Grief and Grieving: Coming to Terms with Loss


According to the great psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering” meaning “Mental illness is often the result of being unable to grieve losses”

We humans become attached, not just to each other but also to material things such as, houses, cars etc and to ideas and beliefs eg: I was beaten by my father because I was bad, to roles, Executive Manager and Business Leaders and the ultimate attachment – our own life.

When we lose objects of our attachment, we lose parts of ourselves and we suffer. We must then grieve these losses to heal and become whole again. Counselling usually involves helping clients grieve losses and “legitimate suffering”.

Grieving is a process of coming to terms with loss.

As such, grieving is not simply a feeling or feelings but a natural process we must go through in the face of loss. In addition, losses come in many sizes: the loss of a wallet, a leg, or the image of yourself as a healthy person, the death of a child, a dream to be a footballer, or the end of a close friendship. Each loss involves grieving to incorporate the loss into the new reality of your life. The process may take a few hours in the case of the loss of your wallet or years in the case of a loved one.

Grief and grieving involve many feelings:

Sadness, depression, shame, hopelessness, anger, relief, fear, regret, guilt, abandonment, and many others. Grief and grieving involve many thoughts – “I should have done more”, “I should have known”, “I am a failure”, “I can’t survive this”, and so on. Grief counselling attempts to help grievers sort out and process, and come to grips with the emotional roller-coaster they ride in the face of loss.

It is helpful to think of grieving as progressing in stages.

Grievers usually initially experience denial, numbness, or disbelief, usually followed by anger that maybe directed at doctors, the deceased, God, family, or themselves. Next grievers experience depression and the full impact of the loss. Finally they arrive at coming to terms with it, having incorporated the loss into their lives, enabling them to come to terms with the present and looking towards the future.

The stages of grieving are not rigid

In fact grievers can swing through these stages repeatedly until the intensity of their grieving is reduced because grieving major losses takes time and energy. Specific anniversaries are good gauges as to how far the grievers have come in grieving deaths or unwanted divorces.

Successful grieving leads to personal growth. People who avoid grieving subconsciously create defences against the pain of loss by walling off parts of themselves, and in doing so distort their perceptions and judgements. When grievers are able to deal with losses directly, they remain open to life as it is and so can see things more clearly. When people employ counselling to grieve unresolved past losses, they remove binders or filters that have blocked access to themselves and the world around them. So grieving truly leads to healing and personal growth and wisdom.

The stages of grieving are normal and healthy parts of the grieving process, problems, arise however, when grievers get stuck in the process and get chronically angry, depressed or in denial. They may become suicidal, chronically withdrawn, excessively anxious, or resort to substance abuse or other self–destructive behaviours. This is called unresolved grief and usually requires professional help.

Grief overload is another potential problem

This occurs when grievers experience many losses in succession or when unresolved past losses, triggered by current ones snowball into an avalanche of emotion. The griever then becomes overwhelmed and usually requires professional help. Unresolved childhood abuse and trauma can easily lead to grief overload when as an adult, the person experiences new losses. That is why counselling almost always involves helping clients grieve past losses.


If you suspect that you have some unfinished grieving to do and would like help please contact either John or Joy via our contact page here or call 01202 303722 for a free 20min consultation or email john@swantherapy.co.uk or joy@swanstherapy.co.uk