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Creating Boundaries to Move Through Grief

Distraction, depression, and detachment in grief.

Key points

  • In grief, distraction, depression, and detachment play off one another and can feel all-consuming.
  • A persistent inability to focus is a normal part of grief and feels different from everyday forgetfulness.
  • There is an opportunity to explore the self and understand more profound parts of the psyche in the dance with grief.

Maybe in another life
I could find you there
Pulled away before your time
I can't deal, it's so unfair

And it feels, and it feels like
Heaven's so far away
And it feels, yeah, it feels like
The world has grown cold
Now that you've gone away

(The Offspring - Gone Away)

Photo by Ed Vázquez on Unsplash
Photo by Ed Vázquez on Unsplash

It’s surprising at times, but grief shows up in protective ways alongside your feelings of pain and confusion. We’ve seen in previous posts the influence of our emotional armor and role confusion as we encounter yet another transition.

The whirlwind of the features of distraction, depression, and detachment is a cycle that feels all-consuming. They play off each other: distraction and detachment increase, and depression, therefore, may also intensify. Should depression rise, you may notice that distractibility and a tendency toward detaching increase in tandem.

Despite the feelings of uncertainty that characterize the three D’s, there is a real opportunity to explore the self and understand more profound parts of the psyche in the dance with grief.

There are persistent issues with focus, which is reasonable to expect in the wake of a loss. However, this mental chaos often leads to depression. Disorganization that increases in frequency may indicate that a depressive state is on the horizon.


Losing keys now and then is part of the human experience. But maybe you’re losing track of time and possessions and generally feeling mentally chaotic or absent-minded. Feeling overwhelmed with tasks like errands and chores indicates that distraction may be part of your grief experience.

Here are some ideas for managing distractibility:

  • Exercise – Though it’s difficult, pushing yourself to go for a walk, even a short stroll, adds a change in scenery and releases endorphins to help you feel better and refocus. Gentle movement nurtures our physical body and supports our healing.
  • Sunlight – Sunlight is naturally healing and energizing. Get outside if you can, or supplement with a light therapy box.
  • Track negative thinking – Keep a journal to sift through your automatic negative thoughts. Externalizing your thoughts to paper or a notes app can help identify patterns and faulty interpretations, carefully challenging these thinking methods rooted in your grief.
  • Reach out and connect with someone – While detachment keeps you safe temporarily, connecting with others can keep you grounded and feeling validated in your grief journey.


Grief can activate depression, an understandable piece of the grief and loss cycle. Other feelings like anxiety and anger can accompany depression and impact your ability to concentrate and engage in relationships.

Common characteristics of depression are insomnia or oversleeping, inability to focus, hopelessness, slowed thought process and memory difficulties, and thoughts of death. If depression persists for six months or more, it is a good idea to seek a professional who can walk alongside you to address your concerns.

Depression and distraction often go hand in hand and can be addressed in similar ways to push through each state of being intentional. These states are not voluntary and take work to address.


While detachment is like numbness with a shared lack of attachment, what differentiates detachment is a choice. This choice is unlike depression and distraction, which simply are.

Detachment serves to help you set boundaries and protect your precious resources from overbearing individuals and chaos that may exist around you in the wake of loss. In addition, detachment can be developed as you emerge into a new state of being through grief.

Developing detachment, rather than fighting against it, can allow for elevated clarity as you explore your emotions and encounter safety and self-discovery.

“There is no detachment where there is no pain.” - Simone Weil

Opportunities for Healing

The cycle of distraction, depression, and detachment feels chaotic and disorienting. Still, it can be an opportunity to create a container for your pain and to develop the boundaries you need to take care of yourself. In addition, detachment can create clarity to help process emotions, memories, and thoughts while you move through the phases of grief.


Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, Arthur Wills (New York: Putnam, 1952).

See the book, “It’s Grief: The Dance of Self-Discovery Through Trauma and Loss”

More from Edy Nathan MA, LCSWR
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