What’s Your Grief Style? (aka coping for your kind of crazy)

Too lazy to read the post?  Listen to our podcast episode on this topic instead.

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We talk a lot here at WYG about different grief theories.  We do our best to break them down in a way that makes sense, doesn’t put anyone to sleep, and (just maybe) helps you gain some new insights into your own grief experience. Recently we were interviewed for an ebook and the author asked us what our personal grief philosophy is.  We were both quick to give him the same answer, which is that we don’t have a singular ‘grief philosophy’.  This may seem confusing, considering we are mental health professionals who work in the field of grief and loss, have experienced our own personal losses, and spend our free time blogging about grief.  If anyone would have a ‘grief philosophy’ you would think it’d be us, right?  But we both feel that grief is so unique and dynamic that trying to pin it down into any one model or theory feels really dangerous.

That being said, there are some observations about grief styles we do think are pretty darn helpful.  Are they the holy grail of grief theory?  Absolutely not.  Are they universal?  Nope.  But they frame a lot of our thinking about grief and the inspiration for our blog.  Waiting with baited breath for us to share?  Wait no more.  We shared some of these ideas in a telesummit that went live today (and will be available for 48 hours, you can find it here) and thought it may be helpful to give a recap here.

In our observations of ourselves and the hundreds of people we have known and supported over the years, we have come to recognize and appreciate that all of us have predispositions toward the rational, the creative, or the emotional sides of our minds.  Though we all certainly have a bit of each of these within us, we often lean toward one style over another.  Just taking a moment to think about all three you may quickly be able to identify which is most dominate for you.

whats your grief styleWhether we are especially rational, emotional, or creative is important to consider, because this can impact both how we grieve, as well as the tools and coping strategies that are most helpful for us.  Additionally, understanding our predispositions can help recognize how grief is impacting us. Though we may be most comfortable with one style, grief can push us to another.  Someone who is normally creative may no longer feel able to create; someone who is rational may suddenly feel overwhelmed by emotions; someone emotional may suddenly not feel the emotions they expect.  The changes in our dispositions while we grieve can be overwhelming and distressing.

So, what’s your grieving style?

The Emotional

At its core, grief taps into our emotional selves – our emotions can spiral into total overdrive, they can fluctuate from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute.  Some people are already more comfortable within this emotional realm.  Grief can make you feel crazy, which is totally normal, but can be incredibly distressing, even to those comfortable with their emotions.  We can feel anxiety and guilt.  We feel deep sadness and overwhelming emptiness.  Though most of us hide these tough emotions, there is great value in sharing our emotional side while we grieve.  When these emotions overwhelm us, our inclination can be to avoid them, thinking avoidance will remove our pain.  We don’t like when our emotional side begins to take over everything, so we may run from it or feel embarrassed by it.  Experiencing, processing, and expressing emotions helps us to incorporate them in a meaningful and healthy way.  Additionally, becoming comfortable with these difficult emotions can help us better understand ourselves, and can help us be more sympathetic toward others.  Should we find our emotions spiraling, it can be helpful to manage our emotions by tapping into our rational and creative selves.  Examples of this may be writing about emotions, or learning about the complexity of grief to better understand the emotions we experience.  But while we grieve there is great benefit to embracing the emotional self, to help us feel the difficult emotions rather than avoid them.

The Creative

You may think if you don’t create, your aren’t creative.  But in reality, creativity can mean connecting with and appreciating the creative expression of others.  There are many of us who, when dealing with any extreme emotions, are inclined to make or appreciate art.  This creativity is often a way to express the emotions we are feeling – creating something unique or beautiful from our internal world.  There are countless ways we express our creative selves, from photography to journaling, art therapy, scrapbooking, and music.  The emotions of grief are difficult to understand and share, so these creative outlets can make it easier to face difficult emotions in non-traditional ways.  When talking isn’t working for you in your grief, for whatever reason, finding a creative outlet can be a different and positive way to manage the emotions of grief.

The Rational

For some people, rationality is their go-to style.  Knowing, understanding, and learning brings security and comfort. The intensity of grief emotions can be hard for those who lean toward the rational, as the emotions of grief can make it hard to maintain rationality.  People who relate to this grief style may seek to understand their grief by learning the different grief models and theories.  These individuals may find comfort in the practicalities that need to be handled when grieving, as it gives some order and stability.  Using rational tools can help with the necessary things that so many grievers struggle with – sorting belongings, preparing for anniversaries and special days, and supporting kids who are grieving.

Putting It All Together

By understanding your grief style you are better equipped to choose the coping mechanisms that will work best for you.  Although, it is important to keep in mind that, as grievers and as individuals, we have leanings towards each of these realms so you may find yourself tapping into new or different areas at varying times in your life.

Finally, just as we may lean more toward one realm than another, the same goes for those around us.  Remember this when you find yourself struggling to relate to someone whose grief style clashes with your own.  You may find when you put your different grief styles into perspective that you have greater understanding and compassion for their unique struggles.

Do any of these grief styles resonate with you?  Is there a grief tool that fits in one of these styles that has worked well for you?  Leave a comment to let us know!  And subscribe to get our posts right to your inbox! 

June 23, 2017

14 responses on "What's Your Grief Style? (aka coping for your kind of crazy)"

  1. This article is made so much sense to me. I’ve just lost my Dad a few months ago… I guess I’m a half/half.. but I was very emotional at the beginning and thought I’m going crazy, I cannot cope with this, and now slowly am a bit more rational. But I still do break out in tears on many occasions, and got triggers everywhere.. still haven’t sorted out a lot of his things, and so on…

    My question would be, if you might have already or could consider on writing about the subject of complicated grief/confused grief due to a complicated relationships? In my case father/daughter relationship. That’s where I’m feeling stuck with my feelings, thoughts and emotions still as well. ( Guilt, Regret, Anger, Forgiveness, Acceptance, Ungratefulness, Selfishness .. mixed feelings .. )

    Overall, I think I’m still struggling with accepting his traumatizing death, how all came about, and me as a caretaker feel that I didn’t do enough, could have prevented things, outcomes, could have done more and so on. I think I’ve read this article here about the: Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda! But not sure if there were acutally suggesting or advice, how one can cope and perhaps heal with those feelings.

    Oh, and as well I’m having issues with flashback of those traumatizing moments within the hospital. I feel like one can never “forget” or “delete” those images out of my mind.

    As well, the family dynamic among my parents was very destructive and hard to grow up with, and hard to watch till the end.

    I think those are other topics as well. But all that, feeds the suffering of how I experience my grief.

    Sorry, if my comment is a bit all over the place…

    I’m so glad I found your site, it has clarified and helped me a lot already. As well as especially reading about other peoples experiences and comments.

    Thank you so much.

  2. I am the person who walked into my best friend’s house and found her dead. I learned a lot about myself that day. I remained very calm, didn’t overreact. In fact, I called her sister from her house, her sister that she wasn’t nearly as close to as she was to me, and yet the sister started that hysterical, movie style screaming. I continued to function and remain calm and rational through emptying her house, re-homing her pets, her funeral, all of it. It wasn’t until much, much later that I morphed into more emotional grief. Now, two years later, I still struggle with deep sadness and overwhelming emptiness daily. So I learned that I’m good in a crisis, but moving forward out of that crisis has been crippling, emotionally. Almost seems to get worse as time goes by. I should mention that my grief has been compounded by the sudden loss of my father a year later. He was probably my favorite person, my anchor, I can’t even really explain what he meant to me. I went through that loss without the best friend, which I’d never expected to have to do. So I’ve got all kinds of complicated, compound grief going on and it’s a miserable place to be. But the emotional grief doesn’t kick in for me right away, I don’t do the wailing (like my friend’s sister) or find myself unable to get out of bed. So I start out very rational and move to emotional. Kind of wish it was the other way around.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Hi Emily- I am so sorry for both these losses, especially in such a short time. I can relate to your grief style- mine is very similar. I also agree with that feeling that maybe I would prefer to be more emotional early, though I suspect others may feel just the opposite! But with any of these styles, much of the balance comes in by making space for these different ways of grieving, even if it comes in its own time and own way. Sometimes when we are naturally predisposed to one style we have to work a bit to let in those others, but ultimately they can be a big help.

  3. I am an emotional grieve after my mother’s passing.I think some of my family are rational grieves primarily. You really have to be aware and respect these differences. I am needing a lot of time and space to function and heal.It really takes me a lot of time with many ups and downs.Like the description of waves hitting you on an ocean, some days calmer than others.Thanks so much for the information and support.

  4. I am grieving & could use any suggestions ppl have for me on how to cope after losing a very close Grandmother, she was like a 2nd mom to me. Thx.

  5. I have been researching information on how our personality affects our grieving styles – not easy to find. There are so many different personality “tests” out there. We often hear about different personality types, but don’t always get the information that we need to help us figure out what to do with this information. Your podcast on this subject covered both ends. This is a fascinating topic. It explains so many of our behaviors after losing someone we love. Thank you! Jayne Flaagan

  6. Profile photo of Litsa Williams

    It makes your normal! And it makes her normal! As cliche as it sounds, we all grieve differently and neither situation you describe is uncommon. Even the most rational of us are overtaken by emotion when it comes to grief. Sometimes we hide in the rational because it feels secure and comforting, but to find balance we need to tap into our emotional side. Feeling those emotions – crying in the supermarket sometimes – is important. If we hide in our rationality, we can fall into the trap of avoidance. Just because we aren’t wailing doesn’t mean we are coping well (spoken from experience!). We need those tears to come, but because we aren’t as comfortable with them as our emotional friends may be, those tears can be much harder to accept and can make us concerned that something is wrong. Grief can change our predispositions in surprising ways – we become more creative (or less), our emotional side starts taking over, or our rationality seems to diminish. We all have to find our own path. As tempting as it is to compare our grief to those around us, the reality is that our grief and grief style is personal and will come in its own time and own way.

  7. Profile photo of Litsa Williams

    I think what you describe fits exactly! We lean toward certain areas and it can be so confusing when grief throws us off that track. I very much lean toward the rational and when grief interferes with that it is so difficult. I think we have to learn to tap in to the other parts of ourselves when we realize our predispositions aren’t always helping us, or perhaps are overwhelming us. For we rational types we have to learn to be comfortable with emotions. For those who are very emotional, they often have to tap into the rational to manage practicalities, or the creative to express emotions in a meaningful way. I think being forced to push and adapt in this way is one of the many reasons that grief can make us stronger people. Glad you found our site and that it has been a support!

  8. I thought that I was very rational. Cold even. I remember packing up all his stuff from the bathroom when he’d only been gone a few hours.
    His toothbrush, the soap he used, his razor.
    I remember I did not want his clothes, his shoes, his personal items except for his wedding ring.
    We’d been married for 19 years and I saw myself as cleaning him out of my life and very quickly.
    I wasn’t even sure I understood it myself. But I am practical, reasonable, a Capricorn, I told myself.
    I wasn’t going to be one of those widows who died twenty years after her husband for people to come in and find I still had his suits and shoes on “his” side of the closet, NO WAY not me.
    And then my neighbors husband died, and she wailed and wailed and wrung her hands and I thought to myself, even though this was only a few months after my own husband died, “that poor woman, she will never move forward”
    But she did. She was remarried within two years and I still break down in the supermarket when I see my husbands favorite foods. He’s been gone five years now. So what does that make me?

  9. Litsa- I became a widower several months ago. By education, profession, and aptitude, I would predominately be considered to be a rational person. Thus, I read each of your posts during the past few months, and particularly found your post about the theories of grieving to be interesting, and even consoling and enlightening, as perhaps you might expect. What I have discovered, however, is that grieving has been and continues to be an intensely emotional activity for me, and my strength in being a rational person does little to help with my grieving. In fact, my grief interferes with my rationality, by impacting my concentration, reasoning and memory. I find myself disorganized and inefficient as I try make and act on decisions about my future. In part from your posts, I recognize the value of grieving and have released the emotions I feel, and have shared those feelings with close relatives. I’m not certain if my situation fits with the thinking you expressed in this column, but would welcome your thoughts. By the way, thank you so much for all of your posts. They are invaluable and I always look forward to receiving them.

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