Updated: Oct 1, 2019
Complex grief can occur when the current grief situation triggers a response that is linked to unresolved historical experiences. Complex grief could also occur when the grief experience is not acknowledged or supported by society.
Unresolved historical experiences and the grief response:
When we experience any kind of trauma (physical, sexual, mental, emotional or spiritual abuse) when we are young we develop coping strategies to help us manage the our response to that experience with the tools we have in our tool box at the time. While such coping strategies may help us survive the original trauma, they can also become, with repetition, the default way of coping with any situation that causes us stress and, therefore, may trigger a similar response.
Lack of societal support or acknowledgement for the loss or change that creates a grief response:
There are losses we experience that are socially acceptable, like loss of a spouse or a child which can generate a lot of social support, compassion and empathy. Other losses or changes can be less well-supported or not supported at all. Examples of such losses could be abortion, miscarriage or suicide. Examples of changes that can trigger a complex grief response might be relocating (town, city or country), change of employment. Where there is little or no support for a person to vent or express their grief response there is an increased risk of the griever not being able to properly process their grief, which can over time lead to other issues that can adversely affect that person's physical, mental, spiritual or emotional well-being and can impact that person's relationships also.