We grieve for many reasons, not just over the death of a loved one. Since everyone experiences grief in their unique way, you may look at a bereaved loved one and see behaviors you don’t expect. It’s important to be aware that there are different types of grief and why someone may experience grief — other than the death of a loved one — so that you can be there to support them during a challenging time.
What are the five stages of grief
You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These are known as the Kübler-Ross model. It serves as a framework for identifying where someone is in the grieving process.
We won’t cover those here, as this article intends to make you aware of various types of grieving rather than the stages of grief. To learn more, refer to our guide for understanding the five stages of grief and loss.
Are there different types of grief?
Grief is a complicated emotion that evolves. There are many types of grief, and often, a person experiences more than one. Here are seven types of grief:
1. Normal grief
Since everyone experiences grief uniquely, there isn't a true definition of "normal grief." Instead, this category describes the type of grief where someone may experience intense physical, emotional, and behavioral reactions for a limited time. They will appear to be dealing with their grief in a healthy way and are moving towards acceptance, even if that process is slow.
2. Anticipatory grief
Anticipatory grief is a type of grief for a loss you know is coming. For example, anticipatory grief may begin when a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, or a dear friend announces they will move far away. The grief starts as soon as you accept that the loss will occur, even before it happens. Unfortunately, anticipatory grief can make it challenging to enjoy the time you have left. However, conscious efforts to process your anticipatory grief may put you in a healthier state of mind when the loss actually happens.
3. Disenfranchised grief
Disenfranchised grief happens after a loss that others don’t see as valid. For instance, people sometimes lack sympathy for deaths by suicide or accidental drug overdoses, which may lead them to discount your grief.
Another example is people not validating your feelings about the death of your sibling, an ex, a co-worker, or someone from whom you were estranged at the time of passing. Instead, they may say things like “you weren’t that close” or “you didn’t like that person,” making it feel like you aren’t supposed to grieve.
It’s essential to be aware of disenfranchised grief so you can recognize it when it happens and allow yourself the time and space to grieve as you see fit.
4. Chronic grief
This type of grief is when a person experiences intense reactions that don’t get better over time. The distress may even intensify rather than lessen. A person with chronic grief should seek help from a professional grief counselor. Without treatment, their suffering may eventually become depression or lead to self-harming thoughts or substance abuse.
5. Abbreviated grief
Unlike chronic grief, abbreviated grief passes quickly. This could be because a person found a distraction, such as remarrying soon after the death of a spouse, or because they processed their loss through anticipatory grief before someone’s death.
6. Traumatic grief
Losing a loved one in a horrible, unexpected way (such as due to violence) can result in heightened emotional responses. The distress from traumatic grief may cause someone to be unable to function as usual. People with traumatic grief should consider professional help processing their experience and managing their complicated emotions.
7. Absent grief
If it looks like someone is not grieving, this could be absent grief. Absent grief sometimes occurs when a death is sudden, and the person is still in shock or denial. Or, if a caretaker is busy making plans for a memorial and dealing with paperwork, they may be able to distract themselves for a while.
Remember that grief looks different on everyone, and they may be grieving even if you don’t see the signs. However, while absent grief can be normal in the short term, it’s important to address it if it seems to be going on for an extended period.
Reasons someone might be grieving
While most people probably think of grief as related to the loss of a loved one or a pet, there are many other types of losses that a person might grieve. Here are examples of grief a person might experience, other than grief from a death:
Losing a loved one may create an impact that leads to another loss, affecting several areas of your life. Those losses are considered a secondary loss. An example is a change in finances or loss of living arrangements after a death. Or, you lose your identity as a parent after the death of a child, adding to your pain. Secondary losses compound the initial grief and need to be considered as you work through your emotions.
Grief for personal goals
Loss of our vision for the future is a different type of loss. When life doesn’t meet our expectations or hopes, people mourn for what they didn’t achieve. This could be anything from an inability to become a parent, not getting into a dream university, or a deviation from your intended career path. Grief for “what should have been” is more than disappointment; allowing yourself time to grieve will help you process those feelings and move forward.
Loss of independence
Imagine having a degenerative illness and no longer being able to care for yourself independently. It would be natural to grieve for the loss of control over your everyday activities. This kind of grief can happen to anyone who has to rely on others for help, whether it’s health-related, assistance with finances, or any scenario where you no longer can fully care for yourself. Lack of personal autonomy is a different type of grief that many people will experience, especially as we age.
Loss of safety
Physical and emotional safety is essential to our overall well-being. When those are disrupted — by abuse, robbery, divorce, housing insecurity, or any traumatic experience — you may experience stress and intermittent anxiety. In those moments, it’s normal to grieve for your lost sense of safety.
Grief for lost identity
We identify ourselves by many different roles or relationships — we may think of ourselves as a spouse, a parent, an independent person, a scholar, a doctor, a tennis player, a vegetarian, a member of a religious organization, or any label that gives us a sense of self and purpose. If one of those affiliations changes suddenly, it’s normal to experience grief for losing that identity. Whether the loss was your decision or not, examining how you see yourself and how you identify can cause feelings of uncertainty and grief for what was.
Managing grief is complex. While no one ever truly “gets over” a loss, grief should lessen over time. Those needing extra help moving through the stages of grief may want to consider joining a grief support group or seeking help from a professional grief counselor.
Read more: 8 common grief therapy techniques