Losing someone close to you is one of the most devastating events you will ever experience. Even Christians who lose other believers they are close to mourn the loss of their friend, although they know through faith that they will see them again. However, some losses do not seem to heal with time. The grief is unbearable and pervades every area of your life. This isn’t your imagination; this complicated grief is known as Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder.
Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder
Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (PCBD) is formerly known as prolonged grief disorder or persistent complicated grief. The disorder is marked by a deep and prolonged stage of grief.
But unlike the average stages of grief, the person can’t seem to move beyond their hurt in order to begin the healing process. When someone you’ve shared a rewarding relationship with passes away, you may feel shock, disbelief, or confusion.
You may cry out to God, asking why He would take someone like your loved one away. The sorrow can leave a metaphorical hole in your heart, an emptiness, as you begin the grieving process.
Other emotions such as anger are normal reactions to death, especially if the passing was due to a tragic accident or sudden violence. You might blame circumstances or people for your loved one’s loss.
Or, you may feel that your loved one somehow betrayed you by leaving so suddenly. Children are susceptible to feelings of anger and resentment at the passing of a parent, especially if their death leads to instability in the home.
Eventually, acceptance will settle into your heart as you learn to face each new day without your loved one’s presence. With Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder, that acceptance seems far away as you can’t let go.
Without this closure, every area of your life may suffer, and your mental health can take a turn for the worse. You may entertain new and negative thoughts, or carry out dysfunctional behaviors, all in the name of missing your loved one. These thoughts and behaviors can lead to depression and a sense of hopelessness.
Dealing with grief doesn’t necessarily mean you will get caught up in the trap of complicated grief symptoms. Many people successfully navigate their way through the process of grief.
The Possible Causes of Complicated Grief
Complicated grief symptoms can arise from the loss of a meaningful and rewarding relationship. Although we are focusing on the physical loss of a loved one due to death, a person can also develop complicated grief after the separation from someone close to them, such as the grief a child may feel if a parent chooses to leave them.
About 10% of the population has trouble with complicated grief, and people with other mental health conditions might have undiagnosed Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder that is at the root of some of their pain.
What causes someone to not be able to move past grief? Sudden or violent deaths without proper closure can leave us unable to carry on as we did before the tragedy. Fatal accidents, wartime fatalities, terrorist attacks, murder, and suicide are all examples of the types of death that people have trouble reconciling with.
The death of a child, whether sudden or due to a long illness, can create problems in dealing with grief, especially for the child’s immediate family – parents and siblings. If possible, seek out grief counseling for any siblings trying to make sense of the sudden passing of their brother or sister.
Researchers have learned that people meeting certain criteria have a greater risk of developing complicated grief. Many of these people are female, older in age, and living with a lower quality of life. They may have suffered abuse, trauma, or neglect as a child. People at a greater risk might also have a history of another mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Sometimes the person with complicated grief may have lived through extraordinary circumstances and survived problems like financial hardships. They may feel that the world is a terrible and evil place, or they may blame God for their loss.
When You Can’t Seem to Heal
Are you concerned that you or someone close to you are exhibiting complicated grief symptoms? Do you feel that enough time has passed since your loved one’s death, but you still can’t seem to heal?
Although at the onset normal grieving and complicated grief symptoms mirror one another, the signs and symptoms of Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder are long-lasting and insidious:
- Feelings of deep hurt and sorrow that refuse to subside. Your thoughts constantly revert to your loved one and the memories you made.
- Extreme behaviors such as visiting the places your loved one cared about for long periods of time, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, completely avoiding any places you made memories with your loved one. These behaviors include avoiding all talk about your loved one to talking incessantly about them.
- Isolating yourself from family and friends so you can grieve alone. You might call in to work more often or completely avoid social events.
- Thinking negative and possibly harmful thoughts about being unable to live without your loved one. Life might not seem like it will ever get better.
- Refusing to accept the reality of your loved one’s passing. Some people suffering from complicated grief hallucinate their loved one.
- Unable to get back to “normal” life, such as missing work and not taking care of your basic needs. Your everyday routines are difficult to complete, and you may “forget” to do certain tasks, like pay bills.
- Losing interest in the things that made life pleasurable for you. Hobbies might take a backseat and you may find it difficult to concentrate.
- Thinking you might be better off with your deceased loved one than living life without him or her. If you are having suicidal or harmful thoughts, seek help right away.
Anyone can experience complicated grief symptoms; however, help is available.
Where to Find Help for Complicated Grief
Complicated grief can lead to other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse (to numb the pain and “forget”), insomnia, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You are at a higher risk of developing chronic physical problems as well, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Try talking to someone close to you. It’s a natural defense mechanism to shut out the pain but talking to another person and feeling the grief can help you to heal. If you choose someone who shares memories of your loved one, then you both will have a chance to work through the grieving process.
If you are a Christian, your local church may offer counseling services. Although these sessions are informal, they may be just what you need to work through this season of your life. Your community may also offer outreach programs in the form of grief support groups. Consider taking advantage of the service to share (and learn) what other grieving parents/spouses/children are doing to move forward with their lives.
If possible, speak to your primary physician about what you are feeling. They can refer you to a therapist who specializes in Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder. This mental health care professional can teach you coping skills.
The therapist will work to create a plan for you that will cover coming to terms with your loved one’s death, owning your feelings about the situation, acknowledging the pain, and planning your future. You will work to rebuild and strengthen relationships with those that are still here.
With a little bit of help, one day you will remember your loved one with bittersweet memories and yet be excited about your future again.
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