Truth or Myth: Grief is Something That You Should Get Over. {Myth! 5 Truths To Help Understand and Cope With Grief}

Believe it or not, the first class I ever took regarding grief was in High School with Father Tom. I attended a catholic high school in California and it was in that class on “Death and Dying” that I was first introduced to the 5 steps of bereavement by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Although I do find value in her work and stages of grief: {denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance}, I also feel that it has assisted in portraying a false notion that grief is something that we are to get over. Truthfully, those who follow her theory will be the first to tell you that you do not go through these stages chronologically and each situation is unique. However, it can still perpetuate the idea that grief is something that you are supposed to get through or that there is an end.

In fact, the question I was often asked by clients was “When am I going to get over this?” or “When am I going to move on?” There are five truths about grief that will help with understanding the role and purpose of grief.

One: Grief is not something that you can fix or control. In fact grief expert, Julia Samuel, who recently wrote a book entitled, “Grief Works”, describes grief as chaotic, unpredictable and messy and is a process that you are not in charge of but works beneath the surface. Grief is personal and there is not one way to grieve. The key according to Samuel is to find ways to express your grief so that it doesn’t get stuck inside you–to reach out for comfort and support from loved ones, find a word or a way to express those feelings or to journal about your feelings so that they do not remain so overwhelming.

Two: It is essential to acknowledge painful feelings. What you are feeling is normal and if you attempt to shutdown pain or numb painful feelings, you also shutdown or numb happy or joyful feelings. Do not avoid the pain. In fact many often turn to alcohol or to work as a way to avoid pain and to try to numb the painful feelings. Grief and pain come and go in cycles and they have a role. Finding connection to loved ones that can support your grief and pain allows the pain to diminish and for you to heal.

Three: There is meaning in pain and it isn’t something that you should or need to avoid. Pain connects you to the person who is no longer there. When a loved one who has made an imprint in your life is no longer there, you can expect that there will be a void. This void is a reminder of the love that you shared which is not meant to be replaced.

It is important to note that there can be a tendency to equivocate pain with a way to connect to the person who is gone and you can feel like you are abandoning them if you stop feeling the pain. Many have felt guilty if they laugh, find enjoyment in life, forget an anniversary or special date. It is important to know that you can allow both and to give yourself permission to seek comfort in your life.

Four: Grief will always be painful and you will always miss them. One of my favorite analogies that has been pretty useful at explaining grief was told by the psychologist of Lauren Herschel and is known as the ball and the box. Grief is compared to a large ball that is placed in a box with a pain button. The ball is so large that at first you can’t move the box without hitting the button. It moves around in the box and consequently hits the pain button over and over. You can’t control it- it just keeps hurting and seems relentless. Overtime, the ball shrinks, and you can start moving the box without hitting the button. The ball still hits the button sometimes, but less than it used to. However, when the ball does hit the pain button, it hurts just as much. Although you can function better day to day, the ball will hit that pain button randomly when you least expect it. For most people the ball never goes away fully but the ball keeps getting smaller.

Five: Research shows that it is not the circumstances of the grief that predicts the positive or negative outcome but it is the support that the person receives at the time. So, if you are in the midst of grief and pain, reach out and connect where you can. Professor Brene Brown’s mother gave some of the best advice when it came to pain: “My mom taught us to never look away from people’s pain. Don’t look away. Don’t look down. Don’t pretend not to see hurt. Look people in the eye. Even when pain is overwhelming. And, when you’re in pain, find the people who can look you in the eye. We need to know that we are not alone–especially when we are hurting.”

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