Grief – Overview, Effects On Our Brain And How Hypnosis Can Help
Posted on 5th June 2023 at 19:39
Read below my new article published in Brainz Magazine.
Let’s talk about grief, understand what grief is, the different types of grief, the effects of grief on our brain and how hypnosis can help us on our grief journey.
"Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve."
When a loved one dies, we want to keep them forever, we do not want to let them go, we do not want to forget them, and we do often bury them in our heart. We call this the grieving process.
So, what is grief exactly?
In simplest terms, it is a reaction to loss. The loss of a loved one through death, but also the end of a marriage or relationship, the end of a career that meant the world to you…
The American Psychological Association defines grief as the anguish experienced after significant loss, usually the death of a beloved person. Grief often includes physiological distress, separation anxiety, confusion, yearning, obsessive dwelling on the past, and apprehension about the future.
Grief is a natural human response to the loss of a loved one. It can show itself in many ways. Grief moves in and out of different stages from disbelief and denial to anger and guilt, to finding a source of comfort, to eventually adjusting to the loss as well as possible.
For survivors, the grieving process can take a long time, often many years. The challenge of accepting death and dying as the end stage of life is what the grieving process is all about.
If you love, you will grieve, and nothing is more mysteriously central to becoming fully human.
We do not talk enough about the effect that grief will have on us. Our culture often makes the bereaved feel alone, isolated, broken, and like they should just ‘get over it’. In my own personal and professional lives, I have heard these words far too often. “Life goes on and you will just have to get over it”. If only it was that easy…
Grief can manifest itself in many different ways.
It can be so powerful that all your usual coping mechanisms are useless.
You find yourself physically and emotionally unable to function with any semblance of normality.
I want to end this section with one of the best quotes I have ever heard on grief:
“Grief, I've learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” Jamie Anderson
This definition of grief is a reminder that grief is a wonderful, sad, heart-breaking gift. Because grief is love, it is having loved, it is having been loved.
Let’s talk about the different and most common types of grief
You might be surprised to know that there are indeed several types of grief. Try to enter the phrase ‘Types of Grief’ into the Google search bar and your search will return a surprising number of results. When I first started my research about grief and about how we experience grief, I was truly surprised by the numerous types of grief and the effects of grief on our brain.
Grief is a natural response to losing something you value, but there are many circumstances of loss beyond the death of a loved one, and therefore, many different types of grief.
I have compiled a list of the ‘most common’ types of grief below:
- Abrupt grief
Abrupt grief, a form of common grief, can occur when any sudden or unexpected loss occurs including job loss, death, relationship breakup and any other form of loss that comes as a total shock.
- Absent grief
The absence of feeling grief when you experience devastating loss is also a form of grief. Absent grief can occur when you are not able to grieve because you are numbed by shock, denial, or dissociation. This can happen if the death is sudden or traumatic.
- Delayed grief
This is the grief that we do not feel in the moment because it is not safe, or we are in survival mode. Delayed grief may appear as absent grief at first, but rather than remaining unexpressed, this is a form of grief that can slowly emerge as the weight of a loss becomes reality.
- Disenfranchised grief
Experiencing loss can be difficult as it is, but when your loss is stigmatized or disregarded by society, it can add a layer of distress, known as disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief is any grief we judge or minimize.
- Ambiguous grief
This is a type of Grief that is hard to see. Ambiguous grief is a person's profound sense of loss and sadness that is not associated with a death of a loved one. It can be a loss of emotional connection when a person's physical presence remains, or when that emotional connection remains but a physical connection is lost. Often, there is no sense of closure.
- Inconclusive grief
This is a type of grief when there is no body to grieve. There is hope. It breeds conspiracy theories. It is more difficult to get sense of closure as there is too much uncertainty.
- Complicated grief
When painful emotions of loss do not improve with time and are so severe that you have trouble resuming your life. Complicated or prolonged grief is any grief that stays with you long-term. It can often interfere with daily life, and if it reaches a level where it significantly impairs important areas of function, it may be diagnosed as prolonged grief disorder, also known as complicated grief.
- Collective and public grief
Sometimes loss can affect a nation, a people, a culture, or the entire world. This community-level form of grief is known as collective grief. It is an experience common after tragedies like war, mass shootings, hate crimes, and violations of human rights. When we grieve as a group an event or public figure, like for example, when the Queen Elizabeth II died.
- Traumatic grief
Traumatic grief is a form of grief that happens in response to a sudden, unexpected loss. It combines trauma with bereavement or grief responses.
- Masked grief
This is a type of grief that is presenting in another way and the resulting feeling is a response to grief. Masked grief is where your body reacts to grief in ways that impair your normal day-to-day functioning, but where you are unable to recognize the link between your behaviour and your grief.
- Anticipatory grief
This is the grief that comes before a death happens. When facing an impending loss, you might experience what is known as ‘anticipatory grief’. Anticipatory grief is the grieving that happens before a death or other type of significant loss. It typically happens when a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal or life-limiting illness. It can also occur when faced with a personal diagnosis of a terminal or life-changing illness or when faced with the loss of abilities or independence.
- Cumulative grief
Cumulative grief is what happens when you do not have time to process one loss before incurring another. The losses come in too rapid a succession for you, the bereaved, to heal from the initial loss. The difficult emotions which come from the initial loss bleed into the experience of the second loss.
- Secondary Losses
The secondary losses are the events and changes that occur as the result of the death. The other losses that accompany grief in addition to the primary emotional response. Where the death of a loved one is considered the primary loss, experiences that flow from that death are called secondary losses, for example the end of the activities we used to do with the deceased loved one or the people we used to see when our loved one was still alive, etc…
- Climate grief
Climate grief and ecological grief, often used interchangeably, are terms used to describe a sense of loss related to the environment. As awareness of environmental concerns grows, it can be natural to feel a sense of loss as ecosystems decline and natural resources are lost.
These are just a handful types of grief that you will come across. Our grief is as unique as our fingerprint.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve and most of all there is no timeline with grief.
Exploring the grief brain
Grief can rewire our brain in a way that worsens memory, cognition, and concentration. You might feel spacey, forgetful, or unable to make ‘good’ decisions. It might also be difficult to speak or express yourself clearly.
These effects are known as grief brain.
When you experience a loss, your days may involve a mixture of yearning and sadness along with constant thoughts, memories, and images of the loved one. Small tasks can feel overwhelming and exhausting.
In a ‘typical’ grieving process, these symptoms tend to decrease over time. You will notice sharper thoughts and clearer memories coming back.
Everyone is different, and for some, grief lasts a little longer. And remember, there is no timeline with grief.
The longer that intense symptoms last, the greater the chance of developing longer-term changes in your brain and body.
The brain reacts to grief or emotional trauma in the same way it handles stress.
Although low levels of stress can be a good thing, chronic stress is not. Grief that lasts for weeks, months, or longer can push the body into a state of chronic stress.
Chronic stress puts the brain into long-term survival mode. This means:
Fight-or-flight hormones are released.
Your heart rate increases.
Blood flows to the more emotional and fear-based parts of your brain instead of the higher thinking regions.
Your prefrontal cortex, which is an area of the brain highly involved in decision-making, becomes less active. At the same time, your limbic system, which is all about survival, takes over.
But as previously mentioned, after the death of a loved one, you may experience many changes in your mental and emotional state of mind. You may find yourself simply being in a daze, unable to focus, or going aimlessly in circles at times. These are symptoms of Grief Brain. This is a natural part of grief. Your brain is on overload with thoughts of grief, sadness, loneliness, and many other feelings. Grief Brain affects your memory, concentration, and cognition. Your brain is focused on the feelings and symptoms of grief which leaves little room for your everyday tasks.
It is important to be gentle and patient with yourself. It may be unreasonable or impossible to expect to complete your normal tasks as you did before your loved one died. Be mindful about setting reasonable expectations and build from there. When you can complete a task, give yourself a pat on the back and recognize it as a step towards healing.
As you heal, you will find that your thinking is clearer and sharper, and your judgement becomes more reliable, and you start doing accomplishing more. It is important to take your time, baby steps, as they say. Slow down, nurture yourself and take very good care of yourself.
Hypnosis and grief
What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a safe and natural state of relaxation with an increased level of awareness during which you are not asleep and are fully in control. You will experience a pleasant state of mind with increased attention and focus. The hypnotic state is similar to some moments in your life when you are daydreaming or fully absorbed in a specific activity like reading for example.
There is absolutely nothing to fear as therapeutic and clinical hypnosis is totally different from stage and entertainment hypnosis and as you remain in control, you will never be asked to do anything foolish or against your will. For the hypnotherapy session to be successful, the hypnotherapist must have your consent, collaboration and full commitment as the purpose is to help you reach a feeling of being more in charge and in control of your life.
While in a relaxed state of mind, new information can make its way into the subconscious which transforms old beliefs and thought patterns. Hypnosis delves into your subconscious mind to plant positive thoughts and suggestions, which can create meaningful and lasting changes in your thought process. Hypnosis replaces the old with the new. Changing your thinking will change your beliefs, fears, desires, habits, and anything that creates resistance when achieving new things.
When working with a qualified hypnotherapist, you will learn to reframe your thoughts and feelings around any trying or traumatic experiences you went through.
How can hypnosis help with grief?
Hypnosis is a very powerful modality which helps us manage our grief.
One of the best ways to deal with the emotional aspect is by using hypnosis for grief. That is because grief is a form of trauma, an event that overwhelms our ability to cope.
And because grief can be such a traumatic experience, it makes sense that hypnosis can be an ideal modality to help manage it.
Hypnosis for grief offers so many options. Hypnotherapy is a useful and effective intervention for prolonged grief. Its effectiveness lies in the fact that it is so good at helping people deal with underlying conflicts or issues.
As a hypnotherapist I believe I work in a profession which is fantastically placed to be oif service to people on their grief journey.
The memories of loss we went through can be extremely painful to deal with and can be really debilitating.
Our brain tends to work as a coping mechanism and store these difficult or traumatic moments deep within our subconscious.
Hypnosis cannot help you completely delete these bad memories or take the loss away. When you face a trigger that brings you back to a difficult or traumatic experience or event, you become faced with the hugest urge to get it out of your head. However, the harder you try, the more the memories end up coming back into your conscious mind.
When you force yourself to suppress a recent painful memory like the loss of a loved ones, the memory is recalled. You then add more importance to the memory as the emotions are being re-triggered.
Hypnosis will help manage those memories in a more productive and healthier way.
Memories, with their associated thoughts and emotions, are adaptable and flexible, making us open to suggestion and more able to accept small changes to some of their original meaning.
You can change what a particular memory means to you, how you feel about it, and how you respond to it when you create and attach new pairs and associations and narratives to that memory.
Hypnosis is your reframing tool to change and “re-edit” the memories in your mind and your negative pairs and associations with a memory.
Hypnosis will help you change how you remember rather than the “raw” memory itself, by releasing the emotional response to the memory you release the symptom.
Hypnosis can help you to understand why you feel the way you do and enable you to express your feelings appropriately. By placing you in a relaxed state the hypnotherapist can help you come to terms with your emotions and allow you to understand the grieving process. Grief can be such a strong emotion that it may take us by surprise and shock us as we are not used to feeling this strongly or know how to handle it.
Relaxation techniques specifically aimed at not only calming the physical body but also the mind can help tremendously and help put any fear into perspective as grieving is a natural process.
Some people may carry some additional guilt because they had an argument with the person they loved just before they died and blame themselves. Hypnosis can help you see that it is impossible to predict an event and that deep down the loved one knew you loved and cared for them. Hypnosis can help give that closure and relieve you of any unnecessary guilt you may feel.
A person who has watched a loved one die after a long illness may find it difficult to come to terms with their last memory of them. All they can see and remember is the person in pain and suffering and cannot focus on the good times they spent together for many years. Hypnotherapy can help you to replace those sad times and last image in your mind with ones from happier times. They will take you back and encourage you to remember those happy times with your loved one. The hypnotherapist will help you to attach that memory to the forefront of your mind so that it is the first thought you get when you now think of your loved one.
Hope this gives you a better understanding of the different types of grief, how grief affects our brain and how hypnosis can help us on our grief journey.
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