Everyone experiences grief at some point in their lifetimes. Whether the loss is that of a home, a job, or a loved one, the thoughts and feelings that surround grief can be disorienting, leaving us bewildered and blinded. For the last 25 years, Dr. Annette Child, a Fellow in Thanatology, Grief, and Bereavement, has been guiding people through their grief by blending her academic and spiritual knowledge.
In her work with clients, she discovered that while processing grief was a highly individual endeavor, there were certain identifiable footpaths that individuals were more likely to take. Each of these four footpaths is a grief archetype, either Pilgrim, Villager, Voyager, or Pioneer, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Take this quiz from Dr. Child’s website to discover your personal grief archetype!
According to Dr. Child, at least half of her clients walk the path of the Pilgrim in their grief. Those that fit the Pilgrim archetype tend to become wary and uncertain of their path when confronted with loss. Rather than traveling their path alone, they seek out supportive relationships in their journey for answers. They do not seek a quick fix, but a companion to help them sort through the aftermath that loss leaves in its wake.
Individuals who express this archetype of grief are typically gentle, trusting people by nature. When grief-stricken, the Pilgrim will typically gravitate towards either traditional therapy or towards groups like AA or faith-based support systems. Pilgrims form close, long-lasting bonds through those supportive relationships, bonds that frequently continue on well after the Pilgrim has learned to cope with their grief.
The Pilgrim’s trusting nature and yearning for supportive guidance can sometimes leave people on this path open to exploitation.
The Villager archetype is characterized by their need to understand the future before being able to move towards it. Villagers find the most comfort in facts, often reading a great deal or taking classes after a loss. They fear being ignorant and seek to minimize the pain of loss in the future through truth. They seek knowledge to sift through the noise so they can feel secure moving forward.
Those who fit the Villager archetype tend to be slow-moving, methodical people by nature, who plan everything out beforehand. These are typically the folks that come prepared for any situation. When facing loss they gravitate towards information in any form as a balm for their spirit and they are eager to accept new coping tools. While their ability to plan is usually a boon for these individuals, it can lead them to overthink.
The Villager, fearing future losses, may become mired in their own thoughts and unable to move forward.
Voyagers allow the pain of grief to permeate them more than the other archetypes. These individuals believe that the pain of grief will eventually transform them and make them stronger. This makes them more willing to embrace the grief, but less likely to follow traditional models of processing grief. Voyagers respond best to diving deep into the emotional process and do not respond well to bright siding methods.
People who identify with the Voyager in grief tend to be naturally independent, often with a mysterious or quirky side. These characters tend to have a strong sense of ambition and authenticity that inspires a sense of wonder in others. Because they are so unconventional, these people may not exhibit established expressions of grief, leaving them open to being ridiculed or ostracized. Dr. Child says that she most often follows the path of the Voyager when she experiences grief.
The quirky Voyager archetype is sometimes viewed as an outcast or misfit as they rally against conformity.
According to Dr. Child, this is the archetype she is least likely to see walk through her door. Those who walk the path of the Pioneer are not willing to slow down for loss, and may not seek therapy to heal their pain. The Pioneer is active in their grief, ready and willing to tear down any roadblocks that are holding them back. These individuals do not sit in their grief but run with it instead.
Those who walk, or run, down the path of the Pioneer are typically driven individuals with passionate ideals. They fear stagnation and are unable to easily process their grief when they are at a standstill. Although they still feel the pain of grief deeply, their drive may cause Pioneers to appear uncaring or insensitive when dealing with loss. Pioneers often dive into new experiences, immersing themselves in travel or education, in an effort to wash away the pain.
The Pioneer must feel active and productive to process their grief properly, as the ache is too difficult to bear otherwise.
It is important to note that we need not be stuck on one footpath or another. Your current grief archetype is a snapshot of how you are grieving at this point, not a permanent affliction. Dr. Child is quite clear that growth and learning are available along each path and that each is equally viable.
The archetype that you exhibit can be affected by the type of loss, when and how it occurs, and your individual personality, and it can change. One individual may start their journey of grief by walking one footpath, only to veer to another as they integrate new tools and knowledge. Another may start with one archetype, then weave bits of the other archetypes into their journey, hopping from one path to another on their way through the darkness.
Knowing your grief archetype won’t make your grief go away or shorten its duration. It does, however, remind us that others have walked a similar path before us, making the journey a little less lonely and confusing.
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