Recently, I was listening to a life coach podcaster going on about how children don’t have the mental capacity to deal with emotional pain. She went on to say that it’s “a good thing,” as it’s a coping mechanism she referred to as “disassociation.” She went on to add how “it’s brilliant” how, as children, we’re able to do this and “avoid and numb out.” However, once an adult, this no longer serves us. She went on and on a few more minutes, and, I was so frustrated listening that I turned it off and unsubscribed when she began to share how she coped with her feelings (as an adult) with food. Well, what she was experiencing was grief – she didn’t call it for what it was. And this is part of the problem. It’s almost as if “grief” is some taboo word.
It became apparent to me that this woman, although educated in life coaching and all the things adults struggle with, had little understanding of grieving children — and truly, what children are capable of.
She did get one thing right; children’s brains aren’t as mentally and emotionally developed as adults. However, children grieve just as adults do. They may grieve a bit differently. Still, all the same – anger, sadness, guilt, shame, etc. are emotions grieving children also experience.
So what got me all fired up?
Why should these feelings not be addressed by those who love and care for children? Whose responsibility is it when a child does not know how to process their emotions?
Caregivers either allow the child to grieve, fully expressing all their emotions, or, later in adulthood, default to what we’ve been taught. Often, that is behavior modeled after our parents. And, we all know grief isn’t something that’s commonplace education in the home or at school, and also isn’t near as common-talk as the weather.
There is no judgment or criticism from me if you default to what you know – I get it.
It did me zero favors to “brilliantly disassociate” while I was experiencing bed-wetting, excessive tardiness, and struggled, overall, for years to find my way.
My loved ones were grieving their own way. They, too, didn’t have the education on what to do with their feelings – much less mine. If you’re a parent, read about the ACE study. You’ll see why this fires me up. And, the ACE study doesn’t even address losses such as moving.
The negative impact of not addressing childhood grief is why I am so very passionate about grief recovery – for adults and children alike. It is in grief education where we can raise future generations to be emotionally resilient. Adults can lead and teach from example, empowering themselves, in their own lives, in the process. Educating ourselves is the greatest gift we can give each other when it comes to grief. And, I believe, children are more than capable of learning ways to grieve in a healthy way.
I am very much looking forward to facilitating a Helping Children with Loss group in whichever community wishes to host this program.
Once a week, for four weeks, I teach you how to help the child or children in your care to navigate and complete their grief — what a beautiful gift to give your child or children. As the person entrusted to their care, it is your duty to tend to all needs – including emotional. And, you can do so by receiving education and new tools. It is possible to empower yourself with knowledge, knowing how to help the children in your care deal with painful feelings. Let me help you – help them.
P.S. Are you interested in bringing the Helping Children with Loss Program to your community? Please email me at victoria [at] theunleashedheart [dot] com.
Do you feel sad around the holidays? A lot of people do. The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time surrounded by loved ones and about joy and good cheer. So why do many people have a hard time? For some, there was a loss around the holidays, so it’s a reminder of someone they loved passing during that time. Or, being around others who have their loved ones, is a reminder of the loss of a special relationship. And, for many, it’s the first holiday without their loved one.
As you can see, there are many reasons why this time of year can be emotionally charged and challenging. There is a lot of stimulus touching your heart in its most painful spot. With all the holiday hustle and bustle, someone in this situation will either prefer to isolate or become the organizer and entertainer. In the process, you are using the holiday busy-ness as a distraction.
What is a stimulus, and how does it relate to grief?
Stimuli consist of the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes that trigger our memory. It causes your brain to recall events or feelings associated with the stimulus. Stimuli such as holiday lights, decorations, and music can cause you to remember a family member who died, a break-up, or childhood experiences. Fond memories are normal and healthy. Unresolved grief is when fond memories turn painful.
The same stimulus can affect two different people in two different ways. Let’s say two sisters hear a Christmas song that was a favorite of their mother, who died.
One sister might hear the song and remember how much her mother loved it. She may miss her mother for a few minutes, but then she goes back to what she was doing. The song served only as a reminder of how much she loves her mom but didn’t affect her entire day.
The other sister might hear the song, think about how much she misses her mother, get sad, and be unable to focus the rest of the day. She might walk around feeling numb and unable to participate in holiday festivities fully. Or she may refuse to talk about anything other than her mother’s death.
The second sister is an example of unresolved grief.
A personal example I have is my dad always used Old Spice after-shave. And, not so very long ago, I was visiting my mom, and what did she have in her medicine cabinet in the bathroom? A bottle of Old Spice after-shave. I never asked her about it, and I don’t have to – I already know why she has it in there after all these years. Perhaps it’s still the same bottle left from my dad – I don’t know.
Another personal example is when my dad would change his colostomy bag. That smell is burned into my brain. And, although that’s not something that someone would smell on the regular, when I have, throughout my life smelled something even remotely similar, it takes me back in time. And, it’s not a particularly happy memory at all.
I have so many examples of this. I’m sure you can think of some of your own as well. Reminders can be all around us at times. During the holidays, it can just feel overwhelming.
Even at Thanksgiving, I found myself talking about Cabbage Patch dolls. What came up for me, at that moment, was how the first Christmas after my dad died, I received two cabbage patch dolls in the mail from who, I don’t know. All I know is, I can think of these things now with gratitude with how far I’ve come in addressing the grief around losing him. The grief never goes away – it just changes, as does my response to it. I’m not dwelling, ruminating, and feeling stuck in that grief rut as I had been all those years prior.
How do I know if I’m experiencing unresolved grief?
The holidays may remind you of any number of losses, such as moving, events that happened during childhood, an ex-spouse, a sick child, or a pet that died.
If a Christmas tree reminds you of the fun holidays, you spent with a loved one who died, that’s normal. If you then become brokenhearted over the loss of your family member due to fond memories turning painful where your entire day is impacted – that’s unresolved grief.
Unresolved grief affects your ability to stay in the moment, which limits your capacity for happiness. During the holidays, it might limit your ability to enjoy time with your friends and family fully. Some people avoid holidays altogether because they don’t want to risk the feelings associated with painful reminders of their loss. Until you become complete with the losses in your life, you will never be able to enjoy all life has to offer fully.
Unresolved grief may be at the root of any fear associated with thoughts or feelings about a relationship. – The Grief Recovery Institute
What To Do Instead When Grief is Causing the Holidays to Suck
The Death of Someone Important to You:
Don’t Isolate Yourself. It’s normal and natural to feel lost and alone―but Don’t Isolate―even if you have to force yourself to be with people and participate in normal activities.
Don’t misuse food or alcohol to cover up or push down your feelings. As children, when we were sad about something, we were often told, “Don’t feel bad. Here have a cookie, you’ll feel better.” The cookie doesn’t make the child feel better, it makes the child feel different, and the real cause of the sadness is not addressed. When we get older, alcohol and drugs are used for the same wrong reasons―to mask feelings of sadness.
Talk about your feelings, but don’t expect a quick fix. It’s essential to have someone you trust to talk to about your memories and the feelings they evoke. Ask your friend to listen to you and not try to fix you. You’re sad, not broken; you need to be heard.
While it’s important to talk about your feelings, don’t dwell on them. Telling the same sad story over and over is not helpful it can establish and cement a relationship to your pain. Better to make a simple statement of how you feel at the moment. For example, say, “I just had a sad feeling of missing him.”
Time doesn’t heal—actions do. The myth that time heals a broken heart is just that, a myth. Time can’t heal a broken heart any more than air can jump into a flat tire. Time goes by. It’s the actions you take within time that can help you feel better.
Death of a Spouse or Divorce:
Just because you feel lonely doesn’t mean you’re ready to start dating. Don’t start dating while your heart is still broken, or you will guarantee that the next relationship will fail. Being prepared to date again is a function of the actions you take within time to repair your heart – whether you’re dealing with a death or divorce.
Don’t get too busy—avoid hyperactivity. Be careful not to get too busy. Being super active distracts you, it doesn’t help you deal with your broken heart.
Maintain your normal routines. Adapting to the changes in your life following a death or a divorce is an enormous adjustment. You are learning how to move from being with someone to being alone. It’s never a good idea to add a host of other changes while you’re trying to adapt to so much disruption in your life.
Go through the pain, not under, over, or around it. It’s very tempting to try to avoid the pain associated with a broken heart. But it’s also a form of self-punishment. Whenever you skirt the pain, all you’re doing is pushing it away temporarily. It will always come back to haunt you.
Find practical guidance, or you will sabotage your future. While the grief of a broken heart is the normal reaction to the death of your mate or the end of a romantic relationship, it’s constructive to find effective tools to help you discover and complete everything that was left emotionally unfinished. Otherwise, you will drag your emotional baggage into the next relationship and ruin it before it starts.
For most people, the first holiday season after a death or a divorce is the most painful. But that’s not true for everyone. For many, the second, third, and subsequent years are excruciating. Since time doesn’t heal emotional wounds, people often report feeling worse the more years that go by. No matter when your loss occurred, it’s most important that you become aware that recovery is possible and to learn which actions will help you.
If you’re dealing with a death, go to the library or bookstore and get a copy of The Grief Recovery Handbook. The principles and actions of The Grief Recovery Method have been used by more than a half-million people to help deal with the impact of the death of someone important to them.
If you’re dealing with the aftermath of a divorce or romantic breakup, go to the library or bookstore and get a copy of Moving On. The principles and actions in it will help you deal with your broken heart.
If your children are struggling with a loss of any type and any level of emotional intensity, go to the library or bookstore and get a copy of When Children Grieve.
P.S. If you are ready to take action towards resolving what is emotionally incomplete for your children (and receive grief education like never before), there is still time to save your spot, at a reduced rate, for a future Helping Children with Loss group program. Click HEREto reserve your spot!
P.P.S. Also, just for funsies, if you KNOW you want to (or plan to) participate in a future in-person grief recovery program (1-on-1 or group), here’s your incentive to commit yourself and your heart. Click HERE to check out this and the other discounts i’m offering through Cyber Monday (12/2). There is no expiration on this offer – so, the next time I provide a group in your community, you’ll be all set. Or, we can set up a 1-on-1 asap, too. I actually need two more 1-on-1 clients. Then I will be able to pursue additional training that will enable me to offer grief recovery ONLINE (which will be HUGE, given my geographical location and the interest I have throughout the state of ND and beyond)!
*portions of this blog post are adapted from The Grief Recovery Institute blog
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve changed as a parent, and in my parenting style, since completing grief recovery and certification.
Before grief recovery, particularly in the last five years, I recognize that the anger I’ve carried within me since childhood has often gotten the best of me. As a newer parent, when my children were young, the pressure of taking care of the kids in the day-to-day (often alone) was very isolating and overwhelming. It makes me sad that I don’t feel like I truly enjoyed those years as much as I could have. But, when your spouse’s job takes them away, often for days at a time, you don’t have time to dwell on such things. You simply carry the parenting torch sleep-deprived and, in my case, with anger, too.
I can’t imagine what it’s like for the parent left behind when their spouse deploys. I have much admiration for the parents that carry the parenting torch alone when their spouse deploys – which, comes too, with grief for all involved. And, I certainly have empathy when a parent is left to parent alone when it’s due to the death of their beloved.
What Grief Recovery Taught Me about Parenting
What I have come to know and learn through grief recovery work is we all, each and every one of us, carries our inner-child within us. And, we all carry the stories, bruises, hurt, sadness, etc. that we experienced in childhood, too. We learn at a young age how to cope, or rather, not cope, with all of our emotions. We will continue to parent our children in the present with a veil of sadness, anger, or hurt we carry unless we own and heal our inner-child. We will also teach from a place that lacks boundaries – because we teach what we know.
If we were raised by our parents getting anything and everything we wanted and never had to take responsibility for our actions, what are we learning? Similarly, what if we never had to experience consequences resulting from our behavior? Or, on the flip side, what if we’re raised by dictating, rigid, controlling parents? We, too, will raise our children this way. My point is, no matter which camp you were raised in, you likely have some grief as a result. Parents who bail out, excuse, and over-indulge likely didn’t share an emotional connection with their child – or didn’t know how; the important stuff was swept under the rug. On the flip-side, those who raise their children in a dictating, rigid, controlling way – likely, too, lack emotional connection with their child.
In full transparency, I fell into the camp of dictating and controlling and, until grief recovery, hadn’t recognized that’s what my parenting style had been. This parenting gig is the hardest job ever. By no means, are there any experts because we all learn along the way because, too, every child is different. The consequence of not connecting the dots of our inner-child wounds to our parenting style is that we will continue to raise our kids how we were taught. And, the vicious cycle will continue. The way we learned to process our emotions (or not deal them) as kids, has a direct impact on how we teach our children to deal with theirs.
Consequences of Not Healing Your Inner-Child
Rather than parenting to control, fix, serve, or dictate, we can learn how not to project our pain onto our kids. And instead, approach parenting from a place of connection and acceptance rather than who we think our kids should be. We are born perfect but along the way, we often learn we are less than. So, we do our damndest to become more than – prettier, skinnier, faster, smarter, etc., but often end up self-destructing because of the inner-child saying, “you’ll never measure up.”
Regardless of which way the pendulum swings for you, either way, you likely have self-worth issues. Either you’re always working to reach higher; be, have, do, and achieve more. Or, you’ve never actually believed you had potential in the first place (and did anyone encourage you), so why try?
Grief recovery has been a gift beyond my inner-child wounds; bringing to light the errors of my ways in parenting. It’s allowed me the necessary space to learn and grow and become emotionally healthier for me, so I can better connect and express myself toward my kids. I’ve quit saying, “I’m proud,” and instead of say, “you should be proud of yourself.” You may not think anything of that, but the truth of what you’re saying is that your child has the power to make you feel a certain way. Which, goes against a fact we already know: we are responsible for our own feelings, no one else.
It has been in learning to re-parent the inner-child within me that has helped me grow in my parenting style. I see things in my kids now that I don’t believe I noticed before. Our oldest, 14, is a deep thinker like myself, but he also has big emotions like I do, too. So, I’ve learned I need to remind him he’s responsible for those big emotions, no one else. Our middle, almost 13, has been more open about her feelings than before. I’ve been able to help her understand that our emotions have a direct impact on our bodies. She’s learned that the mind-body connection is a real thing, and I’ve felt more prepared to help her. It was through grief recovery, where I gained the same understanding. And, our youngest, 10, lights up when she’s sharing a story or personal experience, and she never leaves out any details. This has translated into my understanding that she also requires lots of more information to feel secure and confident in situations or in knowing what is happening next.
The amount of awareness grief recovery has brought me is more than I could ever possibly put into words. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it, grief recovery is a gift you give yourself that will keep on giving. Our children were not given to us to fill some need or deficit in our lives. And if you think about it, that’s a lot of pressure to put on another human being. What we crave is the fundamental human need – connection. However, the first (and most important) connection we need to focus on is the one with ourselves. Everything else in our lives flows from that and any issues we encounter in our lives, parenting or otherwise, leads back to us – and our inner child.
What is your first loss memory; the first time you experienced the death of a pet, loved one, or had to move away from friends/family, etc.? You may have also experienced an intangible loss, such as a loss of trust event as a child, too.
As adults, we don’t consider that the losses we experienced as young children (that cause grief) leave a lasting imprint on our hearts. However, they do. And the subsequent losses (that cause grief) we experience along the way is stacked on top of those previous losses.
Grief is cumulative and cumulatively negative, therefore, all of the undelivered communications you’ve accumulated in your life (and in your heart), creates a heaviness that only recovery alone can undo.
Ways Grief Stacks Up
When you’re young and you’ve lost your first pet, you’re likely taught that “it’s only a dog” and a dog can be replaced. But, what your parents don’t (or didn’t) understand was that to you, you felt like that dog was your only friend. And, you really can’t replace a beloved friend, can you?
When your family moves and you have to switch schools and forge new relationships, you’re also leaving old relationships behind. There may have been things, as a kid, you never got the chance to communicate to those you left behind. Or, perhaps there was a teacher who you felt close to, trusted, and who made you feel safe and you never got the chance to tell that teacher how much you appreciated them.
As a child, when you lose a loved one, adults may mistakenly make the assumption that, because you’re young, you don’t understand what’s going on – what it means when someone dies, etc.. So, there may be more grief experienced because, although you do understand, you’re not allowed the space and time to share your feelings around the loss.
Growing up, into the teen years, there are more grief experiences as well. Today, kids are dealing with bullying in a way that allows bullies to bully nearly 24/7 online and from their phones. There are self-image issues that many teens face as well. There may be struggles and challenges at home that has a negative impact on their education, too.
And, we all know that adulthood is filled with grief experiences. As adults, we experience relationships that come and go, choose careers that aren’t in alignment with our desires and values, marriages that turn out to be not meant-to-be, and parenthood brings with it grief at times, too. Also, as we age, our parents also age. We may become parent caregivers while raising families of our own.
When you start losing loved ones time after time, is when all of the unresolved feelings you’ve experienced over your life begin to come to the surface. When this happens, eventually, there will be one loss where all the grief will become too much to bear. You’ll find yourself pulled back in time, emotionally, to a previous loss you likely never dealt with or recovered from fully.
You may begin to feel stuck in your life. You may find yourself in the same types of situations or relationships over and over and over. You may feel as though you’ve lost a part of yourself and you find yourself searching in all the wrong places. Or perhaps you feel full of despair, regret, resentment, anger; all the emotions that had burrowed a deep hole within you.
Where Grief Begins
Grief isn’t something that begins in adulthood. You don’t know grief, for the first time, when your parent dies when you’re forty-five, for example. Grief experiences occurred long before that; you just haven’t seen the behaviors you’ve exhibited in your life as stemming from grief.
Grief, in adulthood, looks like gambling, addiction (porn, sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.), chronic pain, high blood pressure, shopping, food, excess exercise, ulcers, stress, workaholism, approval-seeking behavior, and the list goes on and on. These are examples of short-term energy relieving behaviors or STERBS (affecting our emotional health) and a few examples of how grief manifests in our bodies (affecting our physical health).
When it comes to grief in children, I want to first illustrate a point. Human emotions in infants go from happy to sad, or sad to happy, without any apparent external stimulus. Infants communicate all feelings (sometimes, at the top of their lungs). They never question themselves until we start teaching them and showing them to not feel bad. Adults train children to believe that having sad feelings and communicating about those feelings is not okay. To the child’s developing mind, it becomes a simple choice: happy feelings are good and get rewarded vs. sad feelings are bad and get punished.
Grief, in children, is generally expressed the same as adults following a loss, for example. Sleeping patterns may change, eating patterns may change, too, and there’s an inability to concentrate. The way a child responds to grief is often the same because, monkey see, monkey do. In the example of a death of a loved one, if the parent isn’t communicating their sadness with their children and sharing in the loss and instead of going to be alone to grieve and cry because all they know (and were taught by well-meaning but misinformed people) is to be strong. Is it any surprise that the grieving child will do the same and not talk about their feelings?
Although adults (and teens) exhibit short-term energy relieving behaviors, they didn’t develop overnight in the teen and adult years. STERBS are the result of years of being taught unhelpful ways to respond to grief and the misinformation passed on since childhood.
Societal Impact of Grief
The rates of obesity, suicide, addiction, etc. have all been on the rise. Meanwhile, life expectancy rates have been on the decline, consistently, the past three years. These rates hadn’t changed since 1915-1918; life expectancy, in the U.S., had been on the rise ever since, until recent years, as previously mentioned. Check out the video below for recent statistical data information and the reasons the CDC provides insight into why life expectancy is declining.
After watching that short video, what do you think is at the root of the addiction, obesity, and suicide rates? Perhaps, it’s grief? Sounds too simple, right? I think not. Grief is anything but simple.
Self-Evaluation & Awareness
Take a self-examination of the behaviors you fall back on when you’re feeling emotional. Do you seek solace in the fridge, pill or liquor bottle, or another person’s bed? Do you close up and shut down the world around you? Or, do you find yourself angry at the world, consumed with negativity and pessimism?
Awareness is what we need to know what needs to change.
We don’t get to where we are in our adult lives (emotionally, physically, or mentally) overnight, friend. We are a work-in-progress of some form of self-destruction in some way or another. However, it’s never too late to choose to become a work-in-progress toward healing and recovery.
P.S. Are you interested in becoming a work-in-progress for healing and recovery? Message or email me to inquire about the evidence-based Grief Recovery Group Program.
T-L: Vietnam, T-R: Already in Stage IV Cancer, Middle-L: Diagnosed at Stage IV Colon cancer; I was going to “fix” my dad, Bottom-L: Combing my dad’s hair for church, Bottom-R: My dad’s last birthday with 8 months to live
It didn’t hit me until I saw the words that felt like a punch in the gut…
A few days ago, I started a blog post that was going to dig a bit deeper into inspiration and what it means to me. However, I was on Instagram and I saw the hashtag #deaddadclub within a post talking about this woman’s loss and upcoming Father’s Day. I realized, at that moment, that I had never allowed myself to honor my father on father’s day. I also hadn’t felt so pierced in the heart by three words.
I’m in a club of many members. I know this. But I think what I’ve longed for is connecting with others, who, like myself, lost their father’s during childhood. I have come to know that there has been a connection I’ve longed for all my life and have been missing. What we lack in childhood, we continually search for in adulthood, don’t you think?
While I shared first (as we always do as facilitators of the Grief Recovery Method) in my Grief Recovery Group, I felt a deep sorrow well up within me when I began to share about my uncle’s passing in 2017. I share more about the relationship in my book, but the gist of it is is that, when my father passed away, there no longer was contact with father’s side of the family – including my uncle. However, 30 years later, when I learned my uncle was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I made the decision to go see him. That visit and the several that followed were life-changing. And, I do believe, that experience is what ultimately led me to The Grief Recovery Institute because I realized I was not okay. And, it is no coincidence to me that I wrote my book when I did, as it was in the editing phase when I learned of his cancer diagnoses.
Being in the presence of my uncle felt like I was in the presence of my dad. The sad inner-child in me came to the surface and I had no idea what to do with those feelings. For the past two years since my uncle’s passing, although life has given me little to complain about, I had been feeling like I was not living with purpose. And, I also felt like I was still looking for meaning in my suffering. I spent the past two years STERB’ing (participating in short-term energy relieving behaviors) by working, serving my family/others, and doing my best to create something that could help others and (to me) failed to do so. The universe was telling me “Not yet, you’re not ready. You have inner-work to do first.” The death of my uncle was a reminder that I had a lot of healing to do and the experience I had at my group the other night – is another.
Moving Beyond Grief
We are always a work-in-progress; this is the evolution of our hearts, spirit, and our lives. The Grief Recovery Method has opened my heart in the most unexpected ways. It has also brought me the awareness I only wish I had received in my early 20’s.
As I walk with others in their grief, I am also continually walking through mine. It is a shared experience and grief is the one thing that unites us all because we all experience it. I am beyond thankful that I now have the tools to process what I’m feeling and the village around me to do so, too.
This will be the first year I am allowing myself to honor my dad for Father’s Day and I’m going to do something different. I have something in mind but we’ll see…I will definitely share an update. There has always been one date that has stuck in my mind when I’ve thought about my dad: March 31st, 1987 – the day he died; not his birthday (a year and a day before my mom’s – July 30th, 1942), and certainly not Father’s Day. I think it’s a good time to change that and begin to celebrate the 8 short years I did get to have him in my life. His death may have changed the trajectory of my life, but it will no longer keep me the stuck 8-year-old in my heart; that – I can change.
2019 has already been a big year for me. My goal is to make 2019 a big year for many, many other grieving hearts as well.
Are you ready to feel empowered by your grief, rather than isolated, hurting, and fearful because of it? Let’s turn 2019 around for you, too. Sign up for my newsletter below and be kept up to date on future informational talks on grief, upcoming group announcements, and weekly inspiration & nudges about grief and personal growth from my heart to yours – straight to your inbox every Wednesday. <3 It’s never too soon and it’s never too late to begin to heal. I can attest to that!