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Grief Series: Sources of Grief - Six Major Types of Loss

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

Photo art by Karim Manjra

Most people tend to associate grief with the loss of a loved one, however, grief can be triggered by any significant loss: the loss of a job, a relationship, a home, a dream, etc. Here is a simple definition of grief:

Grief is mental or emotional suffering or distress caused by loss or regret” (

Another important thing to note about grief is that it is not defined by what it looks like (e.g. tears).This is because grief can be experienced to varying degrees, usually depending on the degree of significance or impact the relationship or object had in a person’s life, as well as personal and cultural norms for expressing grief.

As we begin to explore the work of grief in this series, it can be helpful to recognize the variety of losses that can produce grief in one’s life:

  1. Material Loss - the loss of a physical object or familiar surroundings to which one has an important attachment.

  2. Relationship Loss - the loss of a relationship may be partial (i.e. moving away), or complete (death, divorce, break-up).

  3. Intrapsychic Loss - the experience of losing an emotionally important image of oneself; losing the possibility of ‘what might have been’; regrets in life (e.g. a life dream, a belief system, abandonment of significant plan, etc.).

  4. Functional Loss - the loss of some of the muscular or neurological functions of the body. This can be emotionally painful at any age, whether part of the ageing process or not. Functional loss carries with it a sense of loss of autonomy or independence.

  5. Role Loss - the loss of a specific social, relational, or work role that one is accustomed to fulfilling (e.g. job loss, retirement, career change, graduation, empty-nest syndrome, divorce, etc.) We often link these roles to our sense of identity. This impacts how we feel within social situations, where we have to re-establish our sense of identity and a new role.

  6. Systemic Loss - significant changes to systems in our lives that had created a particular familiarity in how life ‘worked’ (e.g. a co-worker leaving, work restructuring, adjusting to a new boss, empty-nest syndrome, etc.).

If we recognize how many different things in life can trigger grief, then we may also realize grief happens more often than we might acknowledge. There may be times in your life when you have asked yourself, ‘why am I feeling this way?’ or ‘why is this impacting me so much?’ You need to know that all of our losses can trigger grief, and grief is something we need to work through, not just something that we can ‘snap out of’.

Before we move on, why not stop and ask yourself:

  • “Is there an area of my life where I am experiencing feelings of grief?

  • Or, “Is there past unresolved (or unrecognized) grief that I still need to work through?”

Over the next few Motivational Moments we will examine the Misconceptions of Grief, The Work of Grief (2 parts) as well as some tips on How to Help a Grieving Loved One.

The information on this website is intended for general education purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional and/or medical advice.

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