Grief is a natural response to the loss of a loved one, and a range of emotions typically accompanies it. While grief is a universal human experience, not all of us navigate the grieving process similarly. For some, grief becomes complicated, intensifying and extending beyond what is considered normal. If you or someone you love is experiencing the symptoms of complicated grief, it’s essential you know how to get help. Learn more about complicated grief and how to recognize it.

Understanding Complicated Grief

Complicated grief represents a significant deviation from the typical grief response. It’s also called prolonged grief disorder or persistent complex bereavement disorder. A prolonged and intense sense of yearning, longing, and emotional pain characterizes it. There may also be difficulties in accepting the reality of the loss.

Unlike conventional grief, prolonged grief disorder often persists for an extended period. It impedes the individual’s ability to adjust and move forward. Complicated grief does affect your interpersonal relationships. Grief can stir up many different emotions for both the person suffering and those around them. Never judge yourself harshly for feeling unsure or uncertain because help is always available.


It is difficult to focus on anything else when suffering from complicated grief. A person may spend a long time in bed, lose motivation to maintain their hygiene, and be unproductive at work or school. They may also fight to preserve any memory of their lost loved one. Holding onto some personal items is normal. Hoarding every piece of clothing or personal possessions could point to complicated grief. If these signs persist or they begin to worry you, talk to the person displaying these symptoms. Ensure they know you are safe to talk to so they feel comfortable opening up.

Symptoms of Complicated Grief

Complicated grief manifests through various symptoms, categorized into three main clusters: cognitive, emotional, and behavioral. On a cognitive level, individuals experiencing prolonged grief disorder often have intrusive thoughts and experience difficulty concentrating. They may even develop a sense of disbelief or denial regarding the loss. Emotionally, they may exhibit persistent sadness, intense emotional pain, anger, or a feeling of emptiness. Behavioral symptoms include social withdrawal, loss of interest, and difficulty maintaining everyday routines. Complicated grief is difficult to hide, but some people may still try. If you notice someone is withdrawn or avoiding other people, especially after a loss, talk to them about how they feel.

Factors Contributing to Complicated Grief

Several factors can contribute to the development of complicated grief. A sudden or unexpected loss will lead to grief. The significance of the relationship with the deceased will also contribute. A lack of closure or a strained relationship before a loved one’s death may result in prolonged grief disorder. A history of mental health issues, a lack of adequate social support, and pre-existing attachment difficulties increase the likelihood of experiencing complicated grief increases.

Complicated grief can also be a response to other losses in life. People may experience prolonged grief disorder after experiencing a severe accident, especially if they sustain injuries resulting in the loss of a limp. Any of these experiences can be a massive trauma for those who experience it. Sadly, the grief that is often a response to it is sometimes overlooked.

Impact on Individuals

Complicated grief can have profound effects on well-being and functioning. It may lead to prolonged emotional distress, resulting in exhaustion, mental fatigue, and impaired social relationships. Individuals are more likely to develop mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. People may turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their feelings, which can introduce various health issues.

Moreover, the persistent yearning for the deceased and the inability to adapt to the loss can hinder individuals’ ability to engage in daily activities. Work, physical health, and interpersonal connections may take second place in an individual’s grief.

Effect On Family

Family members of those experiencing complicated grief often feel powerless. Of course, you want to help your loved one in any way you can, but you may not know how. Those suffering from complicated grief can be hard to help if they don’t have the motivation to seek help. All you can do is offer love, support, and comfort. Research therapists or other intervention methods, but know that you cannot force anyone to get better. If the person suffering from grief asks you for help, talk to them about what they need and help them when you can.

Interventions and Support

While these symptoms are common for those dealing with complicated grief, they are not true for everyone. Therapy can help people identify their grief, its origin, and how to heal. Therapeutic approaches, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and complicated grief therapy (CGT), can help. Therapy shows promising results in alleviating symptoms and promoting the healing process. These approaches aim to facilitate acceptance of the loss and foster emotional regulation and enhance coping strategies.

Understand Complicated Grief and Healing

Complicated grief represents a distinct and challenging form of grief. Prolonged grief disorder can significantly impact a person’s life. Understanding prolonged grief disorder’s nature, symptoms, and impact is crucial in providing practical support. Reach out to discuss recovery and help options and learn how to help yourself or your loved one get better.