Complicated Grief: When You Just Can’t Move On

Complicated Grief: When You Just Can’t Move On

Last week we discussed surviving your first holiday without a loved one. Getting through all the “firsts” without your loved one can be particularly hard. What if you cannot seem to move on though? Did you know there is actually a medical diagnosis for that? It is known as complicated grief syndrome or persistent complex bereavement disorder. 


Grief is different for everyone and how they progress through the stages varies. For most, grief looks something like this:


Accepting the loss

Experiencing the pain of loss

Adjusting to a new reality without a loved one 

Building other relationships


For those struggling with complicated grief, however, resuming normal daily activities is difficult. If you cannot seem to pass through these stages and resume a happy life after more than a year,  you may have complicated grief. 


Complicated grief symptoms 


The symptoms of complicated grief are similar to the normal grieving process. However, normal grief symptoms fade over time while complicated grief may worsen. 


During the first few months after a loss, many signs and symptoms of normal grief are the same as those of complicated grief. However, while normal grief symptoms gradually start to fade over time, those of complicated grief linger or get worse. Complicated grief is like being in an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing.


Symptoms include:


Feeling numb and detached 

Intense pain and sorrow over the loss 

Inability to accept the loss

Excessive avoidance of reminders of the loved one

Inability to focus on anything but your loss 

Feeling unnecessarily responsible for the death

Intense longing for the deceased

Feeling that life lacks purpose or meaning 

Inability to reflect on positive memories with the loved one

Feeling bitter about the loss 

Isolating yourself from activities 

Inability to trust others 

Wishing you had also died 


Complicated grief also may be indicated if you continue to:


Have trouble carrying out normal routines

Isolate yourself from others and withdraw from social activities

Experience depression, deep sadness, guilt or self-blame

Believe that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death

Feel life isn’t worth living without your loved one

Wish you had died along with your loved one


Causes and risk factors 


Medical professionals do not know what causes some to be more likely to develop complicated grief than others. We do know the condition occurs more often in females and with older age. Factors such as your personality, environment, and inherited traits and your natural chemical makeup make be risk factors. 


Risk factors include: 


Death of a child

An unexpected or violent death

Traumatic childhood experiences

Social isolation or loss of a support system or friendships

Close or dependent relationship to the deceased person

Past history of separation anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Other major life stressors




If you have symptoms of complicated grief, we urge you to seek help. Without appropriate treatment, complications may develop such as:


Alcohol or substance abuse 

Anxiety, including PTSD

Suicidal thoughts or behaviors


Sleep disturbances

Increased risk of physical illness

Long-term difficulty with daily living




Your doctor will determine which treatment is best for you. A typical treatment plan may include the use of antidepressant medications, counseling or psychotherapy. If you need a physician, one of our CCMH providers would love to meet with you. 


If you have thoughts about suicide, talk to someone you trust. If you think you may act on these feelings, call 911 or your local emergency services number right away. You can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).




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 Use of the information obtained by the Comanche County Memorial Hospital website does not replace medical advice given by a qualified medical provider to meet the medical needs of our readers or others.


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