Inhibited Grief: Recognizing It and Finding Resolution

Published December 29, 2020
Woman looking sad and sitting alone in kitchen

Inhibited grief occurs when an individual experiences a loss of any kind and consciously blocks themselves from experiencing their natural grief related process. To others, inhibited grieving may look like an individual who is not experiencing grief related reactions outwardly whatsoever.

Inhibited Grief

Inhibited grief, while not technically a mental health diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V, still has unique signs and symptoms when compared to other types of grief related reactions. Inhibited grief may also be referred to, in general, as a type of unresolved grief.

Inhibited Grieving Symptoms

When emotions, especially painful and complex ones, are pushed down and blocked from being experienced, their energy still needs a place to go. These painful emotions and thoughts may manifest as:

  • Chronic illness that suddenly appears after the grief triggering experience
  • Physical aches and pains that are not typically experienced and not triggered by any other reasonable explanation (injury, pre-existing condition)
  • Gastrointestinal issues that appear after the triggering experience (nausea, stomachaches, etc.)
  • Low energy that is not typical for the individual
  • Sleep and eating changes
  • Headaches and/or migraines

It's important to note that grief is often comorbid with other mental health conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and substance abuse disorders.

Examples of Inhibited Grief

Examples of inhibited grief may look like:

  • Someone who tries to constantly stay busy and avoids staying still
  • Self-medicating often with drugs and/or alcohol
  • Avoiding grief related triggers at any cost
  • Discussing the deceased individual or situation as if nothing has changed
  • Carrying on with their life without taking any time for themselves (for example, not taking any time off of work to grieve)

Working Through Inhibited Grief

There are many reasons why someone would want to block their grief related symptoms and emotions. They may fear falling apart or losing control, may feel like they need to hold their family together and can't release their emotions, and they may not feel ready to experience the reality of the situation. Some methods and treatments that may be helpful to try:

  • Give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel so you can process your experience in healthy ways
  • Grief journaling can release and process your emotional experience
  • Trauma centered therapeutic techniques aims to assist with highly complex and/or painful emotions (Trauma focused CBT, EMDR, equine assisted psychotherapy for those experiencing grief)
  • Connect with trusted loved ones and leaning on them for support
  • Join a grief support group online or in person
  • Read grief-focused literature to better understand the mind and body's experience with grief
  • Practice grief-focused yoga

If you or a loved one is having thoughts of self harm or thoughts of harming others, be sure to get help right away. This may include both immediate and long-term support. Examples of this include an immediate wellness check via the police, connecting with a crisis line, inpatient treatment, and consistent therapeutic intervention that may eventually be tapered down.

What Are the 7 Signs of Grieving?

Stages of grief will vary depending on the individual. This means that some may experience some stages, all stages, and/or the stages in a unique order. Stages of grieving may include:

  • Denial of the loss
  • Experiencing painful feelings
  • Experiencing anger
  • Bargaining: willing to trade anything to have your loved one back or the situation back to what it was
  • Experiencing depressive symptoms
  • Testing: finding a way to move forward, trying new routines
  • Acceptance

What Are the Physical and Emotional Responses to Grief and Loss?

Physical and emotional responses to grief and loss will vary depending on the individual. Some examples include:

Man looking sad sitting on bed alone in house
  • Somatic discomfort or pain such as headaches, body aches, and gastrointestinal distress
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling sad and/or depressed
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yearning to be with the deceased individual

Complicated Grief vs. Inhibited Grieving

Complicated grief, which is now referred to as persistent complex bereavement disorder, differs from inhibited grieving in that grief related symptoms are outwardly shown. Symptoms of persistent complex bereavement disorder last every day for at least six months after the loss without improvement and include:

  • Yearning to join the deceased individual
  • Anhedonia
  • Feeling lonely, empty, and without purpose
  • Isolating yourself
  • Perseverating over the loss
  • Intense sadness
  • Intense yearning for the deceased individual
  • Feeling numb or in disbelief regarding the passing
  • Intense rumination about the loss without improvement

Disenfranchised Grief vs. Inhibited Grieving

Disenfranchised grief occurs when an individual or group of individuals experiences a loss that is not socially and/or culturally perceived as a loss and therefore may invalidate their grief related feelings and thoughts. Disenfranchised grief can add another layer of pain to the already painful grief related emotions, as support can play a huge role in processing grief in healthy ways. Unlike inhibited grief, disenfranchised grief is often outwardly shown, even though it may not be considered "acceptable" by some.

What Is Inhibited Grieving?

Inhibited grieving is a complex reaction to the grieving process that can occur for various reasons. Know that if you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of inhibited grieving, there are ways to cope at a pace that feels safe, so painful emotions and thoughts can be processed and released in healthy ways.

Inhibited Grief: Recognizing It and Finding Resolution