Loss happens. In all kinds of ways. If you have gotten this far in life, and you have yet to touch noses with a palpable grief, then one day you will. It is just part of living. And if you are someone who has experienced loss on top of loss on top of more loss, just know that you aren’t alone and that there are some people on this planet who want to know your story and who want to guide you through.
In order to have a firmer understanding of what grief means, we really need to have a deeper recognition of what loss means. Of course, there are the obvious losses to death, and those are absolutely real, raw, and hard. But there are also the ambiguous losses we endure in life that are often harder to put into words – the loss of our innocence when someone compromises our boundaries (physical, emotional, sexual, and otherwise) as children, the loss of a sense of safety when we either experience the boundary violation as children or even as adults, the loss of trust in others when we have been hurt over and over again (which then can further isolate us from the support we need), the loss when someone we love becomes mentally ill or an alcoholic or disappears without a trace and we don’t know why.
Maybe you have changed so much in your life for the better, but then you notice some grief emerging from loss of familiarity or connection to your old self. That grief matters too. There is even secondary grief, when we have something really hard and terrible happen and the people we thought were our best friends run in the other direction (because they are scared of their own feelings or just don’t know what to say). All of these losses matter, and if you are a being of growth and change, then all require marked grief acknowledgment, feeling, and work.
A lot of people on the planet don’t want to feel their feelings (maybe because they are frightened) – and, to that end, if you are a person who is experiencing any grief of any kind and consciously trying to lean into it, you may be getting societal signals that you are “too much” or that you should just “move on” already – when, in the world of authenticity, love and connection, that just simply is not true. (Note: This blog isn’t about condemning or judging any human being who can’t yet feel their feelings or is afraid to face them. In the world of authenticity, we honor, love and forgive those people too and invite them in when one day they do become willing.)
As a wise mentor used to tell me, “Time does NOT heal all wounds. Time and work do.” I couldn’t agree more. I’m a person who has consciously investigated and worked on connecting to my true self for at least two decades (really, more), and only last week did I realize I was grieving something that happened decades ago. The good news is that all grief, even latent grief, has a place and a space with the safest people who are most worthy of your time. And that process of grief acceptance must first and foremost start with you.
Today’s blog is dedicated to anyone who has ever had any loss or disappointment in life and wants to feel their feelings and heal, no matter how hard or long or painful it might be.
Three Ways to Lean Into Your Grief (Even When You are Scared to Face It)
1. Connect to Yourself at the Age of The Initial Loss
I know this may sound weird, but we all have excavated and frozen parts. I didn’t make this up. There is a really great modality of treatment called Internal Family Systems I sometimes use with clients that goes further into what this means; but the gist of it is that all of us have experienced moments of real or perceived stress or trauma and that when those things happen (and especially when they happened harshly and aggressively), we sort of detach from our true selves and freeze that part in time. That part is often then turned into a reaction we frequently have that may have protected us when the event or loss happened, but that keeps us hurting ourselves and others when it comes up in a non-trauma environment.
How does this connect to your grief?
Well, what I want you to try is to remember a moment in grief in your life (it could be last week, or it could be 43 years ago) and try to connect to who you were and what you found pleasure and support in at the time (even if it was escapism or eating ice cream). Now spend some time marinating on that self who endured that loss. How old was he/she? What was she/he able to do to manage the pain at the time? What can you do or give that part now that it needed then? What can you do to give that part of you that is still hurting the reassurance and support and love that it needed then in the present?
I’ll give you an example. I might have a part that loved Broadway show tunes all through high school and college and that found comfort in stories and creative outlets and even hiding out in my room listening to fantasy land music and fantasy songs and singing along. That is a perfectly acceptable coping mechanism that doesn’t hurt myself or others. Well, if that age of me is the age that experienced the grief, I can start listening to that music again, I can start allowing that frozen part of me to engage in connection to the things that were safe and healthy that gave me comfort. That connection will then allow me to connect to the grief that I might have tried so hard to avoid when it happened. And now, from my true, adult self, I can provide the comfort that I wasn’t able to get or give myself when it happened.
One important thing to remember here is that self-injury and self abuse are not coping mechanisms you want to revisit. So if you can’t remember any useful coping mechanisms from the past, because the past was just too damn painful to endure in any productive way; then, you can go back now and connect (through meditation or just talking to yourself if you feel like it) to that experience and ask that part what it needs from you now that would make it feel safer to explore those feelings.
Certainly if you have severe and acute trauma that you have never explored before, it would be important to practice this in the safety of a really good therapist’s care; but if it is a manageable pain, you can even try practicing some of these tools yourself.
2. Educate Yourself on Grief
Grief is such a broad term, that it can be really confusing to know what or how we are feeling and why. Grief, simply put, is a series of identifiable and relatable feelings that arise when we have any loss, trauma, huge wound, or massive disappointment. It is not the same as depression, which is a prolonged (sometimes situational, sometimes chemical, oftentimes both) and pervasive feeling of hopelessness, disconnection and lethargy (among many other things), even when life is going okay on the outside. Sometimes grief can lead to depression, but not always. In fact, it is more plausible that unexamined and unprocessed grief can lead to major and lifelong depression and pain.
Educating yourself about grief means just that. Reading books, watching webinars, maybe even taking a class in-person or online that helps you better understand the reality that grief is a process, it is a real and acceptable experience and that nobody on the planet other than you gets to decide if your grief has merit and importance or not. Something that may cause one person acute pain may be less important to another person; but that doesn’t mean that that person who is in pain and their experience has any less value or significance. We are all different beings, but we all are subject to loss and grief in this life.
If you can’t do the research for yourself, then do it for the people you love – knowing that if you haven’t yet experienced a major loss or disappointment in your life, someone in your life that you care about has. Being more aware of the terminology and reality of grief can be helpful to the people around you as well.
3. Write it Out
Writing is so therapeutic. Actually taking out a notebook and writing letters to yourself or to your deceased loved ones or to your former self who allowed someone to abuse you over and over again has great value and, even more importantly, usefulness. Feelngs are energy. They have to move to grow and heal. If we keep them all stuffed up inside, they can’t heal or grow or lead us anywhere new. Sometimes talking to another person about our grief seems scary, but the good news about writing it out is that it provides the time and significance it deserves, while also allowing you to keep the deepest feelings you have private if you need them to remain that way.
I, of course, always recommend talking to a trusted friend or professional immediately if your grief feelings lead to suicidality or feelings that are just too heavy of a burden for you to bear alone; but many times simply writing out the history or writing out the reality of something gives you the freedom to realize that what happened really is very real and that you didn’t make this all up. Writing it out can also bring up feelings you have been blocking, memories you may have stuffed down, and even new insights or perspectives of healing you might have previously been less able to see.
Think of writing your grief story (stories) out as a way of getting a bird’s eye view of your experience…almost like allowing a third party to witness it, but without the initial vulnerability of sharing it before you are ready.
If you are afraid others will see what you write when you are done processing it, throw it away, burn it, do what you must. But don’t deny yourself the opportunity to really see in plain ink the story you have, until now, been afraid to look at more closely.
If you are looking for a professional, confidential, empowering and safe space in which to process your own grief story, I would be honored to help. For a complimentary, 30-minute phone consultation, contact me and refer to this blog.