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What Is Unresolved Grief and How to Break Free From the Pain?

Experiences of grief and loss are inevitable in life. Whether it is the loss of a parent, friend, or something else, every person experiences and processes grief in a unique way. As there is no distinct timeline for grieving, it is essential to work through challenging emotions as they surface rather than ignoring or burying them. Unresolved grief can be problematic and worsen preexisting physical and mental health conditions.

At times, situations of grief can bring about intense feelings of hopelessness. Recognize that your teen not have to know how to move on immediately after experiencing a loss. As a parent, there are ways that you can help your child work through these challenging emotions. By doing so, you can help them break free from debilitating experiences of grief. 

What Are Some Common Causes of Grief?

There is no one root cause for grief. When people consider the term grief, they may initially reflect on the loss of a loved one. While death is certainly a common cause of grief, other causes may include:

  • Divorce
  • Losing a loved one, pet, or friendship
  • Moving to a new location 
  • Tragic current events in the news

Grief can be experienced in other ways aside from losing someone through death. It can involve the loss of a whole way of life, such as leaving behind a familiar city and friendships to move someplace new or the loss of a previous lifestyle in light of a new diagnosis. Grief can take on many different forms and affect many facets of our lives. It’s normal for anyone, but especially teenagers, to take a while to adjust to a new way of life after experiencing such a radical change, whether the change is negative or positive.

The 5 Stages Of Grief

People experience grief differently and move on at different paces. Some people may remain “stuck” in some stages of grief longer than others or skip some altogether. The five stages of grief were developed by the psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and include:

  • Denial: Refusing to accept that someone has died or that something traumatic has happened
  • Anger: Feeling frustrated that the loss or traumatic circumstance occurred
  • Bargaining: Reasoning with personal emotions by entertaining “what if” scenarios
  • Depression: Intense sadness as a result of somewhat accepting the truth of the loss
  • Acceptance: Recognizing that the loss occurred and choosing to move on with life

Many of these stages can look like clinical depression, which is a severe condition that affects an individual’s ability to function normally in daily life. Most people experience deep sadness for a time before reaching the final stage of acceptance. Clinical depression combined with grief can cause someone to remain in the first few stages of grief for quite some time.

What Is Unresolved Grief? 

Unresolved grief is also sometimes called complex grief. When grief is managed, feelings of sadness tend to level out over time. However, complex, unresolved grief can perpetuate your child’s feelings of sadness. This form of grief can make a teenager especially susceptible to the development of an addiction. Sometimes it can be hard to determine whether your teen is moving through the normal stages of grief or is caught up in complex, unresolved grief. If you are concerned about the length and depth of your teen’s grief symptoms, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist.

Signs Of Unresolved Grief

Grief can look like many things, but unresolved grief shares these common signs:

  • Unmanaged anger or irritability
  • Obsession with the lost loved one or the way life was before the grief incident
  • Withdrawing from other relationships and social activities
  • Engaging in addictive or otherwise self-destructive behaviors
  • Avoiding anything that reminds them of the loved one they lost
  • Refusing to talk about the incident behind the grief
  • Feeling guilty or blaming self
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

There are several options for treatment if your teen shows a combination of these signs including: 

  • Counseling
  • Rehabilitation centers for substance use
  • Anger management 
  • Skills training 

What Is the Connection Between Unresolved Grief and Addiction?

Grief and addiction often go together and tend to exacerbate one another. Alcohol or other drugs can be a convenient way of making unpleasant emotions disappear, or at least numb them for some time. Substances can quickly become a crutch for your child to make it through the day. In reality, self-medicating will only worsen distress over time.

If your teen is struggling with unresolved grief and perhaps relying on substances to make it through, understand that there is help available. Millions of people have gone through the same struggle and have been able to forge a new path forward despite sadness and loss. Finding a treatment that focuses on both grief and addiction is a vital tool for your recovery. When your teen seeks help for both issues together, you greatly increase their chances for a successful recovery. Seeing your teen recover can help resolve your own residual anger and sadness, too.

Losing a loved one or coping after an emotionally difficult situation is hard. However, leaving grief unresolved can worsen mental health. Having a healthy set of coping mechanisms can help your teen weather through the storm of complex, unresolved grief. It is essential to recognize that treatment for grief and trauma is available and can help your teen manage challenging emotions. If your child is struggling with unresolved grief, it is important to get connected with treatment resources as soon as possible. Clearfork Academy is uniquely equipped to help teens and young adults who are struggling with complex grief along with clinical depression or substance use addiction. Treating these co-occurring disorders together is the best path for healing. We want you and your teen to feel supported and encouraged as they work to heal from the challenging effects of grief. To learn more, call us today at (817) 259-2597

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