated grief, they may be diagnosed with persistent complex bereavement disorder or prolonged grief disorder. To be diagnosed with persistent complex bereavement disorder prolonged grief disorder, an individual must have experienced at least six months of severe grief that has hindered their ability to function in any notable areas of obligation, including one’s occupation or education, family life, personal life, social life, or in any other notable areas. If grief is taking over your life after a long period has passed, you aren’t alone, and support is out there.

Support For Grief

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Social support is essential for all of us, but especially those going through the grieving process. The first people that you’ll turn to are your friends and family. You might also attend a grief support group to talk to peers who can offer understanding, sympathy, or empathy. If you’re experiencing any difficulties related to grief, whether or not you’re going through complicated grief, you might consider talking to a counselor or therapist. Grief counseling is a form of counseling that aids people who are grieving. Depending on your situation, you may attend individual counseling, group counseling, or family therapy for grief. There are a variety of routes you can take to find a counselor or therapist near you. You can ask your doctor for a referral, contact your insurance company or visit their website to see who they cover, or search the web for “grief counselors near me.” Online therapy is another option for those who are facing a variety of concerns. More and more providers are offering remote services due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. You might see a provider who practices near you and offers remote sessions, or you might get therapy or counseling through an online counseling website such as BetterHelp.

Grief And The Coronavirus

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The coronavirus pandemic has caused a tremendous amount of grief in addition to other mental health concerns and complications. Whether you are grieving the loss of your old routines, including social habits or work routines, the loss of a loved one, or if you’re feeling a heavy sense of sadness, nervousness, or fear about the pandemic, you aren’t alone. The center for disease control (CDC) has pages dedicated to those who have lost a loved one as well as a page for those who are feeling a sense of loss due to changes to daily routines and ways of life that may benefit you if you’re struggling

Take The Complicated Grief Test

Statistics indicate that 7% of individuals who have lost a loved one experience complicated grief, but some suggest that the percentage may be higher. Either way, know that nothing is wrong with you. Grief impacts everyone differently, and the truth of the matter is that this is indeed one of the most painful things a person can face. It’s vital to use self-care and treat yourself gently during this time. Remember that you’re human and some things don’t need to be rushed. Processing grief is important, and it’s unlikely to be quick, or simple. If you think that you might be facing complicated grief, consider taking the mind diagnostics complicated grief test. Although it’s not a substitute for a consult with a licensed professional and cannot replace a mental health diagnosis, the Mind Diagnostics complicated grief test can give you some insight into your symptoms and what you might be going through if you are experiencing complicated grief. The complicated grief test on the Mind Diagnostics diagnostics website is free, fast, and confidential.

Click here to take the complicated grief test.