Chronic ‘Stuck’ Grief: 10 Warning Signs & 5 Vital Healing Strategies

by Glynis Sherwood


Grief is a normal emotional response to major losses in life including bereavement, relationship break ups, job loss and serious health problems.  Grief typically involves the temporary experience of difficult feelings such as disbelief, sadness, confusion, anger and fear – not necessarily in that order or involving all of those emotions.  Although humans tend to have common emotional reactions to grief, how we express our grief is unique to each of us.


Grief is generally understood as a necessary psychological process that enables us to process the loss of hopes and dreams, and to modify our beliefs to accommodate the loss.  All of this amounts to a healthy though painful process.  Fortunately, the acute pain of grief usually subsides over time as we adjust to our loss.  But what if it doesn’t?  What are some of the key warning signs that you – or someone you love – may be ‘stuck’ in grief?
  1. The pain of loss intensifies – or feelings of numbness don’t abate – at least 6 months to 1 year after the loss.
  2. Preoccupation with the loss.  Intense longing for a lost loved one or former life.
  3. Bitterness and/or rage.
  4. Difficulty acknowledging the loss has occurred.  Repressing thoughts about the loss.  Avoiding situations that are reminders of the loss.
  5. Depression – especially hopeless thoughts and feelings.
  6. Apathy – aka ‘giving up because I just don’t care’ – sets in.
  7. Relationship strain.  Problems with intimacy, or withdrawing from friends and social activities.
  8. Experiencing distressing, intrusive thoughts related to the loss.
  9. Believing life no longer has meaning or purpose.
  10. Increased irritability or agitation


How to Overcome ‘Stuck’ aka Chronic Grief


If you recognize yourself – or someone you care about – in any of these symptoms, the first step is healing to admit the problem.  Then you need to do what’s been missing –reach out to someone who can help you get unstuck.  Find a grief therapist who understands and knows how to treat chronic grief.


Treatment of Chronic Grief 

The good news is that stuck grief usually responds well to counselling designed specifically to overcome chronic grief symptoms.  Depending on cause and nature of chronic grief, some or all of the following therapeutic approaches may be used:


  1. Chronic grief can be aggravated by either avoiding or being preoccupied by the loss.  The therapist may work with the client to help them gradually overcome their fear of facing the loss and/or teach them how to stop fixating on the loss.  Sometimes techniques are used that are similar to those used to overcome phobias, or post traumatic stress disorder.
  2. In cases of chronic grief due to bereavement, the griever may be guided by the therapist to hold imagined conversations with the deceased or retell the story of their death, to help them become less distressed by thoughts or images of their loved one.
  3. Thoughts and beliefs may be explored and emotions expressed, to help the griever overcome guilt and blame, and to begin to build a more hopeful vision for the future.
  4. The therapist will often educate the client about ‘normal’ grief processes, and help them understand their grief reactions and complicated grief symptoms, and assist them in both adjusting to the loss and setting new life goals.
  5. Where appropriate, emphasis will likely be placed on strengthening or rebuilding relationships, and reducing social isolation.
Chronic grief is painful, overwhelming condition that is difficult to resolve alone.  However, by committing to healing and putting the right supports in place, those in grief can take back their psychological well being and rebuild their life with confidence and hope.


Need Help Overcoming ‘Stuck’ Grief?   Visit my Grief & Loss Counselling web page

Counselling is available by Video worldwide.

Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Certified Addictions Counsellor is a Counselling Therapist specializing in recovery from long standing Anxiety, Depression, Grief and Addictive Behaviors.