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.”

Truth or Myth: Feeling Anxiety Can Be a Good Thing

Truth! Anxiety is a normal and healthy function. In fact, you couldn’t subsist without it. Evolutionarily speaking, it was essential for our brains to be able to be observant in order to survive. Anxiety is a sign you are aware of your surroundings and that you are mindful of growing opportunities and that you are frightened of things that are in fact scary (like that saber tooth tiger or starting at a new school/job)! There are several functions that are necessary for us to survive that stem from feeling anxiety.

For one, feeling anxiety or stress increases cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body, greatly improving the fight or flight reaction. Your heart beats faster, your breaths per minute increase, you become more aware of your surroundings and your body is ready to fight or run to protect itself. Almost like your “spidy-sense” is triggered and your body is set to gear up to deal with and handle the situation at hand.

This adrenaline can improve both attention and your ability to focus. Think of a time when something big was on the line. Perhaps it was a speech you had to give, a three point shot at the buzzer to win the game—all create certain amounts of stress and anxiety.And while many of these situations are filled with pressure, the increased anxiety makes you focus that much more. In all of these instances, if your body wasn’t producing extra levels of adrenaline and cortisol, you wouldn’t be as ready to make that game winning shot.

The stress response that is triggered by anxiety is also designed to help us react when something potentially threatening happens, to help us deal with it and learn from it. Dr. Daniela Kaufer, an associate professor at UC Berkley, studies the biology of stress–examining at the molecular level how the brain responds to anxiety and traumatic events. Her research found that the part of your brain involved in the stress response (called the hippocampus) will stimulate stem cells which go on to form neurons or brain cells. Hence, anxiety can be a good thing as it can help you focus more and be able to learn more!

Having an understanding of how anxiety can be a useful tool in helping you be observant (ability to focus more), and recognize areas of growth (example: where you realize that you should focus more on your 3 point shot) and give you the adrenaline or energy necessary to deal with situations (example: saving the 2 year old from falling off the chair) can help you realize that anxiety can be an asset. Feeling anxiety really isn’t a bad thing. It is a normal and necessary feeling that you can make work for you rather than against you. How do you do this? When you recognize feeling anxious (everyone is unique in how they feel anxiety in their body but everyone feels it) mentally listen to the message that it is giving you and then in your mind, assign the anxiety a task. For example, you recognize you are breathing faster while preparing to be interviewed for a job. Take a deep breath and mentally give yourself a task to remember the interviewers name or to remember answers to questions you have already prepared and your brain will be stimulated to complete that task. Anxiety can really be an asset and not just for the caveman.

Truth or Myth: Your Thoughts Are NOT Your Identity

Truth! You are NOT your thoughts. In fact, according to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California, the average person has about 48.6 thoughts per minute. That adds up to nearly 70,000 thoughts per day. Researchers estimate that 60-80% of those thoughts are negative! Dr. Raj Raghunathan, of the University of Texas recently conducted an experiment asking students in the business school to register their thoughts for 2 weeks and then categorized them. He found that 70% of those student’s thoughts were negative.
Negative thoughts do NOT define who we are. It has absolutely nothing to do with our character and who we are as a person. You cannot control if a bird lands on your head or every thought that comes in your head but you can prevent birds from making a nest and you can control what thoughts you allow to stay.

Looking to reduce the negative thoughts in your head?

Stay tuned for 5 proven strategies to combat negative thoughts coming next week. For recurrent negative thoughts, you can also check out:

Truth or Myth?: Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide will increase the likelihood of them committing suicide.

Myth! Research has actually shown that asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings will NOT push someone into engaging in self harm or committing suicide. In fact, the findings suggest that acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation. Asking about thoughts of suicide is in fact one of the number one things you can do to help and assist anyone who may have suicidal ideation.

So, what do you say if you are concerned about someone who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts? Reach out and be direct. My “go-to” question is:

“Hey. You seem like you have been {quiet, tired, depressed, sad, not yourself etc} and I {love you, care for you, am concerned}. Have you thought about hurting yourself?”

Do not worry that you need to provide all the answers if they do have thoughts about committing suicide. They don’t expect you to have all the answers. They just need you to care enough to ask the question and get them to someone who can help. That is the easiest of the steps because all it requires is a phone.

Keep in mind that you can always call the National Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (or text “TALK” to 741741). {They both go to the same source.} This number is not just for the person who is currently feeling suicidal but also for anyone who is looking for assistance or advice on handling a situation where someone they know might be suicidal. You will be talking with a licensed mental health professional who will do a safety assessment to determine if you are calling for yourself or for someone that you are worried about; if you are in need of emotional support or if you are in crisis. They will talk with you and develop a safety plan and future resources where needed. You can call any day at anytime- 24/7.

So, don’t be afraid to reach out, acknowledge and discuss suicide if you are concerned about someone. There is hope and help and it all starts with asking the question–Just Ask!

Truth or Myth: We are Born to Need Each Other

Truth! One of my husband’s favorite songs is “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. In case you were curious or just wanted to listen to that song again, I included a clip below. {You’re welcome. ;)} Unfortunately, while my husband might love this song, the message of this song can perpetuate this false notion that we are meant to be ‘islands’ in a relationship and that being self-sufficient is what makes your relationships stronger. However, researchers will tell you that, in fact, close connections make us stronger and that we are born to need each other.

Dr. Susan Johnson, developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and 2016 Psychologist of the year noted that, “The human brain is wired for close connection with a few irreplaceable others. Accepting your need for this special kind of emotional connection is not a sign of weakness, but maturity and strength.” She emphasizes that self-sufficiency is just another word for loneliness and that we all long for a safe haven in our relationships.Strength, she argues, comes from close connections and we are born to need each other.

The need we have as children to be able to call to a special loved one and know that this person will respond with reassurance and comfort never goes away.

Connections in life are critical and are the source of both pain and joy. Dr. Naomi Eisenberger, a psychologist at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found during her brain imaging studies that rejection and exclusion trigger the same circuits in the same part of the brain (the anterior cingulate) as physical pain. In fact, this part of the brain turns on anytime we are emotionally separated from those around us. On the other hand, close connections with others turn on reward centers in the brain and flood us with calm and happiness chemicals like dopamine and turn off stress hormones like cortisol. We have an innate need to connect. It is a basic primary need– like oxygen and water. We truly are born to need each other– so do not be afraid or feel ashamed of this need for connection. No man is an island–not even Kenny Rogers.

Truth or Myth? You Can Tell Your Mind What NOT to Think

Myth! This is one that you can easily test out on yourself. Social Psychologist Daniel Wegner and his colleagues began this experiment back in 1987 when they asked participants to simply not think about the white bear while they verbalized their stream of consciousness (said what they were thinking out loud) for five minutes. If a white bear came to mind, he told them to ring a bell. This experiment quickly became known as the white bear phenomenon as they discovered that by trying not to think of something, we actually continually think it.

While you can not tell your mind what not to think, the opposite holds true. You can tell your mind what to think. So, the next time a negative thought comes into your mind, instead of telling your mind NOT to think it, tell your mind what TO think about. You will see that while you may not hold the power to tell your mind what not to think, you can redirect your thoughts. You cannot control every thought that comes into your mind just like you can’t control if a bird lands on your head. However, you can prevent him from making a nest.

Interested in finding out more ways that you can handle negative thoughts? Check out

Truth or Myth? Conflict in Marriage is Unhealthy.

Myth! According to leading relationship expert, John Gottman, PhD: Happily married couples may have a lot of conflict. It is the positive sentiments overriding the negative ones. They are quicker at repairs. It’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship.

Looking for tips to improve dealing with and resolving conflict? Check out these articles:

Truth or Myth? Many Marital Arguments Cannot Be Resolved.

Truth! The truth is that all couples have perpetual problems that do not get solved. In fact, according to renowned researcher, John Gottman, PhD, nearly 2/3 of relationship problems are unsolvable(69%).

Dan Wile, PhD, developer of Collaborative Couple Therapy, noted that, “When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems.” These unsolvable problems are also known as perpetual differences in the mental health world and all couples will have perpetual problems. These issues center on fundamental differences in personality or differences in your own backgrounds which is where your belief system is derived. For instance, one spouse might be more extroverted while the other is more introverted. One partner might be more careful with spending having endured tight financial circumstances while they grew up while the other has a more free spending attitude due to emotional experiences associated with gift giving. One partner might value cleanliness and order more and place a higher value on neatness than their spouse who grew up differently and feels suffocated by their partner’s insistence on the house looking pristine. These differences which lead to perpetual problems or where the mountains collide can become an effective tool to bring you closer together as a couple or the wedge that can lead to emotional distance and gridlock.

The key to managing unsolvable problems is to establish a dialogue about the perpetual problem. It is not the presence of the conflict that stresses the relationship, it is the manner in which the couple responds. Be willing to discuss issues and know that your job is not to solve the conflict but to understand where your spouse is coming from. Most conflicts are not about the issue itself but underneath are about “Where are you, Do I matter to you, Are you there for me- Can I count on you first to respond to me- to put me first? Not having a way of discussion often leads to what therapists deam dialogue gridlock. Unaddressed gridlock eventually leads to emotional disengagement. The one thing that love can’t survive is constant emotional disconnection. Conflict is often less dangerous for your relationship than distance. Positive, respectful communication about differences helps keep a marriage thriving.

Seek to understand the meaning of your spouse’s positions. What is it that matters to them about that particular issue. For example, your partner’s fixation on not being late to an event can be easier for you to understand realizing that growing up being on time was emphasized as a way to show respect and that they feel upset that they are being disrespectful and feel shame and embarrassment when they walk in late. Instead of trying to change how they feel and that they shouldn’t feel shame, or embarrassment, seek to understand and accept that it matters to them and you can make it matter to you as well because you love them. Seeking to accept and appreciate your spouses differences rather than impose your beliefs (no matter how right we feel!) on how they should act, strengthens your bond in a way that nothing else can. To love someone is to accept that person exactly the way he or she is right now, knowing you both have weaknesses but working together, you become stronger.

Developing a shared meaning is a crucial step in creating the marriage that you really want. All of us come into marriage with preconceived notions and definitions for how we view things. We are meant to be different and these differences when combined often can lead to happier endings. Even now if you were to ask your spouse to define “home” or “love” you would find that you do not have the exact same definition. Shared meaning is where building on your unique views, you build something together. Rituals–daily, weekly or monthly is the avenue that helps to build this new shared life that the two of you are creating. Rituals around leaving and returning with a kiss or the special way you end a phone conversation to weekly dates that show that your partner values spending time with you or a monthly puzzle you put together. The rituals you create together will be as unique to your relationship as you are unique and will create the shared meaning which can alleviate the frustrations of merging ideas and focus on building the life you want together.

Beware what you are focusing on: Small things have a way of growing large when we dwell on them. There is a great story published in a magazine that I refer to as the parable of the toothpaste. One of the wife’s complaints was that her husband splashed toothpaste on the mirror when he would brush his teeth and never washed it off. It drove her absolutely crazy and she couldn’t let it go. The husband ended up passing away and the wife realized as the days past that even though her husband was no longer there, the toothpaste on the mirror remained. She realized that she contributed to the toothpaste on the mirror for years and the anger she felt towards her husband hurt her much more than it ever affected her husband. Choose to dwell on the positive qualities and attributes of your spouse instead of the “toothpaste on the mirror”. Overlook small things, be less critical and more forgiving.

This lesson about the great debate as to how the toilet paper should be hung was a lesson that I was taught a little over 25 years ago while I was visiting the house of one of my older brother’s friends. This couple was one that in my teenage view, was one of the ideal couples–you know the ones that seemed to dance around and make you wonder if they ever raised their voices because they seemed to talk in a sweet whisper at all times. This visit obviously left an impression on me as I can still remember it to this day. I had walked in on a discussion that was dire. I can remember being absolutely shocked to find out that there was a flaw in the fairytale that I had conjured in my mind. What could possibly cause so much duress to my real life couple version of Ken and Barbie? I quickly learned that the major disagreement I had walked into was about the way the toilet paper roll should be hung and they both had fierce arguments for their differing point of views. Could a roll of toilet paper really have such a huge impact? How was this conflict going to be solved? It turns out that for my Ken and Barbie couple they came up with the solution that it would be hung one way for the first 25 years of their marriage and the other for the next 25 years. I have been meaning to check back in with them and see if they really did switch after 25 years, but knowing that they realized their relationship is more important and how their spouse feels mattered more than the direction of the toilet paper gave me hope and meaning for the perpetual, unsolveable conflicts we all face in relationships.

Practically speaking,

Looking for more ways to deal with conflict? See the 7 Proven Tips to Handle Conflict.

Truth or Myth: Connection is the Strongest Predictor of Happiness

Truth! According to a recent survey asking participants what their most important life goals were, 80% responded that a major life goal for them was to get rich. However, studies have found that close connection is the strongest predictor of happiness, much more so than making a lot of money or winning the lottery!

“Close connection significantly lessens susceptibility to anxiety and depression and makes us more resilient against stress and trauma” (Dr. Sue Johnson, Love Sense).

According to University of Utah professor, Dr. Bert Uchino, PhD, “a good relationship is the most powerful antidote to aging and the single best recipe for good health.” We are actually happier and healthier when we are close and connected.

According to the longest study on happiness, (The Harvard Study of Adult Development) which has tracked 724 participants for over 80 years, the clearest message that the study has revealed is that good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

So while many of our goals are centered around working harder, achieving more, making more money–going after those things as an attempt to have a good life– it is important to remember that it is actually our healthy relationships and our connections that have been scientifically proven to predict the greatest happiness.

Are you looking for ways to improve your relationships and connections? Check out proven tips and strategies here. Practically speaking, stay connected and stay happy!