Types of Grief: The 16 Ways People Grieve

Will I ever feel “normal” again? There are many different types of grief recognized by professionals. At some point in all of our lives, we will go through at least one of them.

And yes, “normal grief” is one of those types.

Why? Because it is normal to grieve a loss.

Still, everyone mourns differently. We grieve in different ways and for different reasons and even for different periods of time. Let’s get a little better understanding about how people grieve, how to identify what type of grief you are experiencing, and healthy ways to help.

The 16 Ways People Grieve

Here are 16 of the most widely-recognized ways that people grieve.

  • Normal Grief (or Uncomplicated Grief)
  • Complicated Grief (or Abnormal Grief)
  • Traumatic Grief
  • Chronic Grief
  • Anticipatory Grief
  • Disenfranchised Grief
  • Distorted Grief
  • Exaggerated Grief
  • Masked Grief
  • Inhibited Grief
  • Collective Grief
  • Cumulative Grief
  • Prolonged Grief
  • Abbreviated Grief
  • Delayed Grief
  • Absent Grief

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn. The focus will be on grief over the death of a loved one, but the ideas can be applied to other situations, including broken relationships, infertility, childhood trauma, or even the loss of a job.

Types of Grief

Full List of Ways People Grieve

Normal Grief

Normal Grief is the emotional distress that accompanies a trauma, such as death or other loss. This is what people typically mean when they talk about “grieving” or “mourning.”

The way people grieve varies by culture, and there are different models for what grief does (or should) look like. The 5 Stages of Grief (denial, anger, etc) has long been accepted as a model for what happens during the grieving process; however, there are many other ways to look at it.

We take a deeper look at normal grief here.

Complicated Grief

Complicated Grief is the type of grief that worsens over time. It seems to start out as a normal grief, but as time passes it deepens and stagnates. This is a disabling and often life-altering form of grief. These painful feelings of grief do not alleviate over time.

This type of grief is a mental health condition which can cause physical problems along with worsening depression. Death from a broken heart is possible; being a funeral director, I have seen it happen on a few occasions.

Learn more about complicated grief here.

Traumatic Grief

Traumatic Grief is the grief that you feel after the sudden or unexpected loss of a loved one. The bereaved person is coping with two burdens: the traumatic death of a loved one and the grief that goes along with it.

The thoughts that may go through your head might be: “Did he suffer? What were her last thoughts? Did she cry for me in her final moments?” These may be haunting you. Sometimes, people who have experienced a traumatic loss may develop PTSD-like symptoms.

See this article to learn more about traumatic grief.

Chronic Grief

Chronic Grief is a grief that does not subside. With chronic mourning, you continually suffer and experience deep distress for a long period of time. Some people continue to suffer for years without ever moving on through the grieving process.

Chronic grief can develop into serious problems if left untreated. Hopelessness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and more will be part of the mourner’s daily life.

If this sounds familiar, you may want to read more about chronic grief here.

Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory Grief is the grief you feel when you are waiting for your loved on to pass. You are grieving the impending loss.

Perhaps you have just received a terminal diagnosis for your spouse or child. You may have been told that your pregnancy is not viable. All of these scenarios will set you up for the anticipation of a loss.

Here is our helpful article on anticipatory grief.

Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised Grief is deep grief you feel over the loss of a relationship that is outside the typical family structure (parents, spouse, etc) or other recognized relationships (close friend, mentor). This type of grief might be the hardest grief for society to accept. It is also referred to as hidden grief.

Disenfranchised grief may include: the loss of a pet, an abortion, the loss of a casual friend or even an “online” friend. It can also describe grieving over something that didn’t come to fruition, such as an impending home purchase, an adoption or even the loss of your health.

Learn more about this important form of grief here.

Distorted Grief

Distorted Grief may give you feelings of guilt and anger. You may display changes in thinking and behavior. Self-destructive actions may surface. Before you can begin to heal, these distorted emotions must be dealt with.

The death of a child can result in distorted grief. Anger and hostility may result when you have feelings of distorted grief. These feelings can be directed at others or even at yourself.

Read more about distorted grief.

Exaggerated Grief

Exaggerated Grief will start out as normal grief but grow with intensity as time passes. It an exaggeration or magnification of the normal grieving process.

This type of grief may manifest in a variety of ways, including suicidal thoughts, anger, self-mutilation and other self-destructive actions.

Here is more info about this intense form of grief.

Masked Grief

When you experience masked grief, you may not even be aware that symptoms such as anger or impulsive behavior are related to a loss. You may be – often subconsciously – trying to mask the grief you are feeling at the loss of someone.

This type of grief is often typical of men in our culture. You mask your grief in order to save face or appear stronger. Learn more here.

Inhibited Grief

Inhibited Grief can be identified you display physical ailments instead of grief. Your feelings of grief may be too painful, so your body manifests them in other ways.

This type of grief can manifest in the form of chronic headaches, stomach pains, or even muscle and body aches.

Whether subconscious or not, with inhibited grief you are preventing yourself from facing the actual process of grieving. Read more here.

Collective Grief

Collective Grief is when grief affects a whole community, city, country, or even the world. People feel a collective a sense of hopelessness, loss, and despair when a large-scale or sensational tragedy strikes.

The COVID-19 pandemic would be considered a source of collective grief. A natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane, the terrorist attacks of 9-11, and any act of war or any headline-making tragedy can result in collective grief.

We’ve written more on collective grief here.

Cumulative Grief

Cumulative Grief is when a current loss may dredge up feelings of a loss you have suffered in the past. It can happen to you when you experience loses in close succession.

Again, this doesn’t need to be just the loss through death. It could be the loss of a relationship on top of losing a job, or moving away from family and then learning of a loved one’s health diagnosis.

Learn more about cumulative grief here.

Prolonged Grief

Prolonged Grief is when normal grief lasts for 12 months or longer. It may start out as “typical” grief and just never get better. You can feel stuck in your grief and unable to cope with your daily life.

This type of grief often involves a longing for and a preoccupation with your deceased loved one, and it is not to be confused with depression. You will be at risk for other health problems if not treated.

If you are suffering from prolonged grief, you may gravitate towards things that remind you of the loved one that has died, or you may go toward the other extreme and avoid all memories of your loved one.

Learn more here.

Abbreviated Grief

Abbreviated Grief is a short lived but bona fide grief. Maybe you weren’t too attached to the person that passed, but the grief was still felt.

Could you be “replacing” your lost loved one with something else? You may have lost a spouse and remarried right away or have lost a pet and purchased a new one immediately.

Read more in our article on abbreviated grief.

Delayed Grief

Delayed Grief is when your grief may be postponed for a matter of weeks, months and sometimes years. Your grief symptoms may take awhile to catch up to you.

Some examples of why this may happen might include losing a child when you still have more children to care for; losing a parent when you have to care for your other parent; or any loss where you feel that it is your responsibility to be the “strong” one.

Learn more about how delayed grief works here.

Absent Grief

Absent Grief is where you may show few or no signs of grieving. You may even deny that the death has occurred. It is important to not allow yourself to be stagnated in this type of grief.

We have all witnessed the widow/widower who is not acting the way we have seen others grieve. This might be a defense mechanism, a shield you have built for now.

It is important to remember that we, on the outside, may not be aware of how this person is grieving in private. Just because they don’t allow you to see their grief doesn’t mean they aren’t grieving and working through the pain. Read more here.

Identifying Your Type of Grief

If you are suffering from any type of grief, maybe you’ve been able to identify yourself under one of these descriptions.

Ask yourself some simple questions:

  1. Am I making progress in my grief process?
  2. Do I feel any better from yesterday/last week/month?
  3. Am I making future plans?

If you answer “no” to any of these questions, perhaps it is time for you to seek professional help.

SAMHSA provides a helpline designed to connect you with local resources. For most types of grief it is a good idea to speak with a mental health professional or to join a grief support group such as GriefShare.

Related: What Grieving People Wish You Knew

Coping with Grief: Does It End?

Coping with the loss of a loved one is the hardest processes you will ever go through in your life. There is no right or wrong way. The important thing is to work through your grief and to recover.

Life will never be the same, you will always miss your loved one, and you will need to learn to live differently. Although difficult, it is possible to work through grief in a healthy, meaningful way.

We all approach grief differently. We all grieve for different lengths of time. It is important to know where you are in this journey. If you are drowning and cannot reach the surface, it is time to seek professional help.

You can take different avenues. You can get in touch with a grief counselor, a therapist or your local church just to name a few options.

Helpful resources:

Ways to Help Someone Who is Grieving

Are you reading this because someone you know and love has experienced a loss? Like many kindhearted souls, you want to be a good friend but maybe you’re not quite sure how.

Let’s get started with some practical ways to be there for your friend. Here are 22 tips on how to help someone who is grieving.

Different Ways People Grieve
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Karen Roldan

Karen Roldan has been in the funeral industry since 2006, and a licensed funeral director and embalmer since 2008. She is currently licensed in the states of Indiana and Pennsylvania. She attended Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Wheeling, IL,...

2 thoughts on “Types of Grief: The 16 Ways People Grieve”

  1. Very comprehensive, a solid base of well explained types of grief that help those of us who conduct funerals, good insight into how individual grief is.

  2. I am completing an assignment on grief and it’s effects as part of my Masters in Palliative care. A very interesting topic.

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