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Thursday, November 4, 2010

T3 - Facets of Grief: Behaviors

This week marks the end of the Facets of Grief series. We've covered the Emotional, Physical, and Cognitive responses in previous posts.

Behaviors should be considered in light of whether they interfere with the bereaved's ability to function. Common behaviors are disturbances in sleep (either too much or not enough), altered appetite (over or under eating), restlessness, absent mindedness, and social withdrawal. Bereaved individuals also commonly go to great lengths to avoid any reminder of the loss, whether that's a room in their house or chair the deceased person sat in. It's worth being noted that each of these behaviors can be symptoms of depression as well.

Fresh grief can be accompanied by any of the above behaviors. The grief subsides as time goes by, and the behaviors generally lessen or stop altogether. If they don't, and the person can't return to their previous level of functioning prior to suffering the loss, that could be indicative of a mental disorder having taken hold.

By far the most common behavior associated with grief and loss is crying, and it's here that I want to camp out a bit. Crying serves all kinds of functions in society, and as a therapist, I'm interested in the functions of behavior. I attended a conference where the healing components of different types of tears was discussed.

In the late 70s, researcher William Frey compared tears caused by cutting an onion with tears brought on by watching a sad movie, which elicited an emotional response missing from the onion-induced tears. He found that the emotional tears eliminated far more chemical toxins from the body than the onion-induced tears.  These toxins build up during times of emotional stress, so crying not only relieves the emotional stress, but almost can bring about a physical relief as well.

The takeaway is that the body knows what it needs to do to get through things, to survive. We should stop at making judgmental decisions about the behaviors someone might engage in when they are grieving. It might seem odd to hear a grieving person call out of the deceased, and creepy to catch them in the act of searching for them, but we have no idea the purpose or function of these behaviors for that bereaved person.

And in the spirit of crying...the good kind you have after reading a good book...

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Sierra Gardner said...

I love that you said we should be careful about making judgments regarding someone's grieving behaviors. I think that extends to our own as well. I remember worrying at my grandmother's funeral that I didn't cry and didn't feel terribly upset despite the fact that we were very close. My cousin offered me a very wise piece of advice. She told me to allow myself the luxury of grieving naturally without trying to force certain behaviors. We each find different ways to grieve and as long as they don't affect us long term I think it makes sense to let things run their course naturally.

Karen Lange said...

Jeannie, thank you for this info. Am going to review your other posts about grief too. My Mom passed away in the spring, and a friend's father passed away over the summer. We've been grieving together, comparing notes, etc. and I think she will find this helpful too.
Have a good weekend.

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.