Moving Forward When You are Stuck in Grief
If you’re feeling mired in grief and unable to move forward with your life, there are coping mechanisms that can help you get “unstuck.”
Loss is a part of life and the human condition. Still, we all experience it in different ways – and this includes our reaction to loss. In fact, every person’s relationship to grief is unique, and this is why some people may experience weighty grief that they become stuck within. If you feel as though you may be stuck and unable to move forward, read on to learn more about coping and moving forward in your life.
What is Grief?
To be clear, there is no “right” way to grieve. When someone you love has died, you are likely to experience a range of emotions. This includes sadness, of course, but feelings like guilt and anger are common, too. They may come and go for weeks, months, or even years. All of this is normal and not cause for concern. Your grief will change in intensity over time, too, and not always in a linear fashion. For instance, you may have several “good” months, only to be brought to your knees by something like a birthday or graduation.
It is also common for bereaved people to develop problems sleeping. Insomnia can easily take root when you are deep in grief, which can sometimes lead to hallucinations. You may think you see your loved one or hear their voice, which can also cause a flood of emotions. All of this is normal.
What Does it Mean to Be Stuck in Grief?
The above symptoms and experiences are common among the bereaved. But some people become so deeply mired in the negative emotions of loss. They cannot move forward in life while also honoring the loss. This is often referred to as complicated or unresolved grief. It’s important to know that this doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. Complicated grief can arise for several reasons. Here are just a few:
- You have experienced multiple losses in a short amount of time or multiple deep losses throughout your life.
- You had an ambivalent relationship with the deceased, and their death reopened old wounds.
- The loss also represents the loss of your dreams or an unrealized future.
- Your loved one’s death is difficult to discuss socially, such as in cases of suicide or drug overdose.You don’t have closure because your loved one is missing or presumed dead.
Whether you fall into one of these specific categories or not, there is no shame in experiencing complicated or unresolved grief.
What are the Signs You May Be Stuck in Grief?
Although grief experiences differ, these six signs are indications that you may be stuck:
- You feel an intense longing for what you’ve lost, so much so that it seems all-consuming.
- You have difficulty focusing on anything because intrusive thoughts of your loved one or the circumstances surrounding their death are always at the forefront of your mind.
- You seem unable to accept the loss. You may still feel numb many months into your grief. Or you may be unable to say out loud that your loved one has died.
- You are actively avoiding reminders of your loved one, including people, places, situations, and activities that may trigger memories of them.
- You feel a loss of purpose or identity because the things that felt meaningful to you about life and your place in it were all tied to the person you lost. You experience a sense of guilt or responsibility for your loved one’s death. You believe you should have done more to prevent it. This feeling does not ease over time.
If you feel that any of the above signs apply to you, it can mean your grief has a more lasting, negative impact on your life than is typical in the grief recovery process.
What Should You Do to Move Forward?
If you recognize that you are stuck in your grief and have difficulty moving forward with your life, you aren’t alone. Awareness of your challenges is the first step toward getting yourself “unstuck” and making forward progress. Grief isn’t something that can be solved or completed. But it is possible to heal and begin to find joy and beauty in life once again.
The key for many people stuck in grief is more self-compassion. Here are four ways to practice more of it during your grief journey:
Respect the loss.
This means discovering a meaningful way to pay your respects. It might include writing a heartfelt letter to the deceased person, journaling about your favorite memories, planting a tree or garden in their honor, creating a personal memorial space for thoughtful remembrance.
Get serious about self-care.
In periods of intense stress and emotion, it becomes more important to care for your physical body, as well as your heart and mind. Ensure you are eating and drinking appropriately. Don’t rely on addictive substances like alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to help you cope.
Practice kindness on yourself.
You may have many “should have” or “could have” thoughts that make you constantly reflect on what you wish you had done differently. Treat yourself as you would a friend suffering from this type of guilt or regret – with grace and kindness.
Reach out to others.
Grief is funny in that, though every person experiences it, it can make you feel quite alone. Talking with someone about what you’re experiencing can help you work through your emotions and engage with life again. You can seek out a friend or family member or professional grief support.
If You’re Stuck in Grief, You’re Not Alone
If you’re feeling as though complicated or unresolved grief is holding you back from moving forward in life, it can make you feel even more alone. Know that many people become “stuck” in this way and that there are solutions and ways forward. Use the coping mechanisms above to gain forward momentum as you work to engage with life once again.