Denial, Numbness and Disbelief Are Often Ways to Cope with Grief

Marina Mails, NCC, LPC
HPCG Bereavement Counselor II

Many people find themselves numb or “in shock” during the early weeks of grief. The loss may not seem real. This numb feeling can be our brain’s way of protecting us from the gravity of our loss, which allows us to absorb what has happened in small pieces. In The Courage to Grieve, Judy Tatelbaum said, “When we are shocked, we go numb to some extent. Then we become suspended in a state of unreality, only vaguely aware of what is going on around us. Some of our pain is shut off, as if we are partially anesthetized. Experiences are blurred or hazy. We seem to be living as if in a dream. Our whole organism creates this natural protection against facing all at once the full impact of our loss.”

After the shock has worn off and our loss becomes more real, we may find that we use denial to help ourselves cope from time to time. Though it has a bad reputation, denial can be a healthy way to cope in moderation. Giving ourselves a break from the reality of loss may help us function on a particularly painful day. We may hear “you have to accept your loss” from well-meaning people, but the reality of grief is more complex. Finding acceptance and adjustment is deeply personal with many ups and downs. Be gentle with yourself as you adjust to all that has happened, and know that feeling shock and disbelief is normal.