Unmasking Unresolved Grief: Understanding Symptoms, Impact and Coping Strategies

What Happens When We Don't Take The Time To Mourn

Grief is a normal, healthy response to losing a loved one. All of us will experience it or have experienced it in our lives. It's important, however, to learn how to express our grief – and mourn – in a healthy manner.

When we aren't able to grieve properly, we can suffer from the symptoms of unresolved (or complicated) grief. This can leave us in indefinite emotional limbo without the ability to move forward. Understanding the signs of unresolved grief, how it manifests, and what we can do to mend it can better help us heal from grief. Everyone deserves to process their grief fully. This guide may help you – or someone you love – to do just that.

What Is Unresolved Grief?

No two people grieve the same way, making it difficult to determine the particulars of navigating our grief. However, there are many healthy ways to process the complex and difficult emotions that grief sparks. Grief may change us and often, we may always feel the absence of what we lost. However, it's when we can't return to normal life without feeling pervasive and intrusive pain related to our loss that we find ourselves trapped in a cycle of unresolved grief.

The medical definition of unresolved grief is “grief characterized by the extended duration of the symptoms, by the interference of grief symptoms with the normal functioning of the mourner, and/or by the intensity of the symptoms (for example, intense suicidal thoughts or acts).” Unresolved grief is a form of complicated (or complex) grief and may be part of a persistent complex bereavement disorder. It can be called untreated grief, suppressed grief, or incomplete grief.

Here are the major characteristics of unresolved grief.

  1. Unresolved grief lasts much longer than normal grief. It can persist for years or throughout a person’s lifetime.
  2. Unresolved grief worsens over time. It never seems to get better or lessen. It is a constant pain that persists throughout all hours of the day and night.
  3. Unresolved grief gets in the way of a person being able to function normally in society. This can mean interfering with their ability to hold down a normal job, relationships, or even maintain daily tasks.

Symptoms Of Unresolved Grief

How do you know if you are experiencing unresolved grief? Grief can be intense and overwhelming, especially in the earliest stages. But how can we know what might be signs of unresolved grief and what are healthy grieving behaviors? Unresolved grief can have many symptoms.

Here are some of the most common.

  • Overwhelming and intense sadness that does not decrease over time
  • Seeing previously good memories of a loved one as painful
  • Obsessive focus on the death of the loved one at the cost of all other memories, feelings, and the positive aspects of the relationship
  • Prolonged feelings of numbness and detachment lead to self-isolating behaviors.
  • Unwilling to address the death or speak about the loved one
  • Developing new phobias or anxieties (typically around health-related conditions)
  • Lack of faith in others leads to mistrust in those currently in your life and disinterest in forging new connections or relationships
  • Inability to enjoy any aspect of life, even those that you previously enjoyed including problems accepting the reality of the death
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or risky or self-destructive behavior
  • Difficulty reintegrating with friends and family, pursuing interests, or looking to the future

If you or someone you know exhibits these symptoms, this may be a sign of unresolved grief. However, this type of grief is not inevitable, nor does it need to remain your status quo.

It's important to be aware that depression is not the same thing as unresolved grief, though depression can be a symptom of it. Unresolved grief is specifically centered around the deceased loved one and reminders of them and the relationship.

How Does Mourning Help Us Through The Grief Process?

While we talk a lot about grief in our blog, we don’t always discuss the difference (and importance) of mourning. While grief is the inward emotional response to a loss, particularly one of someone close to us, mourning is often the external manifestation of those emotions. Mourning is about how we express our emotions. Mourning is the behaviors, acts, and rituals outwardly showing our sorrow and hurt over the loss.

When we mourn, we give an outlet to our grief. It is crucial to both our bodies and minds because it leads us to accept our feelings. Mourning brings us together with others experiencing the same emotions and sharing in our memories and love. We can use the acts of mourning to remember the importance of our loved ones and how deeply we feel their loss. That allows us to process them through the act of mourning. We can move forward because we’ve taken the time to acknowledge our grief and grow from our loss.

Eventually, it allows us to adjust to our new “normal” in our life without our loved one in it. We will never gain what we lost but we can move forward from it.

What Happens When We Don't Take The Time To Mourn?

Mourning hurts. There’s no way around that fact, nor is there a way to change it or minimalize it. We can’t – and won’t – minimalize the pain of grief in that manner. Sometimes, it can be tempting to simply not let ourselves feel our grief. We may want to repress those emotions and set them aside. This can be dangerous for us, leading to complex or complicated grief. Unresolved grief can lead to lasting effects on our mental and physical health.


If you don't take the time to mourn or express your sorrow, you may find that you can't escape those emotions. What's more, grief may manifest in different, more damaging emotions. You may find yourself struggling with shame and guilt for experiencing anything in life without your loved one.

You may blame yourself for things outside your control and find it difficult to do anything new or anything that brings joy. You may feel intensely guilty for experiencing positive emotions when your loved one is no longer there to experience them with you.

You may dwell on mistakes your made (or think you made) with the deceased. You replay old memories in your mind and instead of bringing you any sense of comfort, you focus on what you could have done or said better. You can’t find solace in these moments, only guilt and pain.


Sometimes, the symptoms of grief just don’t appear. This is absent grief, a kind of complicated grief that’s characterized by the lack of feelings normally associated with grief and loss. You may not even experience the stages of grief in any form. You may end up suppressing your emotions – whether purposefully or subconsciously – to save yourself from feeling pain.

Unfortunately, this can backfire. With absent grief, any smaller loss can rip the band-aid off, so to speak, and leave you awash in the sudden and intense emotions you had previously been suppressing. If this happens months or even years later, you may not be able to connect this sudden emotional breakdown with the initial grief of losing a loved one.


For some, unresolved grief manifests in an intense longing or preoccupation for the person who has died or thoughts of that person. It can come with intense avoidance of the topic of your loved one's death, to the point of disbelief about the death.

Alternatively, you may become fixated on death and develop a fear of it. You may start obsessing over the details of your loved one's situation and lose yourself in "what ifs" and things you cannot change.


Feeling detached from reality and, from that, your friends and family is a common symptom of unresolved grief. It's difficult to talk to others when you don't want to talk about your feelings or the death of your loved one. You may begin to avoid them because you don’t want to address your loss and anticipate difficult conversations to the point of never allowing them to start. You may stop answering your phone and simply don't return calls. You may avoid familiar places or situations for fear of seeing someone you know.

All of this can create distance and isolation from your friends and family. This isolation likely makes you feel worse. You miss them. You missed your loved one. It begins a difficult cycle to break that only makes you feel more alone.


One of the most common - and most dangerous - symptoms of unresolved grief is indulging in harmful or risky behaviors. Instead of facing grief, it is often easier to lose yourself in distraction. No one wants to face emotional pain. If we can avoid it, we will. With grief, these behaviors can take many forms. You may find yourself drinking heavily or abusing controlled substances.

In more extreme cases, you may consider self-harming behaviors. You may take more risks with your personal safety overall. These behaviors are compounded by apathy or general disconnection from your life and health. You may not care how these behaviors will affect you long term, especially when you don't care about the long-term.

Harmful behaviors may be more subtle, too. You may stop sleeping or sleep more than usual, finding it difficult to get out of bed most mornings. You may miss work, personal engagements, and important deadlines due to disinterest. You may stop eating unless prompted or forced. Conversely, you may be overeating. Food can be a source of comfort for many. As such, emotional eating is very common when facing anxiety or stress.


When grief isn't expressed healthily, the pain can still find a way to be expressed whether you want it to or not. However, when that happens, it may be in a far more dangerous fashion. Intense emotional pain can manifest as rage, bitterness, and frustration. When bottled up those emotions may explode in unexpected ways at home, work, or even directed at bystanders.

Tips For Dealing With Unresolved Grief

There's no immediate cure for unresolved grief. The best thing we can do is learn how to work through grief the best way we can – with a little help from those who care and a lot of self-work.


One of the most difficult aspects of unresolved grief is recognizing when you have it, especially when you are feeling at your most vulnerable and alone. It can be the hardest first step you will ever take – but it's also incredibly important to your healing process. Humans were not meant to grieve alone. We are social beings that are at our best when we are together.


One of the most common symptoms of unresolved grief is avoidance of the subject. To fully heal from grief, you must acknowledge it. You can’t keep it tucked away inside you forever. Like any wound, it will fester when not treated with care. Often, people with unresolved grief avoid talking about their loved one, their death, or their feelings around it. By learning how to talk about your loved one, you can re-learn how to remember the good moments with them.

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Today, we use the term "self-care" to mean everything from exercising to running a bubble bath. While both can be enjoyable and relaxing, it's more important to practice true self-care. True self-care is work, though it is the type of work that needs to be done – it's working on ourselves. Self-care includes stress reduction, maintaining proper nutrition, being active, getting proper sleep, and learning to take a difficult path when you need to.

Self-Care may be a buzzword, but it's also an imperative part of keeping ourselves healthy, happy, and resilient.

Nurture Your Spiritual Health during Unresolved Grief: Explore 10 Helpful Tips. Click Here to Read the Article Now!


When we experience unresolved grief, we often find ourselves in a state of apathy. We don't want to do anything because nothing seems like it matters. It can be hard to get off the couch or out of bed when we're struggling to find meaning in our lives every day. That's why it's so important to keep moving. No one needs to suddenly take up long-distance running or be in the gym five days a week (unless you want to), but you do need to move. Movement can take the form of taking a walk, doing daily stretching, or doing light yoga. Being physically active can also be jogging, kickboxing, or learning a new sport.

The important thing is that you are moving your body. This simple thing can help reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and clear your mind. Embrace Hope in Grief: 15 Practical Tips for Staying Positive During Loss. Click Here to Read Now.


The most important thing you can do for unresolved grief is to reach out to a professional. Many counselors are trained specifically to help with issues related to grief and mourning. Some specialize in unresolved grief issues and their symptoms. Depression, unregulated emotional outbursts, apathy, and self-harm are all serious side effects of untreated complicated grief. The best way to

What Are Some Healthy Ways To Grieve?

Coping with grief and learning how to mourn healthily can seem impossible sometimes. But as we face grief, we can expect to learn how to heal from our pain and work towards a future where we overcome it.

Start Your New Year Strong: Discover 10 Helpful Tips on Coping with Grief. Click to Read the Article Now!


Grief comes with a turmoil of emotions. Even when describing them, there’s no way to know what you may be feeling at any given moment. No matter what you are feeling, don’t bury those emotions. You should allow yourself to feel them – and even express them – in a healthy way.

That may mean accepting the negative emotions – rage, fear, frustration, etc – as part of you. It does not mean taking those emotions out on others. It also does not mean dwelling on those emotions or making them your entire focus. However, you should look for a safe space, like a therapist or friend, or even write them in a journal, to help you learn how to balance your grief with moving forward.

One of the hardest parts of accepting your emotions is the acknowledgment that you will feel moments of joy or happiness as your grieve. You cannot be expected to feel only your sorrow at this time. You may feel guilty at first when you find yourself laughing or smiling, but that is natural. It's just as important to express your joy in the memory of your loved one as it is to acknowledge your sorrow at their passing.

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It can be all too easy to only focus on loss after someone dies. However, it’s equally important to remember their life as well. There is certainly an aspect of grief that is bittersweet as you take time to reflect on all your times together and the things you shared.

It’s important to talk about your loved one and share those memories with others. That way, you can keep their memory alive while focusing on the things you loved about them.

For many, this includes a Celebration of Life in addition to (or instead of) a funeral. Celebrations of Life are a unique gathering where people come together to reminisce about the good times with the deceased, focusing on their life and achievements instead of their death. It is a wonderful way to bring together everyone who loved the person. That way you can feel connected to one another as you grieve and celebrate together.


Sometimes the best way to keep someone's memory alive is through a physical reminder of their presence. Keepsakes of our loved ones are a great way to remember them and to help you through the hard times. It can give you strength when you may need it most.

Personal Items

You may begin wearing your father’s watch or your mother’s ring. You may find something as simple as a hat that reminds you of them or a scarf you have fond memories of. Perhaps your loved one had a favorite shirt that you want to keep near – or hang in your closet – so you can feel them nearby.

Photo Albums

Photo albums can be a source of comfort and good memories after the death of a loved one. These photographs represent the best times spent with that person and with a family at large. By collecting your favorite photos of a loved one, you can have them on hand when you are ready to reminisce about the good times you had. If you aren’t ready, you can ask a friend or family member for assistance. It might help to have them on hand to share memories or be there when you feel sad.

Additionally, consider adding a personal touch to your cherished memories with personalized photo engraved jewelry, which allows you to carry your loved one's presence close to your heart.

Cremation Pendants

Pendants are the most prolific type of keepsake people choose as memorial jewelry. These cremation jewelry for ashes are a perfect way to keep your memories safe and close, even when you can’t always find space for larger memorial items. Many of these designs, like the Black Truthful Cross, provide a unisex option with stainless steel metal and black plating.

Ash Jewelry

Ash jewelry is one of the most popular kinds of cremation jewelry. The pendants are created by mixing ashes from the deceased with a colorful resin of your choice to create a distinctly personal piece of wearable art. The effect creates a beautiful swirl within the metal that retains a glossy, gem-like appearance that is both beautiful and highly personal.

These urn necklace for ashes come in multiple sizes and shapes. Many even offer multi-color options for the resin. One of the most versatile is the Silver Paradise Heart pendant. Once the pendant is ordered, we immediately ship out an ash collect kit with instructions, making the process safe and easy. If you are looking for a completely customized option for housing your loved one’s cremations that doesn’t resemble the classic cremation urn pendant, an ash jewelry keepsake is absolutely the choice for you.

Memorial Plants

Ash jewelry is one of the most popular kinds of cremation jewelry. The pendants are created by mixing ashes from the deceased with a colorful resin of your choice to create a distinctly personal piece of wearable art. The effect creates a beautiful swirl within the metal that retains a glossy, gem-like appearance that is both beautiful and highly personal.

These pendants come in multiple sizes and shapes. Many even offer multi-color options for the resin. One of the most versatile is the Silver Paradise Heart pendant. Once the pendant is ordered, we immediately ship out an ash collect kit with instructions, making the process safe and easy. If you are looking for a completely customized option for housing your loved one’s cremations that doesn’t resemble the classic cremation urn pendant, an ash jewelry keepsake is absolutely the choice for you.


Everyone is on their own journey. It's simple advice but it works for many situations, including grief. Just because someone else looks as if they have "moved beyond" their grief or are not exhibiting the same mourning behavior that you are, it doesn't mean that they feel any differently than you. They may be masking their pain and hurt. They may be working with a therapist behind the scenes.

Unfortunately, they may also be suffering from complicated grief or other issues that you never see. There are so many sides of a person’s life that we don’t see on social media or in real life. We cannot compare where we are with where we think someone else might be in their journey. Focus on yourself and your journey.


Reaching out for support during the grieving process is crucial to recovery. It's also important to find the right kind of support. If you are prone to dwelling on negativity, you may need to take time to find people who will not let you sink into those feelings. The same can be said about toxic positivity. You cannot pretend like everything is fine when, in truth, you are hurting. It's so important to find a positive but productive support system.

Friends & Family

The first place you should turn for support is to those closest to you – your friends and family. These are the people who love and care for you. They want you to be well. Sometimes they may not always know what kind of help you need, so never be afraid to ask. While those around you love you, they cannot read your mind. How else will you get what you need unless you ask for it?

Therapist/Grief Counselor

We cannot stress enough the role of counselors and therapists when dealing with grief after the death of a loved one. Seeking therapy can be a scary process. You may not trust someone new in your life, especially when you are expected to share so many personal and painful things with them. With the right therapist, you can learn effective coping mechanisms, how to process your emotions, and move through the process of grief less painfully.

Support Groups

No one can better understand what you are going through than others who are experiencing the same. That could mean reaching out to other people who knew and care for your loved one. They are likely going through the same process of grief and loss as you.

Sometimes, you may find that it’s not always possible to do that. You may not live close to them or you may not get along with them. (Estranged families or relationships are valid reasons for not reaching out). You still need support. One way to find that is to look for local grief support groups in your area. Your local physician's office will usually have a list of support resources in your area.

Hospitals often have programs they can refer people to, including social workers and hospice care that can give you more information if needed.

Unlocking the Key to Healing: Your Guide to Finding the Perfect Grief Therapist or Support Group! Take the First Step towards Hope and Relief - Click Here for Helpful Tips!

Online Resources

If you can’t find support in your area, you can always reach out to the online community. Besides articles like this one – and others in our Information Center – there are many other online resources. Multiple communities on forums and message boards exist with the sole purpose of connecting people suffering from grief like the free forum Grieving.Com or MISSFoundation.


While we may discuss the generalities of how you should or should not feel after a certain amount of time has passed, everyone is different. Healthy grieving means giving yourself the time and space to mourn. You won't feel better overnight. Healing from any wound takes time.

We often give ourselves that time for physical injuries but forget that we can be hurting just as deeply from emotional wounds as those left from loss. Take every day as it comes. Some days may be better than others but understand that is normal. You must be gentle with yourself during this process.

You should take the time to check in with yourself and see what you need. You should take care of yourself as much as you would take care of a grieving friend or loved one. We cannot rush through grief. We must trust that time will help us heal, even if it doesn't feel like that at the moment.

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Unresolved Grief Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have questions about unresolved grief? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the complicated topic of unresolved grief.

What is the healthiest way to grieve?

Healthy grieving means finding a way to process your pain, fears, and loss into a new relationship with your deceased loved one. That can take many forms but typically follows a basic pathway through the grief process. The first thing you need to do is make sure that you are taking care of yourself. That means eating healthy food regularly, being physically active in a way that best suits your needs, and avoiding behavior that can put your health at risk.

You should take time to process your grief without rushing into any big decisions if you can help it. You need time to grieve. That means avoiding big life changes like moving or making a career change.

Most importantly, be patient with yourself! You should work through your emotions and loss at your own pace. If you rush through the process, you may not actually be processing it at all. Mourning takes time. Give yourself that time and space to feel your emotions and just breathe.

How long does grief usually last?

There is no specific amount of time that a person should grieve. Everyone experiences grief differently and works through the process on their own timetable. It is common for grief to last for a year or longer, depending on many personal factors, like the relationship to the person who died, the circumstances of the death, and a person's own life experiences.

It is normal to continue to feel a person's loss in our lives despite the time. However, that grief should not remain the same sharp, painful emotion that it was at the beginning. While you may never be the same as you were before your loss, you should strive to reach a new normal for yourself and your life.

You may also only feel intense grief for a few weeks or months. Your timeline is entirely personal and shouldn't be compared to someone else's.

What are the symptoms of unresolved grief?

There are several common symptoms of unresolved grief. A person may not experience all of them but even one can make it difficult to move forward from loss.

Common symptoms include:

  • Persistent and crippling pain and sorrow associated with the loss keep you from taking care of yourself.
  • Avoidance or refusal to acknowledge the death.
  • Numbness and detachment after a loss that lasts for more than a few days.
  • Inability to look back on old memories and experiences with the deceased as positive, even if they once were cherished.
  • Self-harming behaviors or considering self-harm behaviors.
  • Inability to control emotional outbursts like anger and rage.
  • Isolating from other people and unable to trust previously close friends and family.

When should someone seek help for unresolved grief?

You should contact your doctor or mental health professional if you experience intense grief symptoms that interfere with your daily life that last longer than one year. While grief may be something we carry with us for a long time, it's when your grief keeps you from returning to your life.

What causes unresolved grief?

To date, we don't know the cause of unresolved grief. However, researchers have identified risk factors associated with the condition. The best thing you can do is to familiarize yourself with the risk factors and understand healthy grief practices.

What are the risk factors of unresolved grief?

While unresolved grief can affect anyone, several factors place some people more at risk based on situational or biological factors. Individuals who have experienced several losses in a short period are most at risk for unresolved or complicated grief. If the person loses someone very close to them, like a child or spouse, they may increase that risk. If a death was unexpected, sudden, or (most importantly) violent in some way, that is also a contributing factor. For example, those who lose a loved one due to an accident, homicide, or suicide can be vulnerable to these feelings and complications. The risk is greatly compounded when it's the death of a child. If you or someone you love has lost a child, you may find guidance in Dealing with Grief After the Loss of a Child.

Complicated grief occurs more often in older individuals and is higher in women. Another factor contributing to complicated grief is a history of mental health issues. This includes a history of depression, separation anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic experiences such as childhood loss or neglect may contribute. Other life stressors, like major financial hardship, can play an additional role.

These factors are not a guarantee of developing unresolved grief. However, they can contribute to its severity.

If you have PTSD, you may be interested in our guide on PTSD and Grief for more information about navigating loss.

How long is too long to mourn?

Whatever you may have heard, there's no time limit on mourning a person. You may miss that person for the rest of your life and think of them often. You may always mourn them in some way. That is healthy. It is only when mourning a deceased loved one keeps you from moving forward with your life that you will see issues in your mental (and often physical) health.

What is the best way to treat unresolved grief?

One of the best ways to prevent and treat unresolved grief is to seek grief counseling as soon as possible, especially if you have any of the mentioned risk factors. You may be able to prevent the disruption of the grief process simply by being proactive and talking about your grief and its effect on you. Reach out to your friends and family as much as possible. Letting people help you, even when you aren’t ready to open up, will help you heal from your grief.

What if I have thoughts of self-harm?

Many people with complex or unresolved grief may consider suicide or self-harm. If you experience any of these feelings, please reach out immediately. Talk to someone you trust about these thoughts. If you need to speak to someone immediately and you live in the US, you can call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline 24/7. You can also you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800- 273-TALK (8255) for completely confidential support.

If you feel like you may act on your feelings, call 911 immediately.

Resolving Unresolved Grief

Grief is an inevitable part of life. Unresolved grief doesn’t have to be. Rather than avoiding our pain and loss, we should be intentional in how we grieve and accepting of how we feel. It is only through approaching our grief intentionally, giving ourselves time and space to mourn, and accepting it as part of our lives that we can move forward from our loss. After all, isn't that what our loved one would want for us?

March 28, 2023 by Jeri K. Augustus