Two women mourn at the grave of a loved one

Grief isn’t a competition


Written by In Sight

Grief is a deeply personal experience, unique to each individual. However, in some cases, it can become more like a competitive sport, where individuals compare their sorrow and jostle for the title of “most affected.” We’ve observed this phenomenon many times in our private practice and it also features in Episode 116. This is known as competitive grief, and it’s essential to recognise it so we can begin to understand its impact on our healing process and interpersonal relationships. 

What is Competitive Grief? 

Competitive grief occurs when individuals measure their grief against others, often seeking validation for their suffering. This can manifest in various ways, from social media posts detailing one’s loss to subtle remarks in conversations that undermine others’ grief experiences. The underlying drive is often a need for acknowledgment and support, which can inadvertently lead to unhealthy dynamics. This need, however, is different when we look at it through the lens of a narcissistic family structure, which we’ll cover later. 

The Impact of Competitive Grief 

Engaging in competitive grief can hinder the natural grieving process. Instead of focusing on personal healing, someone trying to “one-up” the grief of another can lead to the victim becoming preoccupied with how their grief is perceived. This can lead to feelings of isolation, resentment, and even guilt. The grieving process becomes less about genuine mourning and more about external validation. 

Furthermore, competitive grief can strain relationships. Friends and family may feel alienated or invalidated if their grief is dismissed or overshadowed. This competitive atmosphere can create an environment where genuine empathy and support are scarce. 

A woman sits alone in the foreground. She looks upset, excluded from a group of women in the background.

Competitive Grief Within Narcissistic Families 

Competitive grief is particularly prevalent in families with narcissistic dynamics. Narcissistic parents often view their children’s experiences, including grief, as extensions of their own. This can lead to a situation where the parent’s grief takes centre stage, and the child’s pain is minimised or ignored. 

In such families, the narcissistic parent may insist their loss is more significant, demanding most of the attention and support. This leaves little room for the child or family member to express their own grief. The parent may even use the child’s grief to garner sympathy for themselves, further complicating the child’s emotional processing. There may be sweeping statements about how nobody could be hurting as much as them, or there may be gaslighting or minimising past behaviour.

It can include grand public displays of mourning or snide comments made to other family members and friends, sometimes on social media where the audience is the most public. We often hear people say it feels like they’re being challenged to “prove” their love or dedication to the person that has died, and it’s hard to avoid being suckered in.

For individuals from narcissistic families, it’s crucial to recognise these patterns and seek support outside the family unit if necessary. Therapy can provide a safe space to explore these dynamics and develop healthy coping mechanisms. 

Moving Beyond Competitive Grief 

The first step in moving beyond competitive grief is to acknowledge its presence. Understanding that grief is not a competition, and it’s a reflection of the other person and not us allows us to refocus on our personal healing journey. Here are some strategies to help navigate this process: 

  1. Self-Awareness: Recognize when you are comparing your grief to others. Reflect on why they feel the need to do so and how it might be impacting your healing to be pulled into their competition. 
  1. Validate Your Feelings: Understand that your grief is valid, regardless of how it compares to others’ experiences. Give yourself permission to feel without judgment. 
  1. Seek Support: Surround yourself with empathetic individuals who can provide genuine support. Consider joining a support group where the focus is on shared healing rather than comparison. Find people that wish to listen to and share your happy memories, not annihilate them.
  1. Therapy: Working with a therapist can help you explore the roots of competitive grief and develop healthy ways to process your emotions. 
A woman is upset among a group of friends. A friend places a supportive had on her shoulder.

Strict boundaries are key if you’re facing competitive grief, remembering that your grief is valid and real. Many people with a history of abuse struggle to set and maintain boundaries, and often it stems back from childhood. We’d love to help you understand more about this in our on-demand Identity Building Course, where we look at reconnecting with your values and beliefs, and why it’s important to have a strong internal foundation to build your boundaries on.

Remember, grieving is a deeply personal journey, and it’s important to honour our own paths without turning it into a competition.  

Share the Post:

Related Posts