Everyone grieves, but is there a right way to do it? The short answer – no. Grief is a universal experience yet it is different for everyone. The Mayo Clinic defines grief as an overwhelming emotional response to loss. Whether it is the death of a relative, a breakup with a romantic partner, receiving a life-altering diagnosis, or losing a beloved pet, we may find ourselves experiencing grief on a spectrum somewhere between intuitive grieving and instrumental grieving.
Research conducted by Martin and Doka (2006) found that there are two main styles of the spectrum of grieving – intuitive grieving and instrumental grieving. Their research challenges traditional ideas of gender-related grieving styles. People move through grief differently depending on life circumstances, not just based on what gender they are.
Intuitive Grievers – Emotionally Driven
Intuitive grievers often primarily work through emotional responses to grief. They might find it hard to “clear their mind” and become overwhelmed with myriad emotions related to their loss. For intuitive grievers, they move through their grief by expressively processing their emotions.
Common intuitive grieving experiences might include:
- Feeling strong waves of emotion during the grieving process
- Expressing emotions like an “open book”
- Talking through emotions openly with others
- Feeling best supported by spending time with their support network
Instrumental Grievers – Task-Oriented
Instrumental grievers are more likely to physically and mentally process their grief. This grieving style is associated with prioritizing action over emotional processing. People experiencing instrumental grief might feel more comfortable having physical tasks to help them process their emotions rather than openly expressing them.
Common instrumental grieving experiences can include:
- Expressing grief through actions (e.g. putting energy into planning a funeral, fixing up
home projects, focusing on work, etc.)
- Establishing routines to master feelings and feel in control following the loss
- Using a problem-solving approach to create a “new normal” after loss
- Wanting to memorialize the deceased person as a way to externalize their own emotions.
It is important to note that there is no “right” way to navigate the grieving process. People typically experience a blended grieving style. Understanding which qualities of the grieving process you experience might help you learn how to best navigate your loss, and help other people who are grieving a loss of their own.
About Kristin Ninosky:
Kristen Ninosky (she/her) is a Resident in Counseling at Healthy Minds Therapy, PLLC. Kristen utilizes a person-centered and trauma-informed approach to provide a safe space for all clients to feel comfortable while navigating the therapeutic process. She uses a variety of evidence-based counseling interventions in sessions, pulling from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Adlerian Counseling, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). She enjoys using creative therapeutic interventions as well, such as art, music, writing, and play. Learn more about Kristin HERE.