Personality Type and Grief

“I thought of the stern Victorian determination to keep death in mind, the uncompromising tombstones: Remember, pilgrim, as you pass by, As you are now so once was I; As I am now so you will be…

Now death is uncool, old-fashioned.  To my mind the defining characteristic of our era is spin, everything tailored to vanishing point by market research, brands and bands manufactured to precise specifications; we are so used to things transmuting into whatever we would like them to be that it comes as a profound outrage to encounter death, stubbornly unspinnable, only and immutably itself.”

– Tana French In The Woods

Death truly is the only thing in life that touches each of us – there’s no way to avoid it.  It may appear abruptly with no announcement, or it may linger on the doorstep indefinitely before entering and destroying the peace in our house.  However it may enter our lives, it’s a rude interruption.  And especially in today’s world.  We’ve lost a lot of our coping skills as Tana French so eloquently states.  We’re often insulated from death; nursing homes, hospitals, no longer several generations in one home, less infant and childhood death.  Despite all that, we will encounter death, and if we don’t deal with it in a mature manner, grief can be debilitating.

Each of us deals with death differently.  Ever stopped to wonder why this may be?  Our personality type contributes.

Recovery From Loss by Lewis Tagliaferre and GaryL. Harbaugh, Ph.D. proposes that there are four basic grief coping resources:

  1. Physical – the body has self-healing potential through diet, rest and exercise.  Relates to Sensing Types – S
  2. Intellectual – the logical mind is a powerful cognitive resource in times of stress.  Relates to Thinking Types – T
  3. Emotional – the support of meaningful relationships can guide.  Relates to Feeling Types – F
  4. Spiritual – these resources can provide energy during loss.  Relates to iNtuitive Types – N

Depending on our personality type we rely more on one or two of these coping devices over the others.  If we can learn how to utilize all the resources, our grief process can be less painful.  Within these four resources are five stages or tasks to be worked through:

  1. Acknowledge:  repeatedly tell the “end of life” story to some caring listener until the reality of death is absorbed.
  2. Feel: Western culture tends to medicate; mourners need to let themselves feel the impact of loss – all the strong emotions.
  3. Substitute: be careful not to jump to premature substitution to avoid discomfort; this includes entering a new intimate relationship prematurely (I was guilty of this – not good).
  4. Detach: mourners must withdraw their investment in the past and detach from lost life; this may be the most difficult step.
  5. Reconstruct: new life; requires reevaluating behaviors and values and creating new relationships with family and friends.

When the four coping devices are applied to the five tasks of grief we have a grid that shows the 20 steps of grief:

Coping\Tasks      Acknowledge             Feel             Substitute             Detach             Reconstruct

Physical                          1                                5                         9                           13                           17

Intellectual                   2                                6                         10                        14                           18

Emotional                      3                                7                         11                        15                           19

Spiritual                          4                                8                         12                        16                          20

4 thoughts on “Personality Type and Grief

  1. Death is on my mind right now.

    It always is at the start of summer each year; Gary’s (my high school sweetheart and husband of 22 years) birthday was in June, his death was in early July of 2000.

    But my preoccupation came a little early this year: I got a facebook message at 1am this morning from a long lost friend of Gary’s. They were in school together from 5th grade through 12th, played football together for years. Larry, new to facebook, was looking up old acquaintances and, in searching for Gary, found my name. I sent him a message with the news – not always easy even after all these years.


  2. Debi,

    Your strength shines through your sharing. The coping resource is an eye-opener and I believe many will benefit from it.

    May you continue to find peace in each summer.


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