The Psychology of Grief

By Alisha Sabourin

Have you or anyone you know ever experienced the loss of a pet, moved, experienced a romantic break-up, started school, graduated, lost a job, had changes to your health, retired, had any positive or negative financial changes, experienced empty nest, got married, got divorce, lost trust, experienced the loss of childhood, lost faith, and have any unmet hopes, dreams, and expectations? These are examples of over forty normal and natural losses that people can experience during a lifetime that cause them to have broken hearts.

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind. Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour. It is the most neglected and misunderstood experience often by both grievers and those around them. Grief is about a broken heart, not a broken brain. All efforts to heal the heart with the head fail because the head is the wrong tool for the job. It is like painting with a hammer! The problem is that grievers have never lacked the courage to recover. What they lacked is the information how to recover.

Most of the information passed on within our society about dealing with grief is not normal, natural, or helpful. Many grievers do experience some very common responses: reduced concentration, sense of numbness, disrupted sleep patterns, changed eating habits, roller coaster of emotional energy. These are all normal and natural responses to loss. Their duration is unique to every person, as is every loss. We cannot predict how long they should last. They do not always occur. They are not stages.

There has been some confusion about stages that are supposed to happen when we experience a loss. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about five emotional stages that a dying person may go through after being diagnosed with a terminal illness: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Unfortunately, these concepts of stages were applied to other aspects of human emotion of loss. Her contributions brought heightened awareness about the process of terminal illness however, her work has been misinterpreted and accompanied by some unfortunate misrepresentation and damage. Grief is the emotional response to loss, but most of the information we have learned about dealing with loss is intellectual. When you mislabel something, you mistreat it.

Before we can discuss what recovery is, it is important to look at what it is not. We must begin to clarify our understanding of how we have dealt with loss in the past. Perhaps you have heard several pieces of information about dealing with loss which include: don’t feel bad, replace the loss, grieve alone, just give it time, be strong for others, and keep busy. None of these ideas have led to the accomplishment of discovering and completing the unfinished emotions that ensue in all relationships.

Recovery means claiming your circumstance instead of your circumstances claiming you and your happiness. Recovery is finding new meaning for living, without the fear of being hurt again. Over time the pain of unresolved grief is cumulative. Recovery is one day realizing that your ability to talk about the loss you’ve experienced is indeed normal and healthy. The goal is to help people complete their relationship with pain, isolation, and loneliness cause by significant emotional loss of any kind. Recovery and Completion are achieved by making a series of small and correct choices.



About Alisha Sabourin:

My specialty and passion is working with grievers. I had the pleasure to train under John W. James, the Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute® which enhanced my skills and knowledge to help people recover and achieve completion from loss as well as an opportunity for personal healing. I am passionate about collaboratively aiding people achieve and experience something better or different in their lives. My aim is to provide an accepting and comfortable environment to empower people to foster conversations surrounding their desirable and realistic goals for unique growth and personal healing experiences. I believe that life is too long to live unhappy.