Sadness and love can drive you crazy

Psychology: Seven percent of all mourners mourn pathologically

Hearts become heavy in autumn. For many people who have lost a loved one, grief reawakens in the dark season of the year. This can be beneficial for the soul, but it doesn't have to be. Because mourners often fail because of false expectations. They also often receive advice from friends and acquaintances that is of little help. "You have to allow the pain," it says or: "Now it's time to get back to life."

Sadness as an important human feeling has not been well researched. The picture of this emotion is based in part on assumptions that Sigmund Freud made around 100 years ago. Scientists are now trying to learn more about grief. They have already shown how common pathological grief is and what happens in the brain of those affected.

The well-intentioned advice suggests that there is a right and a wrong way to grieve. In doing so, they sometimes even cause the bereaved to feel guilty. "If you don't know anything about grief processes, you have no idea how mourners feel in their world," explains Uta Schmidt from the Federal Association for Grief Counseling.

After a death, the bereaved are often under great strain not to be able to describe their pain with words. Deep sadness and longing, anger, despair, feelings of guilt, bitterness or fear of being alone - all of this can be on the minds of you.

Physical problems as successes in grief

Triggers for such feelings lurk everywhere: "The empty bed and the empty chair constantly point to what never comes back," explains Schmidt, who works as a grief counselor in Linz am Rhein in Rhineland-Palatinate. According to this, some mourners feel the loss so strongly that they feel “as if they have been amputated”. In addition, there are often physical problems such as loss of appetite, palpitations or insomnia.

“People who mourn often come to me because they are afraid of going crazy,” says Schmidt. The grief counselor then explains that this feeling is normal. This is often not just about one's own emotional chaos, but also a strange notion of grief in society.

This is largely due to Sigmund Freud. The founder of psychoanalysis wrote almost 100 years ago in his work “Trauer und Melancholie” (1917) that those affected have to work actively on themselves by thinking intensively about the deceased and their mutual relationship. Freud advised them to consciously seek and experience the pain.

Those who show few emotions do not necessarily mourn less

The reverse conclusion from this: Those who do not deal enough with the loss and show too few emotions suppress themselves - and run the risk of being caught up again with greater force by the events. Or the lack of grief reveals that something is wrong with the relationship or the person concerned. Ultimately, Freud believed, only a decisive turning away from the deceased would lead to a return to normality.

“The psychoanalyst himself suspected that his thesis could be wrong after he had to deal with his own losses,” says loss researcher Kathrin Boerner from the University of Massachusetts in Boston. The experience of many bereaved relatives also shows the opposite: They do not completely detach themselves from the deceased, but still think back to them after many years and practice rituals to feel close to them.