Understanding Avoidance in Grief

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley

For further articles on these topics:

Avoidance is an important concept for grievers to understand.  Some of you may remember we briefly touched on this subject when we discussed avoidance coping vs. taking a break from grief.  Although this post made an important distinction, it didn't seek to explain avoidance and the ways in which this type of coping might impact one's experience and behavior in relation to the death of a loved one.  We have a lot to cover today so instead of our usual introductory meandering, I'm going to get right down to business.

What do we mean by avoidance?

To avoid is broadly defined as, "To keep away from or stop oneself from doing (something)".  At face value, this doesn't appear to be a complicated concept.  You probably avoid every day, I know I do!

For example, I might avoid Interstate 695 on my way home from work because it's always congested.  Then I might avoid an old acquaintance in the grocery store because I don't feel like talking.  Finally, I might avoid getting in line behind a sniffling woman with a cart full of ginger ale, popsicles, and cold medicine.

Now I want you to take a minute to think about this example and identify what you think I'm avoiding.  Am I avoiding people and places?  Technically yes, but why?  The real reasons why I steer clear of these specific people and places come from a desire to avoid the unpleasant experiences and feelings I associate with traffic, awkward encounters, and illness.

When we talk about avoidance in regards to grief, we are usually referring to experiential avoidance.  Experiential avoidance is an attempt to block out, reduce or change unpleasant thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations.  These are internal experiences that are perceived to be painful or threatening and might include fears of losing control, being embarrassed, or physical harm and thoughts and feelings including shame, guilt, hopelessness, meaninglessness, separation, isolation, etc.  Now please note I say "perceive to be painful or threatening," these judgments are often subjective and what is perceived as threatening to one may seem totally irrational to another.

Why might grievers engage in avoidance?

Grievers must walk a gauntlet of traumatic memories, painful emotions, logistical issues, secondary losses, and so on.  At first, one might feel shackled down by the weight of all-consuming grief, but over time find they have periods of semi-normalcy broken up by waves of grief.

The onset of a grief wave is sometimes predictable but often not and each new wave brings with it an ocean of unpleasant thoughts, reminders, sensations, and memories.  For many people, grief is the first time they experience emotions of this type and intensity and in response, they may exhibit physical, behavioral and emotional reactions they aren't comfortable with.  This may be particularly true for those who have yet to develop a reliable set of coping skills.  Although grief is always unpleasant and uncomfortable, for some there are aspects that actually seem threatening and these perceptions can lead to attempts to control or avoid frightening feelings and reactions.

A few examples:

  • I avoid going to church because I fear the hymns will remind me of my loved one and I will become emotional in public.
  • I avoid the street where my wife had her accident because I'm afraid it will trigger traumatic memories.
  • I avoid the hospital because I fear the machines and people in scrubs will trigger overwhelming memories and I will panic.
  • I avoid feeling the emotions of grief because I fear losing control or going crazy.
  • I avoid going to sleep at night because I'm afraid I'll have nightmares.
  • I avoid putting my son's belongings away because I fear I will lose my connection to him and he will disappear.
  • I avoid being exposed to my son's belongings by putting them away immediately because I'm afraid if I see them every day the pain will never go away.
  • I avoid feelings of grief around my partner's overdose because I fear I will find I'm responsible.

What does avoidance look like?

  • Substance use
  • Isolation or withdraw
  • Throwing oneself into work, advocacy, volunteering, etc
  • Staying busy
  • Avoidance of people, places, and actives out of fear of grief being triggered
  • Avoidance or denial of feelings and emotions
  • Grief that appears to be absent: lack of emotion and acting as though everything is fine

When is avoidance useful?

Avoidance can be useful, especially when one is dealing with something as painful and enduring as grief.  During the first few days after a death, feelings of grief can be overwhelming, yet ritual and tradition dictate that grievers must get dressed, plan services, tie up loose ends, and deal with family and friends.  I've often heard people say that they put off crying during these first few days because they knew if they started crying a volcano of emotion would erupt and they would be paralyzed.

Beyond the first few days after a death, grievers must find a way to manage their emotions in the weeks and months that follow.  Grieving parents never get to take time off and grieving students and employees are often back to their responsibilities within days to weeks after a loss.  In order to manage responsibilities, be a functional family and/or society member and just generally get stuff done, it is often necessary to avoid certain grief reminders and triggers from time to time.

Lastly, as we discussed in our post on avoidance coping vs. grief relief, sometimes it's just necessary to take a break from grief.  This is a major tenant of the Dual Process Model of grief which says that grievers must oscillate between confronting their loss (coping) and avoiding it (seeking respite).

When is avoidance maladaptive?

Although we've noted that avoidance can be useful, for many it can become a harmful cycle that persists to the detriment of personal healing. Many mistakenly think that if they make efforts to avoid their feelings for long enough these unpleasant emotions will be kept at bay or fade away, when in actuality deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts often make them more likely to surface.

While one is busy trying to avoid and control their grief, their world gets smaller and more complicated.  Fear of grief related thoughts and emotions can start to limit the ways in which a griever is able to fill their roles as a spouse, parent, friend, employee and society member and impacts their overall ability to be the person they want to be.

A mother who's no longer willing to sing to her child, a father who's too afraid to teach his son to drive, a widow who's afraid to fall in love again, a daughter living in a house full of her parent's old relics, and a son hesitant to face sleep without the help of a bottle of wine - these grievers are stranded, abandoned, intoxicated, and absent and their inability to live in the present keeps them forever stuck in the past.

Avoiding seemingly painful stimuli might prove beneficial in the immediate, but it is a short-term solution.  It's like taking an aspirin to treat a broken arm; it may temporarily dull the sting, but if one doesn't address the broken bone they will never be able to heal.  In order to gain understanding, perspective and tolerance for the pain of grief, one needs to allow themselves to actually feel it, face it, and be present with it in the moment and in the future.


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62 Comments on "Understanding Avoidance in Grief"

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  1. Jm  September 6, 2023 at 3:59 pm Reply

    How do you help a child who is using avoidance as a coping mechanism? Our dog died suddenly and unexpectedly, our 8 year old, hasn’t shown any kind of emotion. When asked, she says she feels nothing. It’s been 2 weeks. Is this normal? They were close and have been together since the day she was born. My husband and I talk to her about our emotions and feelings.

    • Mary Manera  September 6, 2023 at 8:33 pm Reply

      It is helpful that you are speaking with her about your own grief around the loss. And it is also true that each person has their own unique journey with each loss they experience, and this is true for children too. There are some helpful children’s books about pet loss; you might do a bit of research and have them on hand for when the moment comes when she moves into more expression of her own grief.

  2. Paula  May 16, 2023 at 11:32 am Reply

    Hello hope all at your website are fine I recently lost my dad & do not think I am coping normaly,I have not been out,not even seen my fathers grave and I am going through waves as you described of sporadic pain which suddenly appears like a cloud over my head,until I read your article I had no idea how I was coping,I keep hoping my dad is going to knock on the door or appear in the house my poor boyfriend is trying his best to understand but he is very tired from his hard job,is there any advice for taking the first steps to see my family in my father’s old house,thank you Paula x

  3. Kelly  October 8, 2022 at 11:19 am Reply

    Is this considered grief? My bf has experienced a lot of tragedy over his years. He lost a brother to suicide in his teenage years. His brother was murdered in his twenties. Sadly his son committed suicide in 2018. My bf is now 42. He never dealt with his childhood trauma nor the loss of his brothers and especially his son.

    He is not able to be the person he wants to be. He has let his health slip, not taking care of his diabetes. He is lacking in self care such as going to the doctor or dentist. Now has a tooth that is bothering him. He is not reliable. He can’t hold down a job. He used to own a gym. He explains how he has a hard time functioning due to the losses. But, this is affecting all of his relationships.

    I’m frustrated. What I’m trying to explain, is this all a form of grief? I have only dated him for 6 months and I’m ready to throw in the towel.

    I’m assuming the answer is for him to seek counseling. I cannot continue living a life this way.

    • Litsa  March 8, 2023 at 5:53 pm Reply

      Apologies that I missed this comment before now. Counseling is absolutely the best recommendation in this situation. There are many overlaps between grief and trauma. Without knowing him it is impossible to say what he is experiencing, but he’s had many life experiences that can cause deep grief and even trauma. A therapist could really help him sort through and process these losses and their impact.

  4. Nina  May 16, 2022 at 12:20 am Reply

    I’m in a long-distance relationship. My boyfriend’s only sibling passed away suddenly aboit 1.5months ago. He’s been back for the funeral and visited his mother twice. But he’s refusing to talk to me about what happened. I haven’t seen him since before his brother passed which was 2 months ago. I don’t know what to do. He won’t lean on me or confide in me about any of it. He’s throwing himself back into his work.
    What can I do to get him to open up?

  5. Kristina  January 21, 2022 at 10:03 pm Reply

    So sorry for all those close losses so close in time. Devastating. No wonder you feel abandoned. Support groups could be very helpful. Maybe even a therapy pet. You could have PTSD and they have therapy pets for that. There are also programs that help retrain your brain like behavior modification that could be helpful. Sending prayers your way. Sounds like your mind is trying to protect yourself by stopping yourself from grieving. The wall was put up.

  6. Valentina  November 29, 2021 at 12:06 pm Reply

    Hello from Milan, Italy
    I really need help. I feel desperate.
    I have lost both my parents in 2020 by cancer, they were in their eighties and their long illness sort of prepared me emotionally. Even if horrible loosing them at the same time, i started to feel better last summer. No “avoidance “ for their loss.

    Then this October my brother passed away suddenly. He was 50. There, i felt immediately a piece of my heart was hit. During the following weeks, i tried to carry on a normal life, i had dreams of him and my thoughts were with him but I didn’t feel real grief, and understood it wasn’t normal! Now i am fighting with panic attacks and anxiety over the roof. I know that i put apart the grief, i can understand it rationally, but i am unable to face it .

    I have multiple sclerosis and he was healthy, but we had both many problems in our lives, he suffered from a form of autism, not severe, but he lived all alone abroad. We loved each other, but for him it was hard to espress love.
    I could not see him, and neither see his house and the funeral took place abroad and I couldn’t attend due to my illness.

    I am not able to feel the pain, and my body is doing it for me with panic, and stomach issues, and God knows if I will “punish” myself with a multiple sclerosis flare-up.
    I don’t know what to do. I feel so abandoned, lonely and hopeless.

    Please can someone give me a suggestion. Thank you to anyone who will reply
    Love to everyone 💙

    • Litsa  December 22, 2021 at 9:59 am Reply

      I am so sorry for your brother’s death and that this has been so difficult.Have you considered speaking with a counselor or therapist if you are not working with someone already? This can be a good place to begin coping with feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and hopelessness. I hope you may find some useful information and support here on our site.

  7. Kat  July 9, 2021 at 10:45 am Reply

    My boyfriend lost his brother a week and a half ago. And he’s been avoiding me and others and withdrawing. He’s going home for the funeral next week. It just is making me so sad he’s pushing me and his loved ones away. Why do people use avoidance? Do they think about the people they’re withdrawing from at all? What do I do for a person who is using avoidance and withdrawal?

    • Lynne  November 5, 2021 at 4:42 am Reply

      Hi Kat,

      Please know that I am no expert…I have simply grieved, like other people, on this forum…I have only just read your comment and I realise that your situation goes back to July, but thought I would reply anyway…sometimes we read things we are meant to at just the right time…and if that isn’t the case here, maybe it may help somewhere down the line…

      Please believe that I am so truly sorry for your boyfriend’s loss of his brother…and I just wanted to reply with this;
      Avoidance is a big thing in grief, and it’s neither wrong nor right…it’s a human emotion…I did it, but it’s not something I did consciously…I think it comes down to not really knowing 1. how to act, 2. what to say…I also think it’s a defence mechanism, and it’s instant…at least it was this way with me…it wasn’t something I consciously thought or chose to do, and to politely and as respectfully as I can answer your question of “do they (the one grieving) not think of other people”, I don’t even think that they think of others in their pain…some may, some may not and neither is necessarily wrong…the ones that do may find it’s helpful to them, those who don’t are so heavy in their grief that they just don’t want to say or share anything with others, no matter who they may be…they may need time to process what has happened and what they are facing in the moment…don’t think your boyfriend is doing what he is doing on purpose, and he probably doesn’t even realise what he is doing or how hard it is on yourself and/or his other loved ones…he needs time, and I know that’s a cliché, but he truly does…and I am not going to say what so many do, that “time heals” cos I’m here to tell you that time heals nothing…you do however, get stronger and stronger each day, without even realising it, and life teaches us how to face the hard days to come without our loved one in our lives…death sucks!!!…but at some point, we also realise that with life comes death and that’s a hard thing for us to come face to face with, and is something very sad…

      When we are supporting someone who is grieving, we tend to have so many questions we ask ourselves, and sometimes we are also the one who gets hurt by the griever’s actions and/or words…as well as being kind to your griever, be kind to yourself too…you are very important in the life of your griever, even if they, or you, don’t even think or know you are…I stand with you as a supporter…xoxo

  8. Anon  February 9, 2021 at 8:38 am Reply

    My mother in law passed away suddenly before Christmas and I can not now stand to be around my father in law or sister in law because of the reminders. They talk about their loss and keep gifting her belongings and I just do not want to know. Guess it is easier for me to carry on without reminders as I have a busy family to get on with. Am I being unreasonable to them?

    • Isabelle Siegel  February 9, 2021 at 8:52 am Reply

      Hi, I’m so very sorry for your loss. I understand how difficult it must be to have constant reminders of your mother-in-law. That being said, I am unsure if the right decision is to avoid your father-in-law and sister-in-law entirely. Perhaps instead you could communicate to them that you are struggling with the constant reminders and tell them that you need some space. All the best to you.

  9. Kim  February 6, 2021 at 1:31 pm Reply

    I lost my 34 year old son a little over 4 years ago. He is my first born child. The pain I experienced the first 2 years was excruciating and unavoidable. I had no choice because I had no control. I was wounded to my soul. Now I have control of my grief. I’m not sure if that makes it easier or not. I find myself avoiding thoughts of him. Avoiding pictures of him. Avoiding talking about him to my family to protect them. I hate this. I don’t want to avoid thoughts of my son . My daughter simply refuses to talk about him at all. Everyone grieves differently. I need to set a date with myself and allow thoughts of my son and feel whatever comes up. Losing a child is journey I never wanted to take

    • Isabelle Siegel  February 9, 2021 at 9:57 am Reply

      Kim, I’m truly so sorry for your loss. I think the idea of setting a time to allow yourself to think about your son and to feel whatever you need to feel is an excellent one! Sometimes it’s easier to avoid… But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy. As the article stated, “In order to gain understanding, perspective, and tolerance for the pain of grief, one needs to allow themselves to actually feel it, face it, and be present with it in the moment and in the future.” All the best to you.

  10. RL  January 14, 2021 at 4:56 am Reply

    I have spent 20 years in avoidance and it doesn’t work. Although I am remarried with more children, I find myself becoming more distant and emotionally isolated. Tomorrow I will probably feel better. But that’s how it works. You go on for a few months or years and act like nothing has happened, and then 20 years later you are back there again and realize you never actually dealt with your loss.

  11. Deb Moderson  July 9, 2019 at 11:18 pm Reply

    My father passed away about a month ago. He was on Hospice and had several major issues that could have taken him, but a fall in a bathroom showering unsupervised is what ultimately took him from us. He was under my youngest sister’s care and her husband. Dad fell and hit his head @ 7 days later we were at his funeral. He believed in family being together & hated it when there were rifts within the family. He loved and forgave people. My Mom’s very content to not have company or phone conversations. She holds grudges and believes you can forgive but, not forget. The day before my Dad passed away she wanted me to ask my son, his wife and their children to go, because she wanted Dad to rest and only have two people at a time in the room with him. She hasn’t forgiven my son for getting into trouble over the years. My niece, her husband and kids were there 24/7. They took things out of the freezer multiple times a day when they were there, but when my grandchildren were their my niece yelled at all of them for going to take something without asking. It was my nieces children whom started this, not mine, but mine caught the discipline and they hadn’t even taken anything. I’d been asked multiple times over the course of three days to ask people to wait b4 they came in to say goodbye. My Mom avoidsed my aunt and uncles from my dad’s side when they came. They were one set of people I was asked to wait before coming inside. The day my Mom asked me for my son to leave I lost it and asked her if she was sure she wanted to do that and she said yes. To which I than asked about my niece and her kids. Her youngest would come barging into Dad’s room loud and unexpectedly. My grandkids did none of that the two times they were there. After I asked about them as well and she said yes; “ I informed my son, grabbed my things and tried to leave. Once I calmed down than my son let me have my Keyes. My Dad wouldn’t have wanted anyone turned away. He was also suppose to b a pall bearer, but that was changed before Dad even had passed away. My middle sister, sister in law and brother did come to my defense and told Mom she couldn’t ask for me to ask my son to leave. Mom’s always had her favorites and I’m not one of them. I told my sister in law that as well. I did apologize for getting so upset and set a boundary with her about not being put in the middle of her issues with other family and people. I chose not to go to help plan the funeral or pick out the stone because, I knew she was still angry with me and I didn’t want that for any of us, with my being around. I did offer to help with Thank you cards but, was told they’d let me know. When I asked again I was told they were done. I’ve offered over the past month to go over and visit or take her places she needed to go, to either have no response or someone else had already taken care of things with her. Our family was to gather at the family cottage for the Fourth of July and I really didn’t want to go. My husband did manage to get me there, but I stalled going until I knew my Mom and younger sister were gone. My brother who’s always quiet didn’t talk much and neither did my sister in law. I’m to the point I’m tired of playing games and being pushed out, without being told but, by their responses and actions. Another of my five sons and his wife are strong Christians and they’ve told me many times over the years my mother is manipulative and toxic. They feel I should not connect with her and my younger sister who’s also like her, unless they actually invite me. I’m confused and hurting. Avoiding them is hard and my stress goes up every time I see their posts on Facebook. They’ll get together but, not include me. My physical well being is also hurting from all of this, so when is it okay to walk away and avoid toxic family members? I do have an appointment with my psychiatrist next month, so I’m trying to take the right steps. I hope u have some insight for me in all of this. I hold no anger or hurt with any of them or my nieces. I’m just of the belief family should be treated fairly. Really nobody should b treated so unfairly.

  12. Sandy  July 2, 2019 at 1:07 am Reply

    I don’t know about this article, ppl avoid the painful parts of what happened to there loved one, doesn’t necessarily mean there avoiding there grief. I’m grieving my mom, I don’t go to see her husband at the house because it’s to painful because mom is not there anymore and looking at all her nick nacks reminds me of her not being here anymore and makes me cry. But I still grieve her everyday.

  13. Josephine  June 30, 2019 at 6:18 pm Reply

    My father died 15 weeks ago age 95.
    I didn’t get to speak to him before he died, now struggling with the frustration of my sibling being all action and expecting my understanding about her loss. Feel that everyone is reminding me that she is grieving and I ought to be more supportive to her.
    It has been almost impossible to communicate with each other without sarcasm from her since the family home has been sold.
    Terse replies to my enquires about her day, feeling best way forward is to avoid.
    Is it likely we will never be able to get past the loss?

  14. Ted  June 28, 2019 at 1:52 am Reply

    Avoidance of grief works great for me! Seriously. I’m 8+ decades old and have no drug, or other unhealthy dependencies. Do not assume one size fits all.
    A friend

    • JANE  October 30, 2019 at 9:46 am Reply

      Dear Ted,
      The body keeps score.

    • JANE  October 30, 2019 at 9:50 am Reply

      Dear Ted,
      Unfortunately The body keeps score. Meaning it’s stored in the body, in gods time the grief will be released.
      Sending peace light and love

    • Nina Danielson  March 11, 2020 at 2:05 pm Reply

      I’m with you Ted! I’m 75. I am very newly bereaved and I feel my spouse is still here and I am coping. I am a therapist and know the stages of grief. I have experienced horrendous loss and pain. I feel that if there is nothing of value to replace denial, I don’t want or need to go there.

  15. Laurel Quinn  June 1, 2019 at 10:40 pm Reply

    I really need advice. My son and his wife lost their 8-month-old son to SIDS about 1.5 years ago while they were all spending the night at our home. Although they don’t blame us or our house for the baby’s death, they refuse to return to our home with their young daughter or newborn son. They say that they will never be able to return for family gatherings, cookouts, or celebrations because of the grief triggers our home may cause them. We do not want to sell our home anytime soon, and yet it seems that is the only solution they will consider. Not only is this causing a huge rift in the family, but we are very concerned that this is not a healthy way to deal with their overwhelming grief. Suggestions?

    • Andrea Moreno  July 17, 2019 at 10:28 pm Reply

      First of all I’m very sorry for your loss.
      I am just suggesting this but perhaps you could start a new family tradition of going to their house, or anything different ! Restaurant , family vacation somewhere anything new . I haven’t gone through the loss of a child and that is devastating and your sons and daughter in laws loss in particular was sudden and shocking . But after losing my spouse what helped me most was different environments traditions and new Situations it’s tricky! It’s quite normal to avoid locations that trigger intense sadness and it’s in many locations and moments so it’s going to be how it’s going to be for them . A person is confronted with it continually anyway.
      They may never want to come back or in time they may feel it’s necessary to do that to heal. That’s a personal choice. I was confronted with daily environments and reminders and it was really tough but I had no choice . But over and over again coming face to face with these triggers did allow me to process it but I did that on my own choice. I won’t however be taking a stroll into the surgical intensive care unit where he ultimately passed or that hospital and I can’t say I would ever want to either. It’s different because it’s your home but in the part of their mind that holds this painful memory together unfortunately that location equals the loss and your going to have to let it be. God Bless

    • Shez  March 5, 2020 at 2:59 am Reply

      We bought the house of our dreams and 2 months later we were shattered by death in our home which was due to something the previous home owner had covered up. We have huge regret buying it. Have had to move to a smaller house where we can’t fit any of our stuff in and we will be making a huge loss on our house because the property prices have dropped and we were there two years only (tried to stick it out). Every single small change we tried to make to the house did not help. I hate the house with a passion. If I could blow it up I would. It sounds like you have been in yours for a while so you wouldn’t have the issue I have with making a huge loss on the house. We desperately want to sell it. Agree with the other comment, the only thing you can do if you refuse to sell your house is to meet at restaurants. I can’t explain to you how painful it is to walk past a place in a house where death has occurred and have people try and force you to be happy. It is excruciatingly cruel. Please don’t do it.

  16. Jimilla Holt  May 28, 2019 at 12:37 am Reply

    How can I help my husband and myself!!!! My Neice died three years ago and we’ve both been stuck in addiction and depressed ever sents!!! We also loses our kids right before Amber died!!! My Husband Avoids his Family!!! I need help to fix my family and my marriage!!!!

  17. aiden  May 6, 2019 at 12:05 pm Reply

    after my break ups i belive an act like everything is fine until im alone

  18. Grace Moss  February 2, 2019 at 12:57 pm Reply

    My very close brother passed away in a tragic car accident on 1/10/19. I thought my in laws were close to me but they didn’t call, text or email condolences or anything. I am hurt and angry because they knew I was close to my brother. Any advice on how to deal with this? I know they’re all busy but saying a condolence only takes 10 seconds.

  19. TAN TZE TING  December 2, 2018 at 2:10 am Reply

    How can I help my friend who is dealing with grief after her father’s death a week ago?

  20. Sarah Daneault  November 28, 2018 at 3:47 am Reply

    Lost a pet Tonight a German Shepherd named Ivy, she was 9 months…lets say first of all that I used to work in palliative care so I’m aware and “use” to death in some sort…lost family members…pets…buy lately Lost everything in all sphere of my life….My dog came in my life where I needed love the most and she gave it to me….with her by my side she was a reason. I have to face my responsibilities…get through problem and rise from ashes…for 7 months of her precious life I was 24/7. With her….she was like a child to me….she got struck by a car….the only time she escaped and crossed the road ..it killed her….and no notching comments ….she was the happiest and the best taken care of dog in the world…..but the traumatic event is I run to her crossing between cars on a really busy street in traffic hours….some people almost rolled over me and the dog not caring at all…..I had her in my hand barely breathing, scared and in pain….I felt useless….she died in my arms and I was all alone…but 2 nice ladies who stood by my side the hole times I will never be thankful enough for their help….but I am traumatized of the hole scene and the blood that was on the blanket I put under her head to protect her…..I would have give all tos ave her but I didn’t know what to do….didn’t wanna move her and cause her more pain..I knew she wouldn’t make to the vet….I get comfort in the fact I stood by her side till the end when she needed me the most but now I am on my own more than ever and don’t know how to go forward with my grief…..The last time I felt that devastated its after my grand father death when I was 9…I had a pats shock and start laughing when he died it took me almost 2 years to cry his death…but since then its been 25 years now…Talking about his death is a trigger to lot of emotional pain…
    .but my dog lost tonight traumatized me. Part of me wanna keep focus and go forward…but avoidance for me is only causing pain in long term….I am lost, alone ,incomplete ,confused, scared ,sad ,angry, devastated…name it …I feel all these emotions….but I can’t can’t be around people feeling sorry for my loss and Uncomfortable in my situation because they don’t know how to help me and I can’t express the intensity of my feeling right now….what should I do

  21. none given  October 1, 2018 at 10:46 am Reply

    I’ve been negatively coping for 20 years over the death of my dad. I was 12 and it was sudden and then the amount of secondary loss, I had to go to live with my mother who I hadnt seen in 5 years and hated my dad, leave my room all my stuff my little brother. I started using drugs and have every single day except for my pregancy and the year i breastfed. that may make me a bad person in some’s eyes but I just wanted to avoid sleeping at all cost. I dream nothing but nightmares still to this day and my thoughts are terrible and all stem from unprocessed greif. my mother didnt want to even hear my fathers name and she couldn’t understand why I was so up set about it because in her own words “he was a fucking monster”. a life of living with these feelings that I am part monster, atleast to my mother who I just wanted love and support from, has left me feeling at my core that I am part monster and so there for I wont even try to be a better person. I want to but I have lived in this small and limited circle of people and my existance suffers from it. now I struggle with not hating myself because I know my child doesn’t derserve any of this I’m so far down the rabbit hole I wonder if I can even be reached. she just used to send me away or have me put in rydc or a mental rehab for youth and then never come to the meetings. forget to pick me up from school. my step mother couldn’t cope with her own feelings and turned me away. I am really very sorry what is a person to do when they have used drugs for so long and still to this day the other parent wont validate their own childs pain?

    • Amanda  February 8, 2020 at 4:06 am Reply

      Hi none given, I’m so sorry you lost your father at such a young age and your mother was no nurturing to you during such a horrible time when you probably just needed to be held. You aren’t half a monster. You are a human- we all have a shadow, we are all flawed, we all make mistakes which sometimes impact others. Stuck grief is so so overwhelming for us on all levels. It’s clear you care deeply about those around you. I hope you can hold yourself now, find some unconditional compassion for yourself. Sending love.

  22. Alastair Wilson  August 1, 2018 at 9:03 pm Reply

    Thank you for your article. It really resonates. I’m stuck 20 years after my mum died (when I was 16) and unable to move on. My dad remarried shortly after to an emotionally abusive and insecure woman who made my life very difficult. I function reasonably well but only living at 60%. I’m incapable of finding a partner as they never hit the standards i feel my mum set… please advise on how to move on as I’ve effectively buried it so well i can’t access the grief despite years of therapy…

  23. Teri  July 24, 2018 at 4:54 am Reply

    Am 59 and have lost practically my whole family. Now, some are death, left work because disabled that I Loved. A victim of many abuses a loss of my kids whom believed the step dad never abused me. And, pets. A loss of my home and going through the final stages of divorce. I feel hurt, neglected, abandoned by the families that are still here but too busy. I feel unworthy and going to start counseling. As, guess it’s a form of ptsd and I believe I am a strong woman but stuck financially with a controlling man. Knee surgery coming and lots of fab and games. Therapy to fall. God has held me and am trying to give anything to feel worthy in this life again. Seems all are too busy and I want my kids back and safe along with grandkids. I do have momentous items I am letting go of because I feel after my dad died that mom put them and the service in my hands. I didn’t want to speak. He was my rock. I knew already from my grandparents funerals that all would go their own ways. Right now, I grieve for others. Nobody hears nor Loves me as everybody has a story. Thought about writing a book but why? God Sees. My heart is broken but I do have my therapy dog and no pity. Tis Life this day and age. To each their own posts. God Bless everyone’s stories as I heard you! ❤️ Day by day and trying to hold myself in control of my emotions, likes and not under the control of others. Is hard because I am still grieving for 25+ and those here that don’t care. This is my life! Think gaining control is healing and looking up. See, ya soon Daddy.!

  24. Stacy  April 1, 2018 at 1:29 pm Reply

    Thanks for your article. I lost my dad 7 months ago and my mother 15 years ago. Being an only child I’ve had to organize everything and sort out dad’s affairs and also pack up the childhood home and all that goes with that. As I was only 21 when mum died .. I avoided grief.. because everyone expected me to just carry on and be strong for my dad. Now at 36, I find I’m grieving both my parents and sometimes struggle to face it. But I do have a counselor that I see who helped me recognise the avoidance and to attack it with balance. However I’m still expected to get on with things and carry on my job but sometimes it feels like I’m in a haze. I struggle to adjust to being an orphan .. and no siblings or close family to help with connection. I know I’ll learn to live with the loss in this new normal but it’s definitely painful and tough

    • Shez mon  January 19, 2021 at 11:55 pm Reply

      I don’t understand some people keep avoiding to call and text them what is happen to them and what they going through. Really need to kmow

  25. Stacy  April 1, 2018 at 1:29 pm Reply

    Thanks for your article. I lost my dad 7 months ago and my mother 15 years ago. Being an only child I’ve had to organize everything and sort out dad’s affairs and also pack up the childhood home and all that goes with that. As I was only 21 when mum died .. I avoided grief.. because everyone expected me to just carry on and be strong for my dad. Now at 36, I find I’m grieving both my parents and sometimes struggle to face it. But I do have a counselor that I see who helped me recognise the avoidance and to attack it with balance. However I’m still expected to get on with things and carry on my job but sometimes it feels like I’m in a haze. I struggle to adjust to being an orphan .. and no siblings or close family to help with connection. I know I’ll learn to live with the loss in this new normal but it’s definitely painful and tough

  26. Sakshi  October 11, 2017 at 3:19 am Reply

    A few days before my mother died. I feel as if I am alone on this earth….. I don’t even wish to go back to college. I am feeling paralyzed and sometimes I don’t identify my emotions as well. I don’t know what to do. I am a 24 year old girl. …….. How should I handle myself…… I am not able to pick up my books….. It has been 13 days now

    • Eleanor Haley  October 11, 2017 at 11:49 am Reply

      Hey Sakshi,

      It’s normal to feel really distressing emotions after the death of a loved one. It’s only been a few weeks, I promise things will get better but you do need to find ways to cope with this significant loss. I would say if you continue to feel completely paralyzed and unable to deal with your day-to-day responsibilities, it may help to speak with a counselor in your area.

  27. Sakshi  October 11, 2017 at 3:19 am Reply

    A few days before my mother died. I feel as if I am alone on this earth….. I don’t even wish to go back to college. I am feeling paralyzed and sometimes I don’t identify my emotions as well. I don’t know what to do. I am a 24 year old girl. …….. How should I handle myself…… I am not able to pick up my books….. It has been 13 days now

    • Eleanor Haley  October 11, 2017 at 11:49 am Reply

      Hey Sakshi,

      It’s normal to feel really distressing emotions after the death of a loved one. It’s only been a few weeks, I promise things will get better but you do need to find ways to cope with this significant loss. I would say if you continue to feel completely paralyzed and unable to deal with your day-to-day responsibilities, it may help to speak with a counselor in your area.

  28. Sakshi  October 11, 2017 at 2:35 am Reply

    A few days before my mother died. I feel as if I am alone on this earth….. I don’t even wish to go back to college. I am feeling paralyzed and sometimes I don’t identify my emotions as well. I don’t know what to do. I am a 24 year old girl. ….

  29. Sakshi  October 11, 2017 at 2:35 am Reply

    A few days before my mother died. I feel as if I am alone on this earth….. I don’t even wish to go back to college. I am feeling paralyzed and sometimes I don’t identify my emotions as well. I don’t know what to do. I am a 24 year old girl. ….

  30. Tessa  September 17, 2017 at 3:53 am Reply

    Is there a time to say “enough” and avoid triggers that do nothing but hurt you? If you’ve processed all you can from them but they still make you cry and hurt, is it okay to cut them out of your life? I personally am grieving my childhood relationship with my dad (who is still living) and there’s a movie that is almost scene-for-scene my experience. It only hurts me to watch it now, after gleaning all the insight it had for me. But I feel a strange pull and I don’t know if it’s just part of me that doesn’t want to move on.

    • Amanda  February 8, 2020 at 4:12 am Reply

      I agree, some things just feel like unnecessary exposure to pain. Those touch points can be valuable though I think, when I’m disconnected from my emotions. But we have to also function in the world. Grief is so vast it seems like opening the can of worms we risk never being able to close it. Where is the balance between healthy processing/release/letting ourselves fall apart and picking up and “moving on” to whatever degree we can. Is that avoidance?

  31. Db  June 30, 2017 at 8:53 am Reply

    I had my husband kill himself
    And after a yr of the most intense drama starting with me learning he was cheating on me for a yr to him being so mad me
    It was my fault
    I was the reason
    I took it so horrible tried to fight back turned my life upside down for a whole year.
    The drama was so bad I almost took my own life.
    In the end a few months later he took his and 100% blamed me and my behavior.
    In the end now I can at face anyone
    My family….most friends
    So painful
    1st my behavior was so crazy.
    2nd he killed himself because of it.
    I hate this feeling of being in my head 24/7. Guit replaying all the stupid things I did or said.
    I hate seeing anyone at all.
    I just stay away from all the family on both sides.
    His family always find a reason to judge me and or make me feel bad as a person.
    I just want my brain to stop replayin every moment over that year.
    Almost makes me want to be gone to not deal.

  32. Roselyn  January 9, 2016 at 10:10 am Reply

    Yes it is and I am new and probably will never go by that scene or visit the place where my son’s body is buried.
    I understand and I believe acceptance is the key, embrace how I feel yet working toward a life again.
    But I function and accept these as mine . Just cannot expose my fragile heart and soul to these.
    Thank you for listening.
    This is torture

  33. Roselyn  January 8, 2016 at 7:23 pm Reply

    Are you a griever?
    I think avoidance can be healthy for as long as you need like driving past the car accident location where my son was killed . Why would you put a time limit on avoiding something that would cause someone pain. Talking about the examples, music, places. Not work, life.
    I disagree and I know

    • Eleanor  January 8, 2016 at 11:29 pm Reply


      I am, but I agree with you. As I noted in the article – in many instances avoidance is an adaptive and helpful response.

      However, it may be a sign of a problem when someone’s life becomes extremely restricted in a way that gets in the way of daily functioning (whatever that may be), causes chronic anxiety or when they avoid in a way that prevents them from coping with their grief and/or being able to honor and remember their loved one.

      It’s a tough concept because avoidance can be both helpful and a hindrance so I appreciate you sharing your perspective.


  34. Penny Miskin  January 8, 2016 at 12:14 pm Reply

    I very much try to avoid thinking of my daughter’s last moments… she was 3 and drowned in our pool. Whenever my thoughts stray to what was going through her mind in those moments I try to divert my thoughts…. I feel so deeply dark because I wasn’t there to save her and I feel like she may have been crying out for her mommy.

    • Eleanor  January 8, 2016 at 3:46 pm Reply


      As a mother, I can only imagine how painful such a thought would be. Diverting your thoughts sounds like a natural reaction and this may be one of those instances when avoidance is a little protective, in that it prevents you from spiraling into all the things you imagine might have happened. I think in many different instances in life we try to avoid a thought that might trigger negative rumination and often this is adaptive.

      In grief avoidance of thoughts might be harmful when, despite your best efforts, you continue to experience the thought in an intensely distressing and intrusive way. Or if you have to go to extreme measures to try and prevent the thought – for example, if you begin to avoid people, places, things, imagery, etc that might trigger such thoughts. As you can imagine, in these instances avoidance can cause a person additional emotional pain and can cause their world to become increasingly difficult to navigate.

      My heart goes out to you,

    • Shelli Kaelin  March 9, 2016 at 6:17 pm Reply

      I am so sorry you lost your child. When I read your post I feel moved to tell you something my father told me once. When he was a teenager he almost drowned. He told me that it was one of the most peaceful things he ever experienced. He felt panic before the first breath he took underwater but it only lasted a few seconds and then all he felt was peace. I hope that perhaps you can know that she could have experienced it this way as well. Blessings to you.

  35. Dee Anna  November 24, 2015 at 3:58 pm Reply

    I feel like I could be on the fence with avoidance. I do not avoid people, places or memories, actually I feel comfort in them; however, I’m find that since I live alone & I’m 40 miles from my boyfriend’s family & our friends I’m becoming isolated or withdrawn with my thoughts & feelings. I feel like I am trapped inside my own head with all the thoughts & emotions that I can’t shut off. I have co-workers & a best friend where I live; however, they never got to know my boyfriend, so I think it is hard for them to want to talk because they didn’t know them. I also have tried to share my feelings with Steve & my mutual friends, like the fact that I’m struggling every minute of every day; however, I get the typical response ‘it will get better with time”. I can’t find a purpose or meaning for my life. I went through the steps that you described right after passed, then the emotions hit & in October I felt things getting easier; however, a little drama from one of his family members has thrown me into a tail spin where I feel like I’m drowning & that I am all alone.

  36. DJ  October 7, 2015 at 4:17 am Reply

    Question… How do we start to “allow ourselves to actually feel it, face it, and be present with it in the moment and in the future”, if the grief is very bottled and very old? I’ve gone through 8 years of avoiding, and an unexpected trigger brought it all up to the surface. I didn’t know/want to cope with it then, and I don’t know now. Old mechanisms of directing my attention elsewhere jumps right back. Should I face the trigger?
    Can you point me to an article or episode of yours that might set me on the right track?
    Thank you.

    • Eleanor  October 7, 2015 at 2:32 pm Reply

      Hey DJ,

      There are a number of ways you could go about trying to start processing your grief. Just coming here and learning more about grief is a good start. It sounds like you have the awareness to know you’ve been avoiding, so if you are able to identify the ways in which you’ve been doing this then the next step is figuring out what to do about it. Generally, if you know you’ve had a problem coping with triggers and avoidance in the past, then perhaps the best course of action is to try and face them. If you don’t face them you will spend the rest of your life running away and being tormented by them. That being said, it’s normal for things to remind you and make you sad years later but if it’s still causing you intense distress then you are wise to try and start dealing with this.

      Therapy is always a good place to start, but you may choose to take smaller steps like for instance, would you consider journaling about your experiences? You can writing about your memories, allowing yourself to remember them and to feel the emotions related to them. Perhaps journaling about the triggers would help – what was it? how did it make you feel? why do you think it made you feel this way? This may not be something you think you would realistically do, but it might be worth a shot.


  37. Connie  March 17, 2015 at 6:24 pm Reply

    i like you podcasts but I think you could include all beings because losing a beloved pet is every bit as painful and the grief as devastating as losing a beloved human.

  38. Kelly  February 18, 2015 at 7:33 pm Reply

    Thanks Eleanor…Having things around me that belonged to my loved ones gives me a lot of comfort. It’s the way that I keep them a bit in the present. Reminders hurt much less for me than feeling like they were never here.

  39. Geneviève  February 18, 2015 at 7:44 am Reply

    Thank you! This is helpful, as always.

  40. Kelly  February 17, 2015 at 10:41 pm Reply

    OMG…I am the daughter who lives among my parents’ relics…Is that a bad thing? 🙂

    • Eleanor  February 17, 2015 at 11:37 pm Reply

      Not necessarily! Not if this is how you want to live. Of course many people surround themselves with memories and objects that remind them of deceased loved ones. It’s only a bad thing if you wish to let go of, give away or put away some of these objects but because of fear you aren’t able to over a long period of time. Or if you feel as though holding on is keeping you stuck. Otherwise, I’m all for keeping reminders! My house is full of them.

      • Cam  September 3, 2016 at 7:47 pm

        Dear Eleanor,

        on the comment about living among your loved ones belongings.. I feel both, fear to let go, as well feel as though holding on is keeping me stuck, and frustrated. As well also feel annoyed, and cannot be reminded of memories, listen to specific music, go to places etc.. the grief, pain kicks in again. Feel very exhausted at times … how can one go on, try to be happy at times even, and the loved cannot anymore. All is lost and gone forever. .. Sending my love and thoughts to all you here. Thank you.

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