What Is the Difference Between Complicated and Normal Grief?

People have different reactions when they lose a loved one, but it is common to experience many intense emotions in the first few days. Individuals going through normal grieving have moments of numbness, guilt, anger, or sorrow.

These feelings typically ease with time; they accept the departure of their loved ones and gradually move on with their lives.

However, for some people with complicated grief or persistent complex bereavement disorder, the experience can be unbearable and does not get better with time. Around 1 in 20 people are believed to suffer from this condition after a bereavement.

Complicated grief features long-lasting painful emotions such that the individual struggles to recover from the loss, and their way of life gets completely impacted and derailed.

Signs and Symptoms of Complicated Grief

Normal and complicated grief share similar symptoms in the beginning. However, the symptoms of normal mourning fade with time while complicated grief symptoms remain and persist. Here are some signs of the complicated type.

  • Intense pain, sorrow, and constant reflection over the loss of the loved one
  • Putting all focus on the death of the loved one
  • Focusing on the reminders of a loved one or excessively avoiding the reminders
  • Persistent and intense longing for the deceased
  • Having feelings that life holds no meaning or purpose
  • Believing that you could have prevented the death or that you did something wrong
  • Wishing that you should have died along with your loved one
  • Withdrawing from social activities and isolating from others

Risk Factors

This category of grieving is more common in old-aged individuals, and gender may also play a role. Factors that can increase the risk of developing complicated grief include:

  1. Social Isolation

Physically distancing yourself from people you usually turn to for support can impact and limit the ability to move past the loss. It becomes challenging to have a healthy grieving when individuals self-isolate.

  1. History of Mental Illness

Mental illness such as depression can result in a persistent complex bereavement disorder. Mental illness can lead to instability, thus, the inability to process and bare intense emotions.

  1. Unexpected and Premature Deaths

It is challenging to accept the sudden death of a loved one or the death of a child. The unexpected and premature deaths leave a wound that can take a long time to heal.

  1. Dependency on the Deceased

The unfortunate death of an individual you were highly dependent on can temporarily derail your life. Thus, it is essential to put yourself together and regain your life bearing as soon as possible.

  1. Substance Use Disorder

Someone suffering from substance use disorder can escalate the level of grieving. Considering that substance users suffer from hallucinations, paranoia, and other mental instabilities, these conditions can significantly worsen when mourning a loved one.


Seeking professional help soon can assist the individuals at risk of experiencing persistent and lingering loss.

Besides, the caregivers offering end-of-life care for their loved ones can benefit from support and counseling to assist them in preparing for death and the emotional after-effects.


It helps release bottled-up emotions and frees you from getting stuck on the emotional roller coaster. The pain starts to lift if you allow yourself to feel it and share it with others.

Bereavement counseling

Enrolling in an intense counseling process after a loss can help you navigate your emotions and adopt healthy coping mechanisms. Counseling can help you prevent beliefs and negative thoughts from gaining a stronghold that is challenging to overcome.


You can find unrelenting support from your friends, family members, social support teams, and your religious community to help you accept and work towards moving past the loss.

You can find a support group specifically focused on your specific types of loss, such as the death of a young one or a spouse. In addition, enquire from your doctor about local resources to help you in the recovery journey.


Grieving is a process and a natural aspect of life. Early intervention helps people to get through loss and embrace healthy coping skills. However, if you experience intense, lingering, and persistent emotions that do not fade away with time, seek professional help.