Think of the most painful moment of your life. Just take a moment to actually think of it. Was there a sense of loss attached to it? Loss of a piece of yourself, loss of your dignity, loss of trust, loss of a person you loved? Grief is painful. The trouble with pain is that it is a signal to stop, turn around, change something, and to avoid potential harm. We know this instinctively when we pull away from the sting of a bee, or a hot pan. However, not everything painful is to be avoided. Not everything we experience that is painful harms us. In fact, sometimes the painful thing is what heals us and grows us. Sadness from loss does not mean something is broken or needs to be avoided. It simply means something important to you is gone and it is imperative that you identify what it is and honor the importance it had in your life. This is what we call grief, and it is not always about losing a loved one (although it certainly can be) it is about any loss we experience. In the midst of grief we might try to stop the memories, pleasant or painful. We may try to push the pain of memories away, in an attempt to self-protect. But the pain doesn’t go away when it is suppressed or avoided, it is still right there, under the surface, waiting to pounce. Avoidance doesn’t lower the level of suffering, it simply makes suffering the problem instead of the loss. The more you suppress the feelings, the harder it is to keep it them down. This is when grief can turn into depression, anxiety, anger and a whole list of other symptoms. The pain of loss is still there, it has just taken a different form.
Loss and painful emotions have some big lessons to teach us. Pain instructs us about compassion and if we let it and do our own work we need to do in therapy. Pain leads us to the source of wisdom that sets us free from the pain. Grief instructs us about what is important in life. It provides opportunity for learning how to love truly, and increases our flexibility. To open your heart to loss, is to open your heart to love.
“Growth is painful, but nothing is as painful as staying stuck” – Mandy Hale
What to do with grief and loss:
- Acknowledge it – before healing can commence, we must know there is a wound. No feelings are good, bad,or off limits. Feelings don’t define us, they just are. They are here one minute and gone the next. We need to stop and acknowledge what we are grieving and our feelings about the loss before we can move toward growth.
- Embrace the feelings – although uncomfortable, these painful feelings will not last forever. They may ebb and flow, but eventually they will lessen in intensity as we allow them to be present. To distract from grief is one way to ensure it will last a very long time. Sometimes there may be feelings that you feel don’t belong to grief, like freedom or joy, embrace those too, they are normal. Try not to judge your emotions.
- Prepare to be overwhelmed – Like a strong wave, grief may crash and spiral to the point where it feels overwhelming. It will eventually soothe, just as the wave eventually comes to the shore.
- Watch your thoughts – Don’t judge yourself. “I should be over this by now,” “If only I’d done something different,” “I will never let myself be vulnerable like this again,” and “This is my fault” are examples of unhelpful and distorted thoughts. Although a normal part of grief, it is important to distance yourself a bit and know that they might be completely untrue, or twisted. Step back and unhook them. Set those negative thoughts aside, and decide to deal with them later, perhaps with a therapist or safe loved one who will show you the truth about yourself and won’t make you feel judged.
- Act on your beliefs and values – It is important to keep your values front and center during a time of loss. Act in accordance with them despite the ebb and flow of your emotions and thoughts. Even if these emotions feel counter to your values and beliefs. Sometimes it is helpful to talk with a therapist or close friend about how these feelings might be distorting your actions away from your beliefs and values. Maybe your values and beliefs have changed, that is ok too, this can happen when we experience loss.
- Practice self-compassion – take care of yourself . Now is not the time to take on new things or get stressed out with additional work. Accept help from a friend or loved one, or hire someone to do things around the house for a while. Talk to yourself with compassion.
Loss and love come in a single package. The fact that you feel loss, means you loved something or someone deeply. Despite cultural messages that tell us to avoid painful feelings like the plague, grief is the stuff of life. Like salt is to sugar, we need pain and joy to fully experience life as it is. Don’t avoid pain using drugs, anger, vacations, alcohol, T.V. or video games, shopping or material goods, or anything else that can cover up our grief and feelings of loss. This only increases the pain and twists is into something else more menacing. To close yourself to pain and vulnerability is to close yourself off to love, or the ability and connect.
If you connected with this article and wish you could move through some pain to connect to the wisdom and love on the other side let me help you. Call 559-697-5045 and begin your journey toward inner healing
“If it was easy, everyone would do it.” — Jimmy Dugan
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