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An introduction to the different grieving styles

Have you ever questioned whether you're grieving the "right" way? You're not alone.

Have you ever wondered if you’re “doing grief right”? Have you ever wondered if you’re too sad, or that you aren’t sad enough? It’s common to compare your grief journey to others. Some people seem to be able to pick life back up with ease, while others can struggle with the basics. One person might be working and weeping, the other might not flinch when you say their person’s name.

If you’ve judged yourself or wondered if there’s a “correct” way to do it, the answer is no – there’s no right or wrong way to process loss, because our grief is as individual as we are. The way people respond to loss boils down to so many factors, including the role the person played in your life, past experiences, other life stressors, your mental health, cultural beliefs, and even your perception of death (to name a few). 

Yet, if you find you are deflecting unsolicited opinions or even comparing your grief to others, you might judge yourself. We certainly both did. Sal’s coping mechanism is doing practical things, she’s really good at that (in fact she’s got a gold medal in it). So, she wondered why she was able to tick things off her to-do list and cope relatively well day-to-day. This ultimately led to questioning if something was wrong with her. Was she a robot unable to process emotions? Whereas Im, whose style is more ‘curl into a ball on the floor and rock for days’, gave herself a hard time for not being able to resume normal life as quickly as she felt she should. 

There’s no rule book on how to grieve properly. You simply do it your way. So instead of judging yourself, it might be helpful to know that there are different grieving coping styles. Like Im, you might be inclined to feel a strong range of emotions. Or, maybe you’re more like Sal and channel your grief by “cracking on”.

In their book, Grieving Beyond Gender, psychiatrists Kenneth Doka and Terry Martin coined the terms “Intuitive” (aka feeling) and “Instrumental” (aka doing) grieving styles, which are the extreme ends of a spectrum. And it’s very much a spectrum – you might find yourself leaning more towards one style, or you might be a blend of a bit of both (which is pretty common). Most people express grief in both doing and feeling ways, but, like us, you might find one style is a little stronger. 

Intuitive grievers are more likely to:

  • Process their feelings and emotions by expressing them
  • Crave social connection
  • Find strength and solace by sharing their feelings with others

Instrumental grievers are more likely to:

  • Channel their grief physically, by doing a task 
  • Take a problem-solving approach
  • Talk about their person in a rational way

Think about how you’ve been coping with your loss. Do you recognise yourself in these grieving styles? Are you an Instrumental griever or an Intuitive griever? Or maybe you’re or a blend of both? 

Understanding the spectrum can be so helpful to understand your own way of coping with grief. And here’s a tip – for intuitive grievers, journaling, talking openly and finding peer support are ways that could help you process your loss. Instrumental grievers might find healing by creating a legacy like a memorial, doing a problem-solving task, or talking about their person to others.

This article is an excerpt from our book, Good Mourning: Honest Conversations About Grief and Loss. For more helpful grief tips and support, grab a copy here.

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