Grief myths

Myths about grief are so widespread they frequently appear even as guidance for mental health professionals. A new study looked at textbooks given to trainee nurses and found that all had a least one unsupported claim about the grieving process and few had advice drawn from actual research.

Handily, the research paper, authored by nurse and psychologist E. Alison Holman and colleagues, has a fantastic table which lists the common myths about grief and compares them to what we actually know from studies on people who have experienced loss.

General Myths

  1. There are stages or a predictable course of grief that individuals should or typically will experience
  2. There is a specific timeline for when grieving processes will occur

    Emotional experience myths

  3. Negative emotions such as distress, depression, sadness, disorganization, loss of functioning,
    anger, guilt, fear or emotional pain ARE INEVITABLE following a loss

  4. Emotions need to be ‘‘processed’’: expressed, worked through, acknowledged, dealt with, experienced, attended to, focused on, made sense of
  5. Lack of experiencing or expression of emotions (e.g., denial, absent grief, delayed grief, inhibited grief) indicates pathology or negative consequences

    Resolution myths

  6. Recovery, acceptance, reorganization or resolution should be reached in ‘‘normal’’ grief
  7. Failure to find resolution indicates unhealthy, dysfunctional, pathological, or complicated grief

Evidence-based Findings

  1. Not all people experience grief in the same way
  2. Some grieving people do not report feeling distressed or depressed
  3. Some people experience high levels of distress for the rest of their lives without pathology
  4. Repressive coping may promote resilience in some people
  5. Resilience, growth, and/or positive emotions may be associated with loss


Link to PubMed entry for study.
Link to DOI entry for paywalled study.


  1. josh
    Posted November 8, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    First I totally refused to believe this post. Then it made me very angry. Then it really bummed me out. Then I figured I could appeal upon the author to make some changes if I was sufficiently compelling in my arguments. But now, I think I’ve come to accept it.

  2. Melissa
    Posted November 8, 2010 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    @Josh – double thumbs up! :-)

  3. Posted November 13, 2010 at 3:40 am | Permalink

    Having experienced grief I totally agree with the evidence. My way is not everyone’s way. I bawled when I saw my mother’s dead body and also later at the funeral. But then I was done with the distress. There are times I miss her, but it’s nothing overwhelming. I have siblings who reacted differently – neither way is “right.”

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