Gestalt Psychology

Unacknowledged Grief

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Grief is usually consciously recognized when it’s connected to the death of a loved one but it casts a much wider net than that. Actually any time your circumstances change the potential for grief is there because implicit in change is loss, and loss is what grief is all about.

We say the potential for grief because sometimes change is desired, like when you leave a soul crushing job to pursue your dreams. In this case you have also lost something, namely your job, but it’s a welcome loss. Even then though grief is likely to lurk in the shadows because of the secondary losses around that primary loss like the loss of income, security, or relationships with coworkers.

We see that in almost any circumstance of change, whether you actively willed this change or it was forced upon you by external circumstances, you are going to lose something precious to you, which makes grief the appropriate response. But a lot of grief, maybe the vast majority, goes unacknowledged both because people aren’t consciously aware that it’s the appropriate response to losses of all kinds, not just the death of loved ones, and because when on balance they’re happy about their changed circumstances they ignore their ambivalence due to the multifaceted nature of people and situations. There are very few circumstances that are perceived as all good or all bad, most of the time it’s a mixed bag.

In Gestalt psychology we talk a lot about the unfinished situation, about the emotional and psychological problems caused by being unable or unwilling to move through the needs satisfaction cycle in order to close an open gestalt. Unacknowledged grief is a prime culprit for this phenomenon since people aren’t even aware that they are grieving in the first place. Our point here is to consciously acknowledge the place of grief in changed circumstances, even when this change was welcome, or willed by you, or had nothing to do with biological death, and to give yourself the space to mourn what you have lost.