There are many misconceptions about the pain associated with significant emotional loss. Some relate to the relationship of others, for example: “It’s not fair to burden them with my pain,” or “You have to be strong for others” [mom, dad, kids, etc.]. Some relate to how we think we should be reacting to the loss, for example: “I should be over it by now,” or “I have to keep busy.”
One of the most hidden and dangerous fears is that if I ever let myself feel the pain that I sense, I will start crying and never be able to stop. It is precisely this kind of incorrect assumption that can keep us locked into a position of unresolved grief, forever. And yet, based on what we have been taught in our society, it is a most logical extension of everything we have ever learned.
We were taught from our earliest ages that sad, painful, or negative feelings were to be avoided at all cost. And if we were unable to avoid them, at least, not to show them in public. Everyone we’ve ever talked to can relate to these comments: “If you’re going to cry, go to your room, and cry alone”; “Knock off that crying or I’ll give you a reason to cry”; “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.”
Those are just a small sampling of the kinds of remarks that have dictated your reactions to the loss events in your life. In one of our articles we said that many of our survival habits were developed when we were quite young, and that we may be managing adult lives with the limited skills and perceptions of a child.
If you picture a tiny infant, unhappy about something, you will realize that the infant communicates displeasure at the top of its little lungs. If you think about it, you will recall that infants also express pleasure at the top of their lungs. They make no distinction between happy and sad, in terms of volume or intensity. As children move out of infancy they are socialized to reduce both the volume and intensity of the expression of their feeling responses to life. This might be somewhat acceptable if both happy and sad were merely muted a little and muted equally. Unfortunately, only the sad side gets severely crimped. The happy, joyful, and positive feelings are allowed to stay, and can even be shared with others. The other half of our normal feeling existence is relegated to isolation, separation, and aloneness.
With all of those beliefs and habits as a backdrop, it is almost entirely logical that we might be terrified to show or express any of the normal and natural painful reactions to losses of any kind. It even makes sense that we might believe that if we started crying we wouldn’t be able to stop. So, if you have been a little hard on yourself for what you could not do, give yourself a break. You may have been executing your programming perfectly.
It may sound a little harsh and inhuman to say that you were programmed, but if you follow the analogy, you might find it helpful in allowing you to change. At the very least, if you can see how well you executed the incorrect things you learned, you will see that you can also execute correct things with great precision.
We have yet to see anyone not be able to stop crying. However, we have seen too many people avoid using The Grief Recovery Method [or any method of assistance] because of an inordinate fear of any expression of their sad, painful, or negative feelings.
© 1993 Russell P. Friedman, John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute.
"Feeling bad is NOT bad, feeling bad is NORMAL" ~ Accepting that truth is a first step towards recovery...
The question of when to begin a process of completing relationships that have ended or changed, due to death or divorce, is confused by conflicting opinions from a wide variety of sources. Medical, psychological, societal and family experts all approach the issue from differing perspectives.
It is not at all uncommon for us to hear of people being told, by their professional, “it’s too soon to begin your grief work, you’re not ready yet.” We grit our teeth every time we hear that comment.
Imagine that you have fallen down and gashed your leg. Imagine that blood is gushing from the wound. Imagine someone walking by and saying: “it’s too Soon, you are not ready for medical attention yet.”
Now, imagine that circumstances and events have broken your heart. Imagine that you are experiencing the massive and conflicting feelings caused by significant emotional loss. Imagine a friend, or worse, a professional, saying to you: “it’s too soon, you are not ready for emotional attention yet.”
This is an area that is so filled with misinformation that it is often difficult to fight through to the truth. We have been falsely educated to believe that grievers want and need to be alone. We have been incorrectly socialized to avoid the topic of the loss, in an attempt to protect the griever.
Here is the simple truth: most grievers want and need to talk about “What Happened” and their relationship with that person or event. They want and need to talk about it almost immediately following the loss. It pre-occupies them, just as the person with the gashed leg is pre-occupied with their accident and their treatment and their recovery. Those who do not want to talk about it will let you know.
When a person learns of the death of a loved one, an almost automatic review process begins. This process may be conscious or unconscious; usually both. In reviewing the relationship, the griever remembers many events that occurred over the length of the relationship. Some of the events are happy and produce fond memories, some are unhappy and produce sad memories. During this automatic review the griever will usually discover some things that they wish they’d had an opportunity to say, things they wish had ended “different, better, or more.” It is those unsaid things which need to be discovered and completed.
The review is most intense and most accurate in the time immediately following the death. It is the time when we are most focused on the person who died and our relationship with them. We will rarely have another opportunity to remember with such detail and intensity. This is the circumstance where “time” not only doesn’t heal, but also diminishes our memory as we move further away from the death itself.
We will refrain from offering any concrete definition as to the “time” involved. Every griever is unique. Every griever responds at their own pace. It is essential never to compare one griever to another. Each and every griever has their own individual beliefs about dealing with their feelings of loss. Each griever is remembering their own individual relationship with the person who died.
We have been talking about the review that follows the death of a loved one. Everything above also applies to the death of a “less than loved one.” Everything above also applies to divorce and to any and all significant emotional losses.
As soon as a griever becomes aware of the review process going on inside their head and their heart, it is time to begin The Grief Recovery Method. The Grief Recovery Handbook is an excellent guide and addition to the natural process that the griever is already doing. The Handbook will keep you on track and help you to complete the pain caused by the loss.
If your loss occurred some time ago, even many years ago, do not despair. The Grief Recovery Method can help you recapture the review that took place and may have been repeating over and over.
© 1993 Russell P. Friedman, John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute.