This is an article for all those who have experienced regular grief and loss, and are struggling to move forward. And this article is also for those who have experienced grief so profound that it has become chronic and debilitating.
The latter variety of grief that is ongoing (for many years), is also known as complicated grief according to psychologists.
But complicated grief is not solely to do with the mind and heart, as those in the psychotherapeutic field would have you believe. Complicated and long-lasting grief goes much deeper than that – at its core, it’s to do with your Soul which is also known as your True Nature.
Because complex grief is so deep-rooted, it also requires deep-rooted healing techniques and practices that are Soul-centered. Yes, it’s crucial to seek support from psychiatrists and therapists. But at the same time, it’s also essential to do some Soul-searching and work with yourself on a spiritual level.
What is Complicated Grief?
Complicated grief is what happens when a person, after experiencing a major loss, struggles to move through the natural cycle of grief and instead becomes trapped in their pain and devastation. Complicated grief is grief that never seems to go away, that continues for many years, and that cripples a person’s ability to function normally in the world.
15 Signs You Might Be Experiencing Complicated Grief
Pay attention to the following signs of complicated grief:
- You lost someone or something many years ago, yet you still feel the same amount of grief (or more) today
- You struggle to focus on anything else other than your sense of loss
- You feel emotionally numb and detached from reality at times
- You lack a sense of purpose and meaning of life
- You struggle to accept the death of someone and cling to reminders of them as much as possible (e.g., watching videos of them, listening to their voice, sleeping with their clothes, etc.) OR you avoid all reminders of the person as much as possible
- You have intense pining for the person who died that feels overwhelming
- You feel like a victim of life that has been punished cruelly
- You lack trust in others
- You feel disconnected from any Divine source
- You blame yourself or feel guilty for the person’s death (or the situation that caused grief)
- You struggle to live a normal life or function properly
- You isolate from others and avoid social activities at all costs
- You ruminate over how things could be different
- You struggle to see how life is worth living without your loved one
- You wish you had died along with your loved one
There is no right or wrong amount of time to grieve. Grieving is a unique process for everyone. But if you can relate to most of these signs and struggle to function in life, I strongly recommend reaching out to a trained psychotherapist or psychiatrist. Admitting that you need help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Simply go to your internet browser and type in “grief counseling” and you will find many options.
Alternatively, if you feel suicidal, please reach out for support. There are so many skilled, caring, and compassionate people out there ready to help. Please hang in there. See this list of worldwide suicide crisis lines for help.
Causes of Complicated Grief
Complicated grief is an intense and prolonged form of grief that is experienced for a number of reasons. Common factors that increase the likelihood of experiencing it can include:
- The relationship you had with the person (i.e., how intensely close you were, how complex the connection was, etc.)
- How sudden, violent, or unexpected the death was
- Past history of trauma (for instance PTSD, C-PTSD) and whether it was resolved or not
- Personality type – that is, being an empath or highly sensitive person (HSP)
Does complicated grief only happen to those who have experienced the death of someone?
Complicated grief can also occur to those who have lost a partner (through a divorce), a house, a job, a friend, and so on.
Complex Grief and Being a Highly Sensitive Person
Those who have sensitively wired nervous systems (highly sensitive people) and deep feelers (empaths) are at risk of developing complicated grief simply due to their personality type/disposition. This is not to say that all HSPs or empaths will develop complex grief, but for some, there is certainly the possibility – especially if there has been a history of unresolved trauma.
If you think you might be an empath or highly sensitive person (or both), I’ll share some ways of moving through complex grief soon. But first, let’s examine how complicated grief is connected with an important spiritual experience known as the Dark Night of the Soul.
Complicated Grief, Soul Loss, and the Dark Night of the Soul
As we learned above, complex grief is caused by a variety of reasons, including previous unresolved trauma. But trauma is not just emotional or psychological – it’s also spiritual. In fact, in my perspective, all trauma, deep down, at a core primordial level, is spiritual.
Soul loss, or being disconnected from your Soul, is a pandemic we can see in society everywhere. We can observe it in the way we mercilessly use and destroy the earth, harm each other, and hurt ourselves. We can see it in our materialistic greed, our narcissism as a species, and our addictions that never seem to go away.
When we are disconnected from our Souls, our True Selves, our Higher Nature, we feel innately lost. Life loses its sacredness and meaning. We abandon reverence for brazen egotism. Our relationships feel empty and superficial. We don’t know what our life purpose is. Life feels mechanistic and barren. And we always carry a hole inside of ourselves that can never quite be filled.
If you can relate to these feelings, you might be experiencing soul loss, which is what inevitably leads to something known as the Dark Night of the Soul. The Dark Night is what happens when we feel totally disconnected and cut off from the Divine. Life may feel hopeless, desolate, and totally void of meaning. We may carry the sense that we’re like the living dead, dragging ourselves through an existence that leaves us feeling nothing but pain, disappointment, and sorrow.
But as horrible as the Dark Night sounds (and it is), it is a crucial part of the spiritual journey – the journey to reconnect with the loving, wise, and Divine part of us that is our Soul.
Complicated grief can serve as an initiation onto your spiritual path through the Dark Night of the Soul.
The feelings of loss, longing, emptiness, and sorrow that you’re experiencing mirror exactly what those undergoing a Dark Night experience. The only difference is that those experiencing complex grief are seeing all their hope, freedom, and happiness bound-up in the lost person. On the other hand, those that enter the Dark Night who have no previous experience with complex grief see all their hope, freedom, and happiness bound-up in the Divine.
While one is longing for the person (who mirror’s your own Soul qualities), the other is longing for Divinity/God/Enlightenment. Both are due to Soul Loss. As such, complicated grief is a spiritual malady.
How to Move Through Complex Grief
Firstly, there are no magical instantaneous cures (although miracles can and do happen). So the guidance below is meant to help you rather than immediately cure you.
Again, please use this advice as a supplement to seeking professional psychological help. Sometimes the nervous system is so inundated that it needs intervention by a trained therapist or psychiatrist.
Also, please be gentle with yourself, as much as is possible. Go slowly, and if at any time you feel that any of these suggestions are too much too soon, stop immediately and take care of yourself.
Here are some paths for moving through complicated grief:
1. Practice basic self-care
Set a regular bedtime. Make at least one healthy meal per day. Get some sunshine. Take a walk. Drink enough water. See our self-care article for more guidance and a free printable self-care checklist.
2. Journal about how you feel
Journaling is a simple but powerful way to process your grief and get it all out in a physical, tangible form. Try journaling first thing in the morning when your mind is at its freshest (but any time during the day is totally fine). Feel free to vent all your feelings and let it all out. Read our article on journaling for more help.
3. Give yourself permission to scream, cry, and let it all out
How would you like to physically process your grief? Does screaming into/punching a pillow, crying, laughing, or doing intense and intentional exercise appeal to you? Perhaps you feel driven to roll around howling and clawing at the ground. Whatever way you wish to process your grief is totally fine and important to honor. (Just make sure that you don’t hurt yourself.) If you are emotionally numb and struggle to feel anything, start little each day. For example, you might like to punch a pillow for ten minutes and see whether anything stirs within you. Physical catharsis is an important way of processing grief, so give yourself permission to let it all go – even if it looks/feels odd, ‘silly,’ or melodramatic. You have the right to let it all out.
4. Do some art therapy
You don’t need to be an artist to benefit from art therapy. Simply pick up some pens and a piece of paper and draw however you feel. To hell with the inner critic! Art therapy is a surprisingly simple but powerful way of processing grief. You can even celebrate your deceased loved one by creating a piece of art in honor of them.
5. Try mirror work
Please approach this activity gently as it can release a lot of emotions. Find a mirror in your house, close the door to ensure privacy, and gently gaze at yourself. If this is too painful, feel free to stop and try this a little bit every day until you’re comfortable with looking into your eyes. As you stare into the mirror, enfold yourself in a hug and cradle yourself. Eventually, as you practice this activity, you may like to say something compassionate but powerful to yourself such as, “I’m here for you,” “We can do this,” “I’m getting there,” “We’re strong.” See our list of morning affirmations for anxiety and depression sufferers for inspiration.
6. Reach out to someone
If you’re not ready to talk to friends or family members, reach out to a support group or supportive person. There are many support groups/people online and you might also find a few locally. Simply type in “grief support online” in your internet browser and see what comes up for you. If you are on social media, you can also find many groups and pages that are dedicated to grief. Simply look through grief-related hashtags (such as #griefsupport #griefjourney #griefrecovery) or search up grief-related pages. In fact, sometimes it’s a wiser choice to reach out to those who are intimately acquainted with grief and can adequately hold space for you. If you have a complicated relationship with those in your life, you might feel unsafe with them, which may be preventing you from reaching out. So the key here is to find a person or group of people in which you feel safe around. Feeling safe enough to open up is a crucial part of grief work.
7. Get to know your needs as an empath or highly sensitive person
If you are a deep feeler who has always been sensitive, you might be an empath and/or HSP. Consequently, you feel pain (and joy) to a greater degree than others. If this is the case, it’s important that you learn about your needs, in whatever way possible. For example, do you feel too stimulated by your environment (and is that distracting you from processing your grief)? Perhaps you need to take a vacation or create a space in your living area that is free of clutter. Does watching the news or going on Instagram stress you out? Perhaps you need to take a break in order to work through your complex grief first. You can read our articles on being an empath and a highly sensitive person for more guidance.
8. Reconnect with your Soul through prayer
First thing’s first, let’s put aside the religious connotations of prayer (you don’t need to be religious to pray). Secondly, there are many ways of reconnecting with your Soul, but prayer is one of the most simple and immediate paths. And for those experiencing complicated grief, there’s not much energy to do anything else.
Through prayer, we tap into the ancient practice of communing with something deeper within us. Even if you feel nothing at first, prayer helps you to access a glimmer of hope, a hint of light on the horizon. Prayer is also a way of reaching out for help and guidance, which is an act of self-love and healing in and of itself.
You can pray in whatever way you like, as long as you like, to whomever you like. See our article on the power of prayer for more guidance.
9. Tap into your inner source of power and keep moving forward
Strength and the ability to overcome anything that life throws at you is your Divine right. You have a place inside of you that is imperishable, wise, and flowing with power. Please trust this and know that if you tap into your inner Warrior, you will be able to handle anything that comes your way.
In my article on how to keep moving forward for those suffering alone, I list ten ways to tap into your inner source of power:
- Say to yourself: if you throw me to the wolves, I’ll come back leading the pack
- Take every day one step at a time
- Scream or ROAR
- Be a warrior, not a victim
- When it all gets too much, BREATHE
- Listen to empowering / emotional music
- Give your struggles a PURPOSE
- Find the lesson/gift in your circumstance
- Take care of your basic needs
- Be courageous and share your feelings with others
To delve into each of these points, keep reading this article on how to keep moving forward.
You might also like to pore through our article on how to access your inner strength during traumatic times for additional support.
Before you go I want you to know something: the strongest Souls are forged out of the most painful experiences. The deepest Souls are reborn from the ashes of the most excruciating pains.
What you’re going through has meaning: it has initiated you onto the spiritual path, whatever that looks like for you. Going through a Dark Night of the Soul is painful, but it is temporary. Eventually, you’ll be regenerated and resurrected to a new life of hope, direction, love, and happiness. The scars of your grief may never fade, but they will cease dominating your life. May you rediscover the light within your life.