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  • Thanatology Today

Why Am I Not Grieving?

Updated: Mar 4, 2022

Patterns of Grief

Have you ever wondered why someone you love is not reacting to the same loss in the same way you are? Your partner may be visibly distraught, while you have not shed a tear. You may even be asking yourself, “What is wrong with me? Why am I not grieving?”

Of course, the significance of a loss varies among individuals, but we also grieve the same loss differently. The way we grieve – experience, express, and adapt to loss – can be explained in terms of our style or pattern of grief.

These patterns exist on a continuum with intuitive grievers on one end and instrumental grievers on the other end. Intuitive grievers are more affective in their display of grief, whereas instrumental grievers grieve in a more cognitive and behavioral way. However, it is rare to find grievers at either extreme, as most of us experience and express our grief in a blended fashion, even if we do lean towards one end of the spectrum.

thinking man on couch
Why am I Not Grieving? Source: Wix Media

Intuitive Grief

The traditional picture of grief is intuitive grief. Intuitive grievers feel their losses deeply, mostly experiencing grief as undulations of acutely painful feelings and physical sensations. Their expression of grief – crying and other obvious signs of anguish – mirrors their inner experience. Riding the wave of emotions and expressing themselves is their primary way of coping and adapting to their loss. They may also find comfort and strength in sharing their grief with others. For the intuitive griever, managing day-to-day tasks and other practical matters are secondary to feeling the pain of the loss.

man playing guitar
Instrumental Pattern of Grief Source: Wix Media

Instrumental Grief

For instrumental grievers, grief is predominantly an intellectual experience with lessened affect. They think about the loss more than feel the loss, channeling their grief into physical activity and problem solving. They tend to value self-reliance and prefer solitude. Regularly tending to the deceased’s garden, penning a biography, composing a piece of music, starting a non-profit organization, and advocating for a cause associated with the death are just a few examples of ways in which the instrumental griever copes with and adapts to loss.

Our patterns of grief, whether intuitive, instrumental, or blended, are influenced by a combination of factors: biological, temperamental, cultural, historical, and generational. Gender, socialization, and developmental capabilities also play an important role in the way we grieve.

We may respond to different losses with different patterns of grieving. Our way of manifesting and adapting to loss can even change over time, but generally our patterns remain consistent throughout our lives.

Conflicts can arise between loved ones when feelings are experienced and expressed in ways not seen as appropriate. It is crucial to remember that the expression of grief is not always an accurate representation of the experience of grief, and neither pattern is better than the other. Recognizing the patterns of grief can better allow us to appreciate and support one another as we adapt to our losses.

Doka, K.J., & Martin, T.L. (2010). Grieving beyond gender: Understanding the ways men and women mourn. Routledge.

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