What is Silent Grief?

Lily Ruha

Silent grief refers to a particular reaction to loss. Losing a spouse, having a miscarriage and losing someone to a sudden and tragic event can sometimes lead to this type of grief reaction. Individuals who mourn in silence sometimes isolate themselves; deny that anything is wrong; and, in some cases, quietly suffer from feelings of shame and guilt.

Counseling may help with grief.
Counseling may help with grief.

Each individual deals with loss in his own way. Anger, bargaining, denial and depression are commonly observed reactions to loss. Finally coming to terms with a loss often requires going through some or all of these stages of the grieving process. An individual who grieves in silence may be stuck in a state of denial or quiet depression. Without discussing his loss or dealing with the underlying emotions associated with his grief, it is more difficult to reach the acceptance stage.

Even when grief is silent people usually give signs of what they are going through.
Even when grief is silent people usually give signs of what they are going through.

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Silent grief is more common in certain circumstances. A child whose mother has committed suicide might suffer from silent grief, secretly blaming himself for his mother’s death. A woman who has suffered a miscarriage might grow quiet due to despair or the feeling that no one can relate to her loss. Individuals who lose a loved one as a result of a tragic accident or violence might endure emotional shock that leads to suffering in silence.

Experiencing a miscarriage may cause a person to isolate herself from others, leading to silent grief.
Experiencing a miscarriage may cause a person to isolate herself from others, leading to silent grief.

Some causes of silent grief are related to the way certain families and cultures approach the subject of loss. It may be that expressing sadness or holding on to negative, unresolved feelings toward the deceased is considered inappropriate. Family members might feel pressured to look and act happy and move on with life. In some cases, an unspoken time limit is placed on how long a person is allowed to mourn a loss.

Individuals who mourn in silence may quietly suffer from feelings of shame and guilt.
Individuals who mourn in silence may quietly suffer from feelings of shame and guilt.

Other factors that might perpetuate silent grief are pressures to replace the loved one. This might be in the form of marrying again, having another baby or filling up free time with activities that take the mind off of the loss. In some cases, this advice helps the mourner to move forward in life. In the case of unresolved feelings toward the deceased or the self, this approach is sometimes criticized as not addressing the real issues.

People who mourn silently may have unresolved feelings of isolation and guilt.
People who mourn silently may have unresolved feelings of isolation and guilt.

Experts often counsel those who have experienced a loss to talk about their feelings. Avoiding the subject and resorting to social isolation is generally considered an unhealthy way to deal with grief. Surrounding oneself with supportive and compassionate people who understand and are willing to listen is considered helpful. In cases in which these support systems do not exist, those dealing with silent grief are encouraged to seek professional counseling.

Individuals who mourn in silence sometimes isolate themselves.
Individuals who mourn in silence sometimes isolate themselves.
Losing a spouse can sometimes lead to a silent grief reaction.
Losing a spouse can sometimes lead to a silent grief reaction.

Discussion Comments

Wisedly33

My maternal grandmother killed herself a couple of years before I was born. In that time, people didn't get counseling, suicide was shameful, you didn't talk about it and you just "got on with it."

My dad's side of the family, fortunately, supported Mom in her grief and allowed her to express it. With her family though, the grief was largely silent.

Because my mom didn't get the grief counseling she needed, she pushed all that emotion down inside and it came out in fits of rage and now, guilt that she could have done something. Silent grief is awful.

Scrbblchick

Silent grief usually does depend on either the individual or the culture. Some people just have a lot of trouble expressing intense, personal emotions, and they naturally grieve silently. Friends and family members should let the person know they are available if the person needs someone, but should try not to push it, unless it is necessary.

When someone is grieving over a loss that is either culturally wrong (as is suicide in some cultures) or comes from a culture where expressions of grief are frowned upon, this person many never fully recover from the grief process and may need a lot of encouragement to seek counseling so he or she can understand that grieving is natural and appropriate.

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