Grief is a natural and universal response to loss. It involves a range of emotions, thoughts, and behaviours that help us cope with the reality and impact of losing someone or something we care about. Grief can be triggered by different types of losses, such as death, divorce, illness, job loss, or relocation. Grief can also vary in intensity, duration, and expression depending on the individual and the situation, because not everyone grieves in the same way or at the same pace. Some people may experience intense and overwhelming emotions, while others may feel numb and detached. Some people may openly express their grief, while others may keep it to themselves. Some people may seek support and comfort from others, while others may isolate and withdraw. Avoidance of grief as a coping mechanism refers to the “deliberate or unconscious attempt” to block out, reduce, or change unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations related to the loss. Avoidance can take different forms, and include one or more of the following:

  • When you avoid people, places, and activities that remind you of the loss or trigger grief reactions;
  • When you avoid or deny your own feelings and emotions related to the loss;
  • When you don’t want to talk about the loss or acknowledge your grief to yourself or others;
  • When you do not seek or accept the support and help from others;
  • When you avoid facing the reality and consequences of the loss;
  • When you stop engaging in meaningful activities and do not pursue new goals; and
  • When you use substances or behaviours to numb or distract yourself from the pain.

Psychologists do not classify avoidance of grief as normal or abnormal, but rather as a common and understandable coping mechanism that can have both positive and negative effects on your grieving process. Avoidance of grief can be understandable and adaptive in some situations. For example, when the loss is too overwhelming or traumatic to process at once, avoidance can serve as a temporary coping mechanism that helps you survive and function. Avoidance can also be useful when you need to take a break from grief and focus on other aspects of life, such as work, family, or hobbies. The key is to find a balance between avoiding and facing grief, and to seek professional help if you feel stuck or overwhelmed by your grief.

Avoidance coping is problematic when it becomes your primary or only way of dealing with grief. When you avoid grief for too long or too often, you may miss the opportunity to process and heal from the loss. Avoidance can also prevent you from accessing the resources (e.g. professional therapy) and support that can facilitate coping and recovery. Chronic and continued avoidance can have negative consequences for your physical, mental, and social well-being. Some of these consequences are:

  • Increased stress and anxiety;
  • Reduced emotional regulation and expression;
  • Impaired memory and concentration;
  • Lowered self-esteem and confidence;
  • Increased guilt and shame;
  • Reduced sense of meaning and purpose;
  • Increased risk of depression and other mental health issues;
  • Increased risk of substance abuse and other addictive behaviours;
  • Reduced social connection and support; and
  • Impaired interpersonal relationships.

It is important to find a balance between avoiding and confronting grief. While some avoidance can be helpful and necessary at times, you should also be willing and able to face your grief at some stage. Facing grief does not mean dwelling on it or being overwhelmed by it. Facing grief does not mean forgetting or letting go of the lost person or thing. Rather, it means finding a way to honour them and keep them in your heart while moving forward with life. Some of the ways that can help you face grief are:

  • Read books or articles, or listen to podcasts on grief that offer information, guidance, or inspiration to you;
  • Write a journal, a letter, a poem, or a story that expresses your feelings and thoughts about the loss;
  • Create a memorial, a tribute, or a ritual that honours your lost loved one;
  • Join a support group, a community, or a network of people who share similar experiences of loss and grief;
  • Seek spiritual or religious support that aligns with your beliefs and values;
  • Practice self-care activities that promote your physical, mental, and emotional well-being;
  • Re-engage in your hobbies, interests, or passions that bring joy and satisfaction; and
  • Set realistic and achievable goals for yourself to provide direction and motivation.

If it is clear that there is avoidance of grief, Sonja Smith Funeral Group encourages the family of the bereaved to respect the grieving person’s pace and style of coping, and not to pressure them to grieve in a certain way or timeframe. Family and friends should be available for emotional support and comfort, and listen without judgment or criticism and without pressuring the bereaved to talk about their loss and their feelings. You could encourage them to engage in self-care activities, hobbies, interests, or passions. If the grieving person shows signs of complicated grief, such as persistent denial, avoidance, or numbness; intense guilt, anger, or depression; difficulty functioning in daily life; or suicidal thoughts or behaviours, it would be best to suggest professional help, but in a way that the bereaved do not feel judged or pressured.

Avoidance of grief is a common and complex phenomenon that can have both positive and negative effects on your coping and recovery. Finding a balance between avoiding and facing grief can help you process and heal from the loss in a healthy and constructive way. We know that facing grief can be challenging and painful, but it can also be rewarding and healing, in helping you to accept the loss, release the emotions, and find meaning in life again. It also allows you to reconnect with yourself and others, and to rediscover your strengths and abilities. Most importantly, when you decide to work through your feelings of loss and grief it can allow you to re-engage in life-affirming activities and goals.

For more information about handling grief, or funeral arrangements, visit our website at