The Myths of Grief: How to Stop Believing Them

02/03/2016 08:21 am ET | Updated Feb 03, 2016
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The attitude towards grief in our society is often one of impatience. Many of us are uncomfortable with accepting our emotions, especially the negative ones. If you think about it, grief is just downright inefficient. Grief gets in the way of "business as usual," because it's the reaction to our lives being turned upside down by loss. When you lose a spouse or partner to death or divorce, there is no more "business as usual" until you have had sufficient time and done the inner work to adapt to this loss.

You may feel that people around you would rather that you "get over it" quickly and "get on with your life" so they can get on with theirs too. Most of us aren't taught how to grieve, and so, we won't know how to be with others in a supportive way when they are grieving.

Some myths about how one "should" grieve:

MYTH #1: There are five stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

This is one of the most robustly perpetuated myths out there, based on the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. She proposed a theoretical framework to describe the process of facing one's imminent death. This stage theory is taught in countless programs for supporting grieving families. It's likely that you're going to hear about these stages if you've recently lost a spouse or partner.

This stage theory has its shortcomings when applied to grief. The most unhelpful aspect is the idea that people can be somehow "guided" through the stages in a neat, linear succession -- from denial on through to acceptance. The implication is, if you aren't hitting these milestones right on schedule, then, you're not on track.

It can be frustrating to have your experience explained to you in such a way that doesn't match your experience. It can make you feel worse, rather than better.

Instead, I encourage you to approach grief as normal and fluid. It looks different for everyone. You may go through all five of these stages or you may go through none of them. No matter what your grief response looks like, the important thing to remember is that it is normal for you.

MYTH #2: You should grieve alone.
When you lose a life partner, you are dealing with a significant loss, and it's understandable to feel sad, angry, lonely, anxious, etc. You might even feel relieved, and then feel guilty about feeling relieved. This emotional rollercoaster can feel overwhelming and messy. Most of us are taught to keep our messy emotions to ourselves, so we don't become a burden to others.

It's really helpful to be willing to talk honestly about your feelings with others.

Find a good shoulder to cry on. Chances are that people who care about you will want to help by listening and creating a safe space for you. Give them a chance. When people open up and share the truth about how they are feeling, there is a sense of closeness that develops. Think about this the next time you are tempted to respond with, "I'm fine," when someone asks how you are doing. If you are not "fine," it's OK to say, "I'm hurting today," if that's what is true for you.

And if you find that your expressions are not tolerated well, you will simply have the information. That person may not be a safe person for you and your grief. Even though people mean well, they may not be able to be with you without trying to "fix" you. If you feel you can't turn to friends and family, I do encourage you to seek out a grief support group, a coach, or a counselor to talk to. Recognize that grieving is not shameful; it's normal and it doesn't have to happen behind closed doors.

MYTH #3: You should be over your grief at the one-year mark.
This myth is simply not true. It is impossible to put an appropriate time limit on grief because it's a unique process for everyone. How long should it take? The best answer is it takes as long as it takes. Wanting to be farther along or pretending to be "fine" does not really support your healing.

Be patient and kind to yourself, and give yourself the dignity of YOUR process.

I've heard people say that one doesn't recover from the loss of a spouse or life partner - that you don't get over it. In a sense, that may be true. You won't recover the same life that you had before the loss took place.

You can rebuild your life after loss. The journey begins with one small step. The first step might be to let go of these old myths that can be so limiting and choose thoughts and approaches that are truly helpful.


  1. Grief is the normal and natural response to loss. Each person's grief is unique and there are no schedules, timeframes, or stages to adhere to.
  2. You don't have to be alone in your grief. Reaching out to others can be comforting and give you the chance to feel close to others.
  3. Release expectations that you should be "over it" in any specific timeframe. Don't buy into others' expectations or pressure about this either.
  4. Be patient and compassionate with yourself while you are grieving.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at