Grief is a normal part of coping with a loss. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, coping with a major illness, or navigating the end of a relationship, grief looks and feels different for everyone. While many people find that talking about their grief can help them make sense of their loss, there are also times when it won’t help — or when it might even make you feel worse.
“Based on where you are in your grief, and the nature of your loss and your support network, it can be really useful to talk about grief,” said Krista St-Germain, a grief expert who hosts the podcast The Widowed Mum. “In early acute grief, talking about it helps make it real, and helps you come to that place of acceptance.”
But St-Germain also notes there are two main times when talking may not help with your grief.
When you’re talking to people who don’t understand
Sure, it sounds obvious: Talking to someone who doesn’t understand your grief probably isn’t going to be helpful. But it can often be hard to predict ahead of time, and often even those closest to us may not understand what we’re going through.
We may also experience disenfranchised grief, which is when a loss is minimized, misunderstood, or even unacknowledged by others. For example, you may be mourning the loss of a romantic relationship or a close friendship, which — to an outsider — may seem like a minimal loss. But to the person experiencing it, it can feel devastating.
When it holds you back from moving forward
The second situation that may not help with your grief is when talking about it actually holds you back from moving forward with your life.
“Sometimes what happens is we start using a loss as a reason to stay stuck, as a reason to limit what is possible for us,” St-Germain said.
Although grief is something that may never fully go away, especially if it is due to the loss of someone close to you, it’s important to be able to remember and honour the loss, while still striving toward living a full, rich life.
“Is talking about my grief moving me toward what I want in my life, or is it taking me farther away from what I want in life?” St-Germain said. “If I am talking to someone who is helping me process it, it’s moving me toward what I want in my life.”
This will look different for everyone, and just as with grief itself, the usefulness of talking will ebb and flow. In some situations, talking about grief will help process the loss, in a way that can help a person honour that loss while still living a full life. In other situations, talking may be counterproductive, serving just to keep a person stuck in the past.
“Grief doesn’t end,” St-Germain said. “Your thoughts and feelings will probably change over time, but we are not trying to get to an endpoint — we are trying to take that loss and adjust it into our life experience.”