Grief on the Brain

Grief effects the whole entirety of the human person.  The emotional aftershocks of a loss are so emotionally devastating that the after shocks rock the brain and in turn physically rattle the body.  Individuals who lose a person they loved hence experience a total reckoning as the body looks to readjust and recalibrate to the loss itself.  When this occurs, the brain itself is rewiring itself with neuro pathways to associate with the loss and initial unprocessed and raw feelings.  These raw feelings  surge from the amygdala and trigger a variety of neurochemicals within the brain that deal with the loss and pain of someone dying.

Grief and loss have a staggering effect on the brain. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification


Like stress, the flight or fight response is activated which increases the heart rate, raises blood pressure and produces cortisol to deal with the stressful and painful trauma of losing someone.  This of course gives more free reign to the amygdala over the reasoning area of the pre-frontal cortex.  This is what leads to more emotional outbursts, less reason, less memory, and less concentration itself.  In reality, the brain and its entirety of parts is in some way responding to the loss itself.

The article, “How does grief affect the brain?” by Joe Phelan looks at the many issues associated with the brain’s reactions to loss and the after effects upon the human body.  The article is strongly based off Lisa Shulman, a Neurologist who studied extensively the effects of grief on the brain.  According to Shulman,

“The amygdala [the brain’s center for emotions], deep inside the primitive part of the brain, is always on the lookout for threats,” Shulman said. “When triggered, it sets off a cascade of events that put the entire body on high alert — the heart speeds up, breathing rate increases and blood circulation is increased to the muscles to prepare to fight or flee.”

“How does grief affect the brain?”. Joe Phelan. January 8th, 2023. Live Science

To read the entire article, please click here

Grief Work

Helping the brain heal is what grief work is all about.  Grief work helps re-create new neuro pathways that can associate other connections with the deceased that are not only associated with the death itself.   The brain, evolutionary, will long the absence of a loved one.  This is critical for survival, so naturally it takes time to create new neuro pathways that are beyond simply mourning and trying to find the one who is no longer present.  The yearning is a direct result of this and until adaptation manifests and new neuro pathways with new experiences are paved, then one remains in deep grief.

Rewiring one’s neuro pathways in relationship to the loss involves grief work and reconstructive narratives of one’s life


When Pro-Longed Grief occurs or more severe grief due to trauma, complications can occur which can keep the brain trapped in acute grief.  The unprocessed and raw emotional pain, similar to memories and sensations in PTSD, are not processed into long term memory.  This can lead to longer grieving periods until the information and memory is properly processed, stored and new neuro pathways allow for different connections with the deceased.

It is hence a sad tragedy when grief literally kills one of a broken heart.  When things are not processed, adjustments not made, the constant chronic state of fight or flight can produce extra stress on the heart and blood pressure itself.

Reworking Neuro Pathways

Meaning reconstruction is key in helping rework neuro pathways in the brain that associate the loss in a new perspective but also allow memory to properly be processed within the brain.  This helps prevent intense emotion that oscillate with more frequency and intensity in the early stages of the brain from continuing to do so many months later.  Meaning reconstruction also helps create a new narrative regarding the deceased, re-establishing a new relationship not found in the temporal world.  It also helps connect the loss with the present and future, as if chapters within a book.  The past chapters of the person’s life and the deep connection with parent or spouse are still integral parts, but those relationships are adjusted and understood in new ways of the person’s next chapters.

Ways to begin to carve out new neuro pathways include journaling and memorializing.  Through these two grief works, one is able to remember and honor.  The words on paper can help the person adjust and the new memorials can help them cherish the past but also strengthen the bond in its new form.  Grief work is tough but throughout, the brain begins to form new connections and grief leaves its acute stage and enters into a far less disruptive force.

Does this mean the loss goes away?  The sense of loss never leaves.  The connection in the brain and memories can trigger intense emotion, but these triggers are natural and not pathological as in cases of PTSD or depression.  As long as love once existed, then the loss will always have meaning and tears can emerge at a moment’s notice.  This is not bad but is the result of an emotional scar of losing someone very dear and special.  It is to many individuals a sign of their undying love and reminder of the value of the person no longer present.


To understand more about how grief effects the brain, please review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Training


Grief has a profound effect on the soul, mind and body.  It takes time to adjust to it without ever truly healing. However, like all wounds, despite the scar, one heals.  Retraining the brain so one can again emotionally function is the aspect of grief work.  Adjustment is essential and new neuro pathways are key to that adjustment.  With so many false ideas about grief and myths regarding it, individuals can grasp in the chaos of loss longer than they need to.  Grief Counselors can help individuals suffering from the trauma of loss and help guide them through the difficult process.

Please also review The American Academy of Grief Counseling’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Grief Counseling.


“How does grief affect the brain?”. Joe Phelan. January 8th, 2023. Live Science

Additional Resources

“How your brain copes with grief, and why it takes time to heal”. Berly McCoy. December 20th, 2021. NPR. Access here

“How grief rewires the brain and can affect health – and what to do about it”. Michael Merschel,  March 10th, 2021.  The American Heart Association. Access here

“What Does Grief Do to Your Brain?”. Traci Pedersen. May 6th, 2022. Psych Central.  Access here

“How Grief Changes the Brain”. Sophia Dembllng. August 18th, 2022. Psychology Today. Access here



Grief Support Vs Clinical Grief Counseling

Grief care and support is a key element in mental health.  It is not a pathological treatment but a humane way to be there for another person.  This is why it is lay and pastoral in nature within church, chaplaincy, hospice, funeral, and other pastoral settings.  Many professionals help individuals deal with basic human loss and how to come to terms with it.  AIHCP certifies many individuals to help others in this adjustment to loss and how to understand the nature of grief and loss itself.

There is a large difference between grief support and clinical grief counseling. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Program


AIHCP’s certifications also aid others who are clinical professionals who wish to obtain a Grief Counseling Certification.  However, licensed and clinical professionals are innately able to offer more than basic lay and pastoral grief counseling but can offer clinical counseling for grief that goes off the rails.  When grief becomes pro-longer, complicated or depression exists, clinical and licensed counselors are needed to help and aid.  Those who obtain certification in grief counseling but are only lay in nature cannot offer clinical assistance in grief itself.

It is important to understand these key differences between lay and pastoral grief counseling via grief support and licensed and clinical grief counseling itself.  This is one of the most numerous questions individuals ask when becoming grief certified.  They do not understand the differences between grief support and clinical grief counseling and what a certification in grief counseling permits them to perform.  Again the answer is simple, ones certification enhances understanding in the grieving process but the level at which one helps others is determined not by the certification but the professional status of the individual seeking certification

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification.


Please review the video below

Middle Age and Change Video

Change is a part of loss.  Any loss of something incurs the debt of change and adjustment.  Aging is no different.  After adolescence, midlife is a difficult time for many men and women. The loss of youth itself can play a large role in anxiety and loss.  Greying hairs, loss of hair, wrinkles, gained weight, and lack of past athleticism can cause grief and sadness.  In addition, reflection on missed goals, lost opportunities and failures in life can play a impactful role on how one views oneself.  Still, even more so, lost of family and new family roles can terrify some individuals.

Change occurs in middle-age and how one copes means the most. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification


These shocks and adjustments can lead to negative coping where individuals revert to immature behaviors, utilize drugs, avoid responsibilities, purchase lavish things or pay for expensive surgical procedures.  Positive coping reflects and adjusts in a mature fashion.  It may look to accomplish goals that were abandoned or re-calculate where one is in life.  It may also help individuals better appreciate what one has or even reflect on the advantages of middle age over early 20s.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in grief counseling



Please review the video below

Ambiguous Grief

Ambiguous Grief is a loss that cannot find closure.  It often involves dealing with someone in coma, possesses a mental disorder that prevents them from living a fulfilling life, or cases of abduction, missing children, missing pets, or soldiers lost at war.  The person is unable to find closure in processing the type of loss.  Some give up hope because holding on hurts too much, while others never surrender.  Numerous emotions erupt in this type of loss. Individuals may be enraged or feel guilty.

Ambiguous grief and the pain of not knowing prevents closure. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification


Some look to find meaning in the loss through social activism and helping others find closure.  Overall, it is a grief ripe with complications that haunts the person the rest of his or her life.  It is good to allow those who wish to hold on to hope to continue within realism, while others who need to let it go, to finally let it go.  Depression is very common with this type of loss so in many cases extensive counseling and support is needed.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification


Please review the video below

Attachment Disorders and Grief

Human beings are social creatures by nature.  They need care and nurturing in their infancy to properly form bonds with caregivers.  These bonds teach security and help bolster individuals and their social development with others they meet.  Future intimate relationships and friendships are dependent upon initial bonds.  Healthy and secure bonds with the primary caregiver translate to healthier social interaction in the future.

John Bowlby, famous psychoanalyst, worked extensively in the area of attachment.  His attachment theory today remains a benchmark for understanding individuals who suffer various attachment disorders stemming from their infancy and early childhood.

Infants need trust and security in forming early bonds. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification


The article, “What Is an Attachment Disorder?” by Amy Morin examines the various types of attachment disorders.  The article discusses the origins of attachment disorders, the types, and how they manifest during childhood and later in life.  Morin states,

“An attachment disorder is a condition that affects mood or behavior and makes it difficult for people to form and maintain relationships with others. These conditions usually begin in early childhood, but attachment issues may also persist into adulthood.  Attachment issues are not an official diagnosis, but people use the term to refer to an insecure attachment style in adults. Adults with insecure attachment styles may express avoidance or ambivalence in relationships or behave in disorganized or inconsistent ways.”

“What Is an Attachment Disorder?”. Amy Morin. November 14th, 2022. VeryWellMind

To read the entire article, please click here


Attachment disorders can play havoc with individual’s future relationships and how they form future bonds.  It is so critical to give little children the love and nurture they need.  When a child’s needs are not met, they can lose trust.  Without trust, the child is becomes untrusting and unable to trust other caregivers or form other bonds.  Bowlby noticed this in his observations of little babies that were cared for when they cried or were hungry as opposed to babies that were left to cry by their parents or their needs were not met.  This created unhealthy bonds with the caregiver and proceeded forward.  What should have been a healthy bond that is trusting and secure, the child exhibited lack of trust and various insecurities.

Clinical Attachment Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders recognizes two distinct types of attachment disorders.  They both are due to lack of care and needs met at a young age and both exhibit insecurity and lack of trust but they manifest differently.  The first is Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder in which the child and later the adult exhibit problems forming true and lasting relationships with others but will look to form superficial bonds that are not permanent.  In children, this is displayed with a lack of shyness around strangers or other adults.  In teen years, they may outwardly form relationships but they are unable to find connection with others and true meaning.  This obviously can lead to many superficial issues.

Children can form avoidant or anxious type disorders when healthy bonds are not formed.


The second type of attachment disorder is Reactive Attachment Disorder.  The child and later adult are unable to form new bonds with anyone.  They are quiet, untrusting of caregivers, and avoidant of forming new relationships.  Many are unable to form the necessary connection to have any type of meaningful relationships.  They in turn will jump from relationship to relationship without having any true connection or meaning.

Characteristics of Attachment Disorders

Insecure attachment disorders form due to the lack of security that most children receive at an early age.  Without the security and love, the child grows into new relationships with serious trust issues.  Anxious-Insecure Attachment is the labeled term.    The child exhibits with the primary caregiver a very needy and clingy relationship that pushes for and craves attention but due to the lack of emotional support leads to the numerous issues of mistrust and anxiety in adult relationships.  Anxiety apart from a partner develops and a range of issues can erupt within the relationship itself.  These individuals can become very possessive and clingy in a relationship.

The other spectrum involves Avoidant-Insecure.  This behavior as opposed to clingy and anxious behavior looks to avoid.  These types of children avoid future relationships with adults and as adults, themselves, have a difficult time ever forming permanent bonds with another person.  As children they will look for others to meet needs and form superficial bonds.  They will become unhealthy independent of others.  In future relationships, they can elusive or afraid to commit.

There are also a variety of Disorganized-Insecure attachments where rage or emotion overtake individuals or chaotic anxiety.

The Importance of Secure Attachment

Obviously life is about relationships and social bonds.  A secure attachment permits trust. In turn a healthy attachment permits one to be trusting, open, available, sensitive, responding and accepting to others.  Those without form bonds that are clouded in emotional rage, distrust, anxiety and avoidance.

Unhealthy bonds carry into adulthood and Anxious-Insecure or Avoidant-Insecure disorders can manifest in men and women


In grief and loss, attachment is key.  The greater the attachment, the greater the loss and adjustment.  Individuals who have healthy relationships grieve the loss but with less complications due to emotional barriers that prevented the relationship from being more healthy.  If a parent passes, an adult who has a attachment disorder may have conflicting emotions regarding the loss and not process the loss the same way as a person with a healthy relationship and bond.  The sting of grief is still great within a normal bond and could still due to other implications become complicated, but unhealthy attachments can bring other emotional baggage.  Grief Counselors who are not licensed need to recognize possible attachment disorders and refer individuals to licensed counselors who can better help them with the complications of the loss.

Helping Children with Attachment Disorders

Beyond therapy from a licensed counselor, children can benefit from consistency, schedule and establishing boundaries.  It is important to discuss emotions and how one feels.  The goal is to help the child feel some sort of security with guaranteed promises and actions to meet the needs that were not met before.


Forming secure bonds with a young infant and toddler is key to helping the child develop future healthy relationships


Individuals who due to lack of care in infancy and young childhood will experience avoidant behaviors or anxious behaviors in future relationships.  They will have difficulty forming healthy bonds with others.  Grieving the loss of others can also become more complicated when attachment disorders are present.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in grief counseling.

Additional Resources

“4 Types of Attachment Disorders”. March 23, 2017. The Holy Mess. Access here

“Types of Attachment Styles and What They Mean”. Rhona Lewis. September 25th, 2022. Healthline. Access here

“What Is Reactive Attachment Disorder?”. Amy Morin. October 11th, 2021. VeryWellMind. Access here

“Attachment” Psychology Today Staff. Psychology Today.  Access here

The Grief of Mid-Life Crisis

Age is a constant in life.  From the moment of one’s conception, there is biological change taking place.  One continues to change and age and grow physically and mentally and throughout each phase in life there are new challenges and expectations.  The ability to adjust and alter with change and aging is key to a happy life but certain phases in life can come with more emotional disruption.  Usually one’s teens is the first phase of large change as one leaves childhood and enters into teenage years and young adulthood.  The multitude of changes both physically, mentally and emotionally are extensive as one learns how to become an adult and take on responsibility, all the while forming an identity.

Aging and change to previous held concepts of self are the triggers to a Mid Life Crisis.


Very close or even equal is mid life.  Mid life change differs in that it does not look to form an identity but it actually reviews one’s identity and also the existential reality of that identity.  One is faced with the notion of life and death itself.  This can lead one into what is referred to as a Mid-Life Crisis.

Phases of Midlife Crisis

There are three phases to a Mid-Life Crisis.  First, the trigger.  Whether it is a death in the family or one’s own existential awareness, something triggers this state of alert to change.  Deaths of loved ones, children moving out, new family structures or even one’s own perception of self due to change can trigger a Mid-Life Crisis.  Whether this trigger causes an awakening or crisis is how one views the changes or how well they are able to adjust.  The second phase is the acute crisis.  During this phase, one experiences the fear, doubt, anxiety and changes that correlate with these feelings.  The final phase is the conclusion, where answers or adjustments are made to correct the imbalance to the non finite loss.  Like everything in change, loss and grief, one must find adjustment to the new normal.  How well one can cope and accept the person in the mirror and make the necessary adjustments in a non pathological way determine the success of the transition.

Triggers for Mid-Life Crisis

Like adolescence, middle age brings multiple changes in life.  For both men and women, this means potential weight gain.  Wrinkling, greying and balding are also physical changes also come with steep emotional prices.  Individuals begin to see themselves differently in the mirror.  The avatar they have envisioned themselves as for the last Twenty years is fading.  This type of loss regarding  youthful appearance can vary among individuals but it is a change that eventually some need to accept.

In addition, energy levels drop affecting one’s once athletic abilities, or also sexual drives.  This change in physiology can be a difficult time, as difficult it is for teens during their years of change.  What can become confused in this lost of identity and begin question oneself.  Confidence can drop and anxiety and depression can set in for some.  For most, it is only an uncomfortable transition of acceptance, but for some, it becomes a roller coaster ride of extraordinary crisis.

With this non finite type of grief and loss, one is sought searching and longing for the past.  One is in search of the symbolic Fountain of Youth.  Some may attempt to fabricate change through miracle drugs, or surgical procedures to attempt to recapture that look.  Others will attempt to revamp their entire robe ward .  In itself, these attempts to stabilize confidence can be innocent and non harmful but when these attempts overwhelm an individual to drastic change and dangerous procedures, then one may need to seek counseling or help.  One may also need to speak to grief counselors or even licensed counselors when one’s self esteem is becoming dangerously tattered from these physical changes.

Some enter into Mid Life Crisis through more mental perceptions.  One may become dissatisfied with their progress in life.   Unfilled happiness or goals may begin to enter into one’s mind as one realizes one is no longer in the prime of one’s youth.  Lack of pursued education, relationships, travels, or dreams may all begin to haunt the individual. This can lead to aimlessness, self doubt, dissatisfaction and longing.

Grief Counseling and Support

Support and listening ears are ways individuals can navigate a Mid Life Crisis in a healthy and good way progressing forward


In response, individuals may seek to rectify some of these issues.  In taking inventory of one’s life and looking and what is lacking or unfulfilled, one is not necessarily entering a crisis stage, but actually taking proactive steps to make a better life, but again, when done in haste, without plan, or financial consideration, these moves can become merely reactional and not well thought out.  This may lead to a manic episode of off the wall purchases, such a dream car, or travel beyond one’s financial capabilities.  Furthermore, if one is discontent with one’s relationship due to the change of time, one may be more daring to enter into an affair.

It is of no wonder then that suicide rates increase during Middle Age.

In dealing with a Mid-Life Crisis many may ask new questions about oneself.  They may look where they came from and where they are going.  They make take inventory of successes and failures and account new limitations and how to creatively balance them.  In anything dealing with change it is crucial to have some relevance of coping ability and confidence in life.  This is why it is crucial to acknowledge one’s feelings and the loss one feels.  It is OK to feel uncomfortable and upset but one needs to be able to understand how is one going to react to these new challenges.

Optimistic outlooks point to the fact that life is growing and expanding and not becoming something less desirable.  With each phase in life comes new advantages that someone can part take in.  It is good to see optimism in one’s age and how one can make this phase of life the best it can be.  Maybe through more exercise and health diets to maintain oneself better, or new hobbies or things that one has not accomplished as of yet but now financially can.  It is important like any phase in life to take advantage of what each phase has to offer. If however one persists with depressive thoughts or suicidal ideas, it is important to seek counsel and help with a licensed healthcare professional.  It is important to share these feelings with trusted friends and family.

Understanding change and how scary but wonderful it can be is sometimes a way to reframe it.  Reframing is a key way to sometimes see the good over the bad.  While one is changing physically and emotionally, this change may incur some disadvantages but they are natural changes that everyone is encountering.  It is important to remain confident and secure in what one is while adjusting to the change through positive reaction or happy acceptance.

One needs an anchor in life.  While accidental changes are occurring throughout, one is still oneself.  One is must be anchored by that identity of self.  True happiness in fleeting things will never allow one to find security and peace within.  Placing happiness in eternal things over physical things is crucial.  If religious, faith can play a key role in anchoring oneself.  If not religious, ideals and concepts important to identity can help one find peace.

Mid Life Crisis can lead to substance abuse and other issues. Please also review AIHCP’s Crisis Intervention and Grief Counseling Certifications


It ultimately comes down to the ontology of happiness.  The glows that excite oneself versus the spurs that cause discomfort.  What does one place one’s sense of joy and happiness in?  Are they in tangible things that can be lost or destroyed or does one find a deeper happiness in family and friends.  Yet these people can be lost as well, so there must be something more within oneself that anchors oneself in relation to the many blessings one has.  This anchor, allows one to retain balance and security even when things of joy are taken by loss and change.  The ability to have focus and a goal that can never be stolen within one’s spirit is the primary tool to cope and to move with change gracefully.  For many this is faith, others it is idealogy.   It is critical for one to find that anchor to prevent one from being swept with the current of the ocean.

Those who have no true anchor will drift longer during a Mid-Life Crisis.  This is why it is important to have a great sense of self and values.  Unchangeable values retain one’s identity and self and no matter the accidental changes of life, one remains the same at the core.  Those who can adjust to aging gracefully and find youth as not a number can also adjust far better to these types of losses.  Their identity remains core despite the accidental changes.

Depression or Mid-Life Crisis

When a Mid-Life Crisis is not properly navigated, or without an anchor, it can lead to depression.  If individuals exhibit the physical and mental symptoms associated with depression, it is important to contact a healthcare professional or grief counselor. Others can fall victim to substance abuse and risky behaviors.    Those with better support groups or individuals to talk to or share experiences with have a better chance of exiting the crisis with new insight and hope, but for those without support or an internal anchor, it is important for them to seek the counseling help they need.



Loss of identity is a common issue in Mid-Life Crisis. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification


Please also review AIHCP’s multiple counseling courses.  AIHCP offers both a Grief Counseling Certification, as well as Crisis Intervention Counseling Programs.  The programs are online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking training in counseling in these lay and pastoral fields.  Of course licensed counselors can also become certified and utilize these skills in a clinical setting.

References and Additional Resources

“Midlife Crisis or Midlife Myth? What to Know About Going ‘Over the Hill’”. Crystal Raypole. July 8th, 2021. Healthline. Access here

“Midlife Crisis: Why We Reevaluate Our Lives at the Halfway Mark”. Amy Morin. February 23rd, 2023. VeryWellMind. Access here

“Midlife”. Psychology Today Staff. Psychology Today. Access here

“Midlife Crisis: Transition or Depression?”. Kathleen Doheny. November 11th, 2009. WebMD. Access here





Suffocating and Silencing Grief

Mourning is the outward expression of loss and grief.  In many cultures there are precise and accepted mourning rituals in how one and society expresses grief.  When other societies come into contact, sometimes mourning rituals may seem odd to others.  Some may be more silent while others may be very dramatic.  Whichever the case, when these types of mourning and expression are restricted by others, then the grief becomes suffocated.  This can cause multiple issues to the griever.  In some ways this is also a type of grief bullying.

Society sometimes will attempt to silence or suffocate certain types of mourning behaviors. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification


This is also the case in certain places.  For instance, in hospitals, individuals look to silence or quiet the loud sobbing or crying of an individual who is given bad news.  In an attempt to keep others more comfortable, the mourning becomes restricted because the behavior is not meeting the societal standards of the time and place.  This is an issue with different ethnicities and races in how they grieve and how society reacts to their grieving.  Minorities can face a less receptive audience when grief overtakes them than others.  This relates to their grieving in school as well as work.  Such reactions to suffocate the public display of grief or silence it can have negative effects on the griever.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Grief Counseling.

Please also review the video below

The Conflicting Emotions of Anticipatory Grief and Ambiguous Grief

When loss is less definite but lingering in the balance, one can begin to feel like life is a fog and one is living with a ghost.  This is very common with family and friends of the terminally ill.  The sentence has been passed and the loss is being experienced but it has yet to occur.  This type of anticipatory grief can cause confusion and create obstacles in loving the person who is still alive.  Instead of appreciating what time is left, one mentally is thinking of the funeral and the tomb.  This prevents the few joys that remain and the beautiful conversations that still can be shared.   In addition, this can later lead to complications of the loss after it occurs, as one may feel guilt over the final days.  Others may feel relief that the state of limbo is over but still feel guilty for feeling relief.  Many times Grief Counselors are needed to help individuals through the crisis.

Anticipatory grief is grief before the loss. It is anticipatory in many ways. It mourns the loss and fears the loss.

Anticipatory grief happens to many individuals and while it is natural during trying and stressful times, individuals must be alert enough to understand the presence and better able to navigate.  Primary caregivers, such as spouses, face caregiver burnout during this time.  They are not able to mourn or feel happiness, but instead deal with a magnitude of emotions.  Resentment, mental fatigue, grief, and guilt can all occur.  After the actual death, many primary caregivers feel a relief.  This is especially true of loved ones who no longer could communicate or barely function.

Ambiguous grief can be very similar to Anticipatory in that usually also deals with terminally ill but in most of these cases the loved one is no longer physically or mentally present.  So in many ways both griefs can exist.  However, there is no true way to find complete closure.  This is also the case with loved ones who are lost in war or go missing.  The individual is unable to find complete closure.

The article, “When There’s No Hallmark Card for Your Grief”. by Jessica Fein looks closer at ambiguous grief.   As the title describes, without closure or a loss event, there are no condolence cards because the death has yet to occur but nonetheless the grieving individual is experiencing and expecting a loss at the same time.   This type of confusion causes many conflicting emotions.  The article states,

“Coined by therapist Dr. Pauline Boss in the 1970s, ambiguous grief means mourning the loss of someone who hasn’t died but is no longer physically present or mentally present. In the former, your loved one might have gone missing in war, for example. In the latter, your loved one might be suffering from dementia or drug addiction or, as in my daughter’s case, a degenerative disease that slowly took away her ability to communicate. With ambiguous grief, there’s no closure because the grieving remains unresolved.”

“When There’s No Hallmark Card for Your Grief”. Jessica Fein.  March 9th, 2023.  Psychology Today.

To access the entire article, please click here


Anticipatory as well as Ambiguous grief causes many conflicting emotions as stated.  It is a place of limbo.  The loss itself is has yet to occur but it has been declared.  This can cause early reactions to loss or force individuals into a isolation and numb mode of existence.  The individual awaits the impending death sentence.  The issue at hand is the loss has yet to occur and time remains to experience love with the terminally ill person.

This can cause multiple emotions.  Grief Counselors can help individuals sort out the meaning of many of these emotions.

Anticipatory Grief

In regards to relief, many find a relief for a loved one who finally passes.  Seeing a loved one become more ill and less capable makes seeing the existence of the loved one more painful.  In many cases, individuals hope for the end.  As ironic as this is, the fear of the loss has been lessened by the pain and suffering of the loved one.  This in turn can cause relief in the actual death.  This relief can also be felt by those who have expended excessive energy in care of the loved one.  For some the experience of this relief can be an anchor of guilt.  Grief Counselors can help individuals see that this relief is natural and acceptable and that one should experience guilt.

In addition to relief, others may feel guilt based upon how they interacted with the loved one while the deceased was still alive.  They may regret their isolation or lack of communication due to their ambiguous grief.  They may feel like they needed to be there more for the loved one.  They may also feel guilt for during those times, seeking to enjoy life itself.  These types of guilt are very common with long drawn out terminal illnesses.  The person after the death begins to analyze every thing he or she did or do not do.  This analyzation can cause distress and complicate the loss itself.  It is important to identify this type of guilt in grief counseling and dispel it.

Ambiguous Grief

Ambiguous grief has some elements of anticipatory grief in it but it also lacks closure in itself. There is no closure in the loss due to the medical condition or absence of the person


In regards to ambiguous grief, the lack of closure is decided due to the terminal illness not the individual who cares about the person.  The person is mentally or physically incapable of discussion or resembling who he or she once was.  This leads to a another type of limbo.  In addition, ambiguous grief can also affect individuals who lose loved ones to war or those who go missing.  There is no closure.

The inability to communicate to a ill loved one or say a coherent goodbye, or never to know where a loved one is who has been displaced or assumed dead at war are painful events that can impede healing and also rise to complications in the grieving process.  In relation to those who are missing, there is a torturing decision between abandoning hope and accepting loss.  One cannot simply dismiss the emptiness but one is tortured with doubt about what happened?  Nightmares can haunt these individuals.

The viciousness of this type of grief prevents healing and closure, it permits a constant torture between hope and despair.  The survivor is subjugated to perpetual suffering.  Many feel the need to find hope that someone will awaken from a coma, or return home from missing.  Others contribute to causes that reflect the nature of their loss.  Yet, the splinter of hope that one will return always exists and this in turn leaves the grief wound constantly open.

Some experience guilt in ever experiencing happiness again after a loss of a loved one.  Others feel guilty for losing hope and giving into despair.  There is a definite feeling of helplessness and this contributes to the prolonged and complications of grief itself.


AICHP offers a certification in Grief Counseling for qualified professionals. The program is independent study and online.


Both anticipatory grief and ambiguous grief can cause complications and prolonged grief.  Ambiguous grief though is far more toxic because in all cases there is no resolution or closure which leaves a permanent emptiness.  Individuals can keep hope, if they need it, but ultimately the unknow and ambiguity haunts the survivor.   Finding causes or promoting social awareness to issues surrounding the issue may help give purpose but the grief wound cannot heal without concrete closure. With this in mind, emotions such as guilt, helplessness and utter despair can dominate.

Anticipatory grief offers closure but closure can become more difficult due to how one handled the terminal illness prior to the death.  Hence emotions of guilt and relief are very common.  Anticipatory grief can exist in ambiguity as well as one awaits impending news.  Relief of knowing whether one is alive or dead can equally confusing when the bad news does finally arrive.

Grief Counselors can help with the loss but in most cases a licensed counselors are needed to offer deeper form of cognitive grief therapies to help individuals cope from prolonged grief due to the complications found in both of these types of losses.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Grief Counseling.


Additional Resources

Locked in grief: a qualitative study of grief among family members of missing persons in southern Sri Lanka. Amila Isuru,  Padmakumara Bandumithra & S. S. Williams.  BMC Psychology volume 9, Article number: 167 (2021). BMC Psychology. Access here

“The Pain of Grieving for a Missing Person”. María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez. December 21st, 2022. Exploring Your Mind.  Access here

“Coping With Not Knowing What Happened to a Missing Loved One”. Raj Persaud, M.D. and Peter Bruggen, M.D.  June 17th, 2017. Psychology Today.  Access here

“What Is Anticipatory Grief?”. Cynthia Vinney.  November 10th, 2021. VeryWellMind. Access here

“Anticipatory Grief: Are You Mourning Before a Loss?”. Hillary Lebow. January 7th, 2022.  PsychCentral.  Access here

“Grieving Before A Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief”. Litsa Williams. What’s Your Grief.  Access here


Disenfranchised Grief

Many individuals’ grief are ignored or put to the side.  When certain these types of losses do not meet society’s standards of loss then they can be swept under the rug leaving the bereaved with no resources.  Some losses are considered insignificant or inappropriate.  Some suffer stigma due to the type of situation surrounding the loss.  The loss is hence ignored, hidden or demeaned.

Grief Counselors need to address all loss and the uniqueness each loss poses for different individuals.  Some individuals may have their own subjective circumstances that enhance a loss that would not be as big an issue to others, while others may feel shame or ridicule for expressing their grief.  It is critical to respect all grief and loss and allow individuals to have a platform to grieve and be accepted.

Grief Counselors can help others process disenfranchised grief. Please review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification


Examples of Disenfranchised Grief include pet loss, loss of a girlfriend or boyfriend, loss of a same sex partner, or the loss of someone due to a stigmatizing disease such as AIDs.  Family whose loved one dies by the one’s own hands with suicide suffer this type of grief as well.  When a loss is ignored, ridiculed, shamed or demeaned, the individual’s loss is not valued or recognized and this leads to an inability to properly express the grief and process it.

The article, “Disenfranchised Grief—Grief That Doesn’t Fit Society’s Standards and Is Not Often Acknowledged—Is Complex But Common” by Brina Patel analyzes the feelings and emotions associated with Disenfranchised Grief and why it is important to acknowledge all loss. The article states,

“Chances are you’ve experienced disenfranchised grief at some point—maybe during your last big breakup or when your childhood dog passed away. However, just because your situation doesn’t fit in with society’s mold of grief, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be validated and processed. Skipping those all-important steps can have detrimental impacts on your mental health, and you may feel isolated and unsupported.”

“Disenfranchised Grief—Grief That Doesn’t Fit Society’s Standards and Is Not Often Acknowledged—Is Complex But Common”. Brina Patel. December 3rd, 2022. Well & Good.

To read the entire article, please click here


Grief is a natural response to loss, but not all types of grief receive the same level of recognition and support. Disenfranchised grief is a type of grief that is not socially recognized or acknowledged. It is often not openly expressed, and the person experiencing it may feel isolated, misunderstood, or invalidated. Disenfranchised grief can result from the loss of a person, relationship, or identity that is not widely acknowledged or socially sanctioned. Examples of disenfranchised grief include the loss of a pet, a miscarriage, the end of a non-traditional relationship, or the loss of a job.  Grief Counselors can help those suffering from these types of losses.

What is Disenfranchised Grief and How is it Different from Other Types of Grief?

Disenfranchised grief is different from other types of grief in that it is not socially recognized or acknowledged. This means that the person experiencing disenfranchised grief may not receive the same level of support or validation as someone experiencing a more socially recognized type of grief. For example, if someone loses a spouse, they may receive sympathy cards, meals, and flowers. However, if someone experiences the loss of a non-traditional relationship, they may not receive the same level of support and may even face stigma or judgment.

Disenfranchised grief can also be different in terms of the mourning process. The person experiencing disenfranchised grief may not be able to openly mourn or express their feelings, which can prolong the grieving process and make it more difficult to heal.

Common Types of Disenfranchised Grief

There are many different types of disenfranchised grief. Some common examples include:

Pet Loss

The loss of a pet can be a significant source of grief, but it is not always recognized as such. People who lose a pet may be dismissed or belittled by others who do not understand the bond between a person and their pet.


The loss of a pregnancy can be a traumatic experience, but it is often not acknowledged as such. Women who have experienced a miscarriage may feel like they are not allowed to grieve or that their loss is not as significant as other types of loss.

End of a Non-Traditional Relationship

The end of a non-traditional relationship, such as a same-sex relationship or a polyamorous relationship, can be a significant source of grief. However, people in these types of relationships may not receive the same level of support or validation as those in more traditional relationships.

Job Loss

Losing a job can be a traumatic experience, especially if the job was a significant part of a person’s identity. However, people who lose their job may not receive the same level of support or validation as those who experience other types of loss.

Signs and Symptoms of Disenfranchised Grief

Individuals suffering from disenfranchised grief feel forgotten, belittled, shamed and can intense anger


It can be difficult to identify disenfranchised grief because it is often hidden or not openly expressed. However, there are some signs and symptoms that counselors can look for. These include:

Difficulty Expressing Emotions

People experiencing disenfranchised grief may have difficulty expressing their emotions or may feel like they are not allowed to express their emotions. They may bottle up their feelings or avoid talking about their loss altogether.


People experiencing disenfranchised grief may feel isolated or alone. They may feel like no one understands what they are going through or that they are not allowed to talk about their loss.


People experiencing disenfranchised grief may feel guilty for grieving or for their loss. They may feel like they do not have the right to grieve or that their loss is not significant enough to deserve grief.


People experiencing disenfranchised grief may feel angry or resentful towards others who do not understand their grief or who dismiss their loss.

How to Support Someone Experiencing Disenfranchised Grief

Supporting someone experiencing disenfranchised grief requires empathy, validation, and understanding. As a Grief counselor, there are several techniques you can use to support someone experiencing disenfranchised grief.

Active Listening

Active listening is a technique that involves listening to the person without judgment and without interrupting. It involves reflecting back what the person is saying and validating their feelings.  Grief Counselors can play a key role in validating the feelings of others.

Listening, being empathetic, normalizing and validating one’s disenfranchised grief can help them heal and cope with these types of losses



Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of the person experiencing grief. It involves putting yourself in their shoes and imagining how you would feel in their situation.


Validation is the act of acknowledging the person’s feelings and experiences as real and important. It involves letting the person know that their grief is valid and that it is okay to feel the way they feel.


Normalizing is the act of letting the person know that their feelings and experiences are normal and that others have experienced similar types of grief. It involves educating the person about disenfranchised grief and letting them know that they are not alone.  Greif Counselors can help those suffering these types of losses realize that all loss is legitimate.

Techniques for Addressing Disenfranchised Grief in Counseling

There are numerous therapies to help individuals face disenfranchised grief and understand their particular loss


There are several techniques that counselors can use to address disenfranchised grief in counseling. Licensed Counselors can employ these therapies


Psychoeducation involves educating the person about disenfranchised grief and helping them understand that their grief is valid and normal.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors. It can be helpful for addressing feelings of guilt or anger associated with disenfranchised grief.

Mindfulness-Based Therapy

Mindfulness-based therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on being present in the moment and accepting one’s thoughts and feelings without judgment. It can be helpful for addressing feelings of isolation and loneliness associated with disenfranchised grief.

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on helping the person create a new narrative about the loss.  It can be helpful for reframing the loss and creating a new sense of meaning and purpose

Case Studies Highlighting the Impact of Disenfranchised Grief

Case studies can be helpful for understanding the impact of disenfranchised grief. Here are a few examples:


Jane experienced the loss of a pregnancy early in her first trimester. She felt like she was not allowed to grieve because the pregnancy was not far along. However, she was devastated by the loss and struggled to move on. After seeking counseling, she was able to process her grief and find closure.


Sam lost his job after working at the same company for 20 years. He felt like he had lost a significant part of his identity and struggled to find a new sense of purpose. After seeking counseling, he was able to reframe his loss and find new opportunities for growth and development.


Maria experienced the end of a same-sex relationship. She felt like she was not allowed to grieve because the relationship was not recognized by society. She struggled with feelings of isolation and loneliness. After seeking counseling, she was able to process her grief and find a new sense of community and support.

Disenfranchised Grief and Cultural Differences

It is important to recognize that disenfranchised grief can be influenced by cultural differences. Some cultures may not recognize certain types of loss or may have different mourning rituals. As counselors, it is important to be sensitive to cultural differences and to adapt our approach accordingly.

Conclusion and Next Steps for Grief Counselors Seeking to Support Clients with Disenfranchised Grief

Grief Counselors can help individuals realize their loss is unique and special no matter what society says or dictates.


Disenfranchised grief is a type of grief that is often overlooked or misunderstood. As Grief counselors, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of disenfranchised grief and to provide empathy, validation, and understanding to our clients. By using techniques such as active listening, empathy, and validation, we can help our clients process their grief and find closure. There are many resources available for counselors supporting clients with disenfranchised grief, and it is important to continue to educate ourselves.

AIHCP offers a Grief Counseling Certification which can help prepare individuals to help others with disenfranchised grief.  The Grief Counseling Certification Program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals.  Please review the program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.

Additional Resources

“What Is Disenfranchised Grief?”. Sanjana Gupta. April 16th, 2022. VeryWellMind. Access here

“All About Disenfranchised Grief”. Cathy Cassata. July 27th, 2021. PyschCentral. Access here

“Disen-whaaaat?? Understanding Disenfranchised Grief”. Litsa Williams. July 8th, 2013. What’s Your Grief.  Access here

“Disenfranchised Grief Might Be the Hardest Kind to Process—Here’s What It Is and Why, According to Experts”. Claire Gillespie. August 5th, 2021. Health. Access here

Minority and Black Grief in the United States

From a white male perspective, things for other people of color may look improved historically, but within the shadows, many of the same demons still lurk and at times reimpose themselves.  Yes, slavery has been eradicated, separate but equal denounced, and African Americans elected to almost every position of government, but there still are large issues.  The George Floyd case shows it.  While there is a new color, “blue”, that has its own brotherhood, those who are black or brown in color face greater threat of profiling and violence during arrest.  Not all cases can be validated, but there are enough cases to point towards an inherent problem.  In addition, due to socio economic barriers since the time of slavery, African Americans suffer a heritage of disadvantage in where their families came from, lived, and were educated.  This imbalance still reveals itself in poverty and crime statistics.  It also showed its ugly face in how African Americans received unequal care during the Covid Epidemic.

Many African Americans suffer from a subconscious trauma and are faced with a variety of stressors that incur the idea of a collective “Black Grief”


These types of inequalities and historic pains and scars lead to a unique experience of grief and loss coined as “Black Grief”.  Many experts have referred to this as a type of subconscious trauma as well that lingers within the DNA of Black Americans who suffer from this type of treatment by the police, or other agencies.  Anxiety, depression, and hyper vigilance are added emotions to Black communities due to national issues with police brutality and other types of unequal treatments.  There are simply more social stressors associated with one’s color of skin.

This in no way frees individuals from personal responsibility.  In no way is this a free pass for African American to commit a crime against a White American.   Black culture calls for responsibility of oneself, but the lingering affects of over a century of racism, poverty and displacement, plays a key role in current situations of many impoverish African Americans who did not receive a fair handshake with the American dream.  In many ways without progressing too far down a “woke” agenda, there is a privilege being a White American every time an officer pulls someone over or when someone acts erratic in public or when someone applies for a position.  This does not mean the individual has not earned or worked hard and deserves credit for achievement, but it does point towards a system that put Black ancestors at a totally unfair and immoral disadvantage.   It is true certain European immigrants faced hate and ridicule but none experienced the immorality of slavery itself.

While on the outside the Civil Rights Movement has made great strides and racism is considered heinous and a political and financial death sentence,  there exists within the modern African American communities a disadvantage and a trauma that causes Black grief.  It manifests in poverty, lack of opportunity for many, and police treatment.  While many African Americans boast of succeeding, their unique stories should not dismiss the many that are trapped in a system that has left them without an equal hand since they were born.

Many African Americans face depression, anxiety and hypervigilance due to stressors that other races do not face


The same can be true for other peoples of color or different descents that do not blend into the Caucasian colors.   Spanish descent individuals face a blatant racism equating them to cartels and illegal immigration.   While the Lady Liberty supposedly calls all to her shores, these individuals are rejected at the border.   Let us not also forget the great grievances and murders against the Native Americans whose land was stolen.  These individuals were relocated time again and again and some faced genocide at the hands of the American army in the 19th Century.  The loss of self and land closely is tied to Native Americans is a lingering subconscious and collective trauma.  Finally, let us not forget the unfair treatment of Asian Americans and Japanese Americans during World War 2 and the camps they were illegally assigned to. within the United States and currently the anti-Chinese hate due to Covid-19.

There is a dangerous balance in play in American history as America attempts to understand itself.  On one side is a proud movement that recognizes the Founding Fathers and the beauty of the Declaration of Independence and its profound affect on the entire world.  It sees America as the City on the Hill and as a birth place for democracy.  Yet in love of country, sometimes one loses sight of patriotism and fosters nationalism.  Patriotism loves one’s country and defends it but does not dismiss other cultures and expressions.   Nationalism on the other hand proclaims one’s nation and nationality as superior as others and looks to maintain purity of it.  It is racist and warlike.  It is a distortion of patriotism.  It fails to reprimand one’s own nation for past ills and proposes a select history that only sees on view and one side.  Nationalism is what led to the World Wars.

American exceptionalism is a myth.  The United States, while a great nation, is not a perfect state, nor has ever been.  Not only did the United States support slavery and utilize it as a key part of its economic survival, the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) had infiltrated itself into the core of the nation at its conception.   This can be seen in the its puritan roots where it was viewed as the City on the Hill and its nationalistic Manifest Destiny expansion West.  Horribly also, was the Know Nothing Movement/Nativist Movement and political party that worked against all forms of immigration.  Irish and Catholics and Jews were all discriminated against in the Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century and bias continued into the 20th Century.  Well after the Civil War, these White Nationalist Movements based on WASP principles demeaned not only Blacks but also any immigrants.  It is terrifying to see such ideals manifest itself today under such nationalist slogans under MAGA.  The insurrection at the Capitol only shows the movement of WASP like cells looking to revive nationalism and nativism over patriotism.

Does this mean as Americans we turn against our past heroes?  The “Woke” movement looks to erase the past, as much as the Nationalists look rewrite it, but there is balance.  Some monuments should be removed, but not all.  Some bases may need renamed, but not all, but for the most part, past American heroes should still be revered but also ridiculed for their faults.  They can be revered for their service of country but also criticized for moral decisions.  As the future proceeds, new monuments can be created for those who were left in the past or treated unfairly to show the progress of American enlightenment against past wrongs and commitment to betterment.  Those who were immorally enslaved, or murdered or relocated from homes, deserve recognition of their past trauma.  This does not undo the evil but it does help current generations find some collective justice and recognition of their grief.


Two forces are looking to tear the country in two.  Extreme rightists who favor a nationalist agenda and extreme leftists who looks to eradicate the past, but in the balance is found in true patriotism that loves the nation but recognizes its wrongs.  Tearing down the past is not the answer to collective trauma but rebuilding the future with recognition to that grief.

African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants have all faced unequal treatment in the past.  While it has improved, the collective trauma manifests in these cultures through anxiety, depression hypervigilance.  This is only re-awakened when incidents such as George Floyd erupt.  African Americans, especially, face an equal uphill battle and face anxieties that White Americans do not face during simple traffic stop.

While America is not the City of the Hill that many nationalists envision, she is still a great nation trying its best.  Most Americans are good people and are patriotic enough love her but also see her wrongs.  It is especially to critical to the future to acknowledge the wrongs of the collective trauma experienced by Americans of ethnic minority.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Diversity Program which focuses on African American, Native American and other minorities


If interested in the concept of grief and especially collective grief of minorities, please review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification.  Please also review AIHCP’s new Grief Diversity Program which is open to qualified and certified Grief Counselors.  The program is online and independent study and addressed the particular issues facing minorities and their collective grief.


Additional Readings

“The Imposition of Black Grief”. Nneka Okona. February 27th, 2023. Yes: Solutions Journalism. Access here

“A hidden pandemic: Grief in the African American community”.  Mishel Reja.  February 2nd, 2021.  ABC News. Access here

“America’s Most Oppressed Minority “. Candy Raye. February 22nd, 2020. Odyssey Online.  Access here

“Cultural perspectives of death, grief, and bereavement”. Paul T Clements 1Gloria J VigilMartin S MannoGloria C HenryJonathan WilksDas SarthakRosie KellywoodWil Foster. 

2003 Jul;41(7):18-26.  doi: 10.3928/0279-3695-20030701-12.  Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv. Access here
“Nativism and the Know-Nothing Party”. Kimberly Kutz Elliot.  Khan Academy. Access here