Losing a loved one is, alas, something most of us will face at some point. But until recently, little research had been done on how we respond to loss. As a result, people fall prey to all sorts of misconceptions about grief - including some that make the grieving process harder.
You've no doubt heard about the "five stages" of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But there is little evidence that people progress through any such stages.
The terms were first used by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to describe what people go through as they face their own death, not the death of a loved one.
Myth: The Second Year Is Hardest
Some people say the second year after you've lost a loved one is harder than the first. Not necessarily. In fact, recent studies suggest that, for many bereaved people, the first six months are the hardest, emotionally speaking. This isn't to suggest that people stop missing their lost loved one after a matter of months, only that they have returned to somewhat normal functioning.
Myth: You Have to Get It Out
For years, grieving people have been urged to express themselves after the loss of a loved one. But does talking about or writing about your loss really help? There's no evidence to suggest that it does. Some studies suggest that holding in your sadness might actually be beneficial.
Myth: Delayed Reactions Are Common
Will repressing grief's negative emotions lead to deeper grief later on? Some therapists think so, but researchers are skeptical.
Myth: Counseling Helps
Seeing a therapist or other counselor certainly helps some people cope with grief. But not all. In general, counseling seems to work best for people whose grief has already lasted a long time - but not those whose grief is more typical.
Myth: Women Grieve Harder
There's little evidence that women experience grief more intensely than men. Overall, men and women are more similar in the way they experience grief than they are different.
Myth: Grief Is a Journey
Grief a "journey?" A "process?" Nice metaphors, maybe, but a recent study that tracked the daily emotions of the bereaved found so many ups and downs that the idea of a journey seems misguided. At this point, the best one can say about grief is that it comes and goes - and then, eventually, simply goes away.