If you had a choice between blissful or miserable, which would you choose?
I imagine you thought to yourself, “That’s a silly question!’ It’s a no-brainer – blissful!” Who would choose to be miserable?
Whatever you’re feeling deprived of – it’s the highest goal to attain it—feeling deprived of feelings of bliss? It will be your highest goal to attain bliss.
When deep in grief or otherwise, we often do what is necessary to move toward pleasure and away from pain.
Reaching for something to feel better, you may resort to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, television, fiction/fantasy books, surfing the internet/Facebook/social media, etc.
The Shame Game
You may feel better briefly, but what you’re most likely left with are feelings of shame. And shame makes us feel anything but blissful.
According to Merriam-Webster, shame is:
a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety
b: the susceptibility to such emotion
2: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute
3a: something that brings censure or reproach also: something to be regretted
b: a cause of feeling shame
I need to write a blog post all about shame. It causes a lot of grief in our lives. Where there is shame, there is grief. Likewise, where there is grief, there is also shame. They go hand-in-hand. In my book, I have a chapter dedicated to shame titled The Shame Game.
Because shame and grief are so tightly interwoven, the patterns of behavior one may resort to (running toward pleasure) to avoid pain create more shame, becoming a cyclic pattern of behavior.
Grief makes you feel like you don’t have a choice when caught in this vicious cycle.
But, you do. Our minds are a powerful force to be reckoned with and are undoubtedly taken for granted when it comes to transforming our lives. We often don’t feel like we have a choice in our lives because we get stuck in the vicious cycle. We want to feel better. We don’t know how to break free and don’t know what to do first.
The first step in breaking cycles is to understand you have a choice and then decide to do something about it. I know many situations leave individuals where they are because of fear. I know that a person in a domestic violence situation is often groomed by their abuser. I understand that individuals or families living in poverty haven’t been given the tools and access to make their way out of poverty. Even in these situations, fear is often the stronghold on the mind. And, fear can be a beast of a feeling. Fear can paralyze you.
However, even in the most fearful situations, there have been true accounts of people surviving (even thriving) following terrible situations and circumstances. I’ve heard many of them on my podcast. There is an episode coming up in Feb/March that is incredibly terrifying, and yet, this woman clawed her way out of fear and obtained her Ph.D. The hero’s journey is something common to copywriters and those who write stories/scripts. Through my podcast, I hear stories like this on the regular. They are triumphant and inspiring stories of people, just like you and me, who, against all odds, realized they had a choice and decided. They held on to hope.
Sometimes, your circumstances or situation allows the fear to take hold, but if you hold on to hope, you’ve got something worth holding. Hope is a beacon. Hope is the light of a lighthouse you see in the distance when you’re in a small boat on a big ocean. If you want to feel some hope, take a listen to my podcast, Grieving Voices.
If you’ve made it out of the vicious cycle but feel as though your life isn’t heading in the direction you desire, or emotionally, the past still has a grip on your present, I encourage you to consider working with me.
I am sending you heaps of love + light! Thank you for reading and sharing with someone you know or love.
Do you like to play dodgeball? You know, the game where balls are thrown at you with the goal of getting you out of the game? And, you hope that you don’t end up with a bloody nose by the end of it?
Imagine your thoughts being the ball and your heart and physical body are on the receiving end. And, consider how many times during any given day you are the one throwing the insults in the direction of yourself.
The most important conversation we need to have when we do this is not in our heads. Rather, the most important conversation we need to have in moments like this is the one we have with ourselves and with our hearts.
Anxious or racing thoughts, negative self-talk, worry, and overthinking are hallmarks for people who know the challenges of dealing with mental health diagnoses like anxiety and depression. These conditions affect a growing number of Americans.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.”
I’ve been reading the book, “Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It,” by Kamal Ravikant. In it, the author shares how he turned his life around by using a self-love practice, which he found by doing more of what made him feel better. At the core of this practice is telling himself every single day, throughout the day, that he loved himself. I’m not quite half-way through the book, but so far, my takeaway is that this book reinforces what I learned through grief recovery, and that is: We can’t heal the heart with the head. We certainly don’t heal the heart either by all the garbage we tell ourselves on a daily basis. All this does is reinforce the beliefs we have about ourselves, thereby, reinforcing the repeated patterns of behavior that keep us stuck in our lives.
So, I’ve been working on implementing my own “self-love” practice, and it does include principals taught in this book. Along with the other healing modalities I have learned along the way (grief recovery education and the practical tools it provides along with reiki), I feel like I am leaving 2020 more emotionally resilient than how I came into the year. Also, far more prepared for whatever 2021 may bring, too. I’m working on changing the conversations I have with myself.
The majority of us have spent years in self-loathing. The opposite of self-loathing is self-love. And, it’s a sport most of us need a lot of practice in, in order to see our hearts transformed. The timing of coming across this book is uncanny and very synchronistic. So, I’m fully embracing it and trusting that it’s a part of the process I’m ready to dig into for my own healing.
If you desire change in your life, it starts with the most important conversation you need to have – the one with yourself and your heart. When was the last time you asked your heart what it needs?
This year, I learned this from a mentor, and I keep a post-it with this written on it, above my desk, where I see it every single day.
I am where my attention is.
Who would I be…
What would I do…
How would I feel if I already had…
Where do you want your attention to be as we bring 2020 to a close?
Where do you want your attention to be in 2021?
Healing is my jam. To bring my best light and my best self to the work that I do, I need to work on clearing out my own gunk. Put another way, as Kamal Ravikant mentions in his book, I need to keep bringing out the rag and clean my windows.
Maybe you’re not looking to be a healer-type person. That doesn’t matter. Because I would bet that what you really want is to feel better and to live your best life.Am I right?
Start within and listen to the guidance of your knowing heart.
P.S. We start by asking ourselves better questions. If you’ve never listened to my podcast, Grieving Voices, the first 12 episodes are a great start! You’ll be doing all sorts of reflecting and asking yourself all kinds of questions as you listen. Take it one step further and grab a notebook and pen and put your thoughts on paper. We can turn our screams into whispers…trust me. (Side Note: “When Screams Turn Into Whispers” is a book title for someone I interviewed for the podcast recently – such a great episode on bipolar disorder that I can’t wait to share)
In this episode, we dig into why this is and, you will learn:
How grief cuts us off from our intuition
Impact of belief systems
The root of unhappiness
8 unhelpful, often hurtful, ways society responds to grievers
Next week, the six myths of grief (and misinformation) will be revealed.
Do you want more content like this? Head on over to Instagram or Facebook, where I share more info just like this, and say hello!
Hey there, welcome to this week’s episode where I will be talking about why and how grief keeps us stuck. If you didn’t catch last week’s episode, I discussed really define grief is probably a definition that you’ve likely never heard. So if you miss that episode, go back to that. And this is the second episode of what I think will be a 10 part series we will see. There’s so much I would love to share. So, it may be more than that, but I’m planning 10 episodes of education around grief.
So let’s get started talking about how and why grief gets us stuck or keeps us stuck rather. In our brain is our intellect like our mind is our intellect. And if we think about like, I often think about like my own intuition is like just not necessarily in my brain. Not in my mind, but kind of like, this intangible force that’s kind of out there in a way like it’s; t’s like it’s the deepest connection to my spirit that I feel – is when I feel like I am fully tapped into my intuition. Now you might be thinking, what in the world does this have to do with grief? And I’ll get to that, but more than you may think. So, we have our intellect; we have our intuition. And then we have within our whole our hearts, our grief energy, right, within our bodies is this emotional energy that we tend to store. Because as you’ll learn I as this series goes on, we either implode or we explode as a result of our emotional energy.
I want to dissect these labels and terms a bit more today. Although I agreed with much of what Pauline Boss shared in the podcast interviews, even more so in the follow-up episode regarding current times, I disagree with the labels.
What is Grief?
Let’s start with the definition of grief in simple terms. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss or any change from what is familiar in life. It is the emotional response to change. It can be defined as a feeling associated with the things we wish might have been different, better, or more in any relationship. Whether it is with a person, a pet, a job, an educational experience, or even a place of residence doesn’t matter. Grief can be a result of unmet hopes, dreams, and expectations in any relationship as well.
Grief can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Some people find that the confusing feelings that grief generates interfere with sleep, while others find it challenging to get up and function after waking up. Some people find that they feel sad or cry over things that never seemed to bother them before. Many find themselves longing for that relationship lost, and others find, especially when they discover that friends seem to be able to offer little meaningful help, that they lose some of their ability to trust others. Some find themselves easily irritated, while others do not have the energy to feel much of anything. For some, the memories leading up to and including the moment of loss overshadow all of their fond memories of that relationship.
Simply stated, grief can be overwhelming! Just as overwhelming can be the labels that are put on grievers and the advice that they are given.
What is Complicated Grief?
In the 1990s, a new term, “complicated grief,” was coined to describe prolonged grief associated with death. The problem with this term is that all grief is complicated in one way or another. The grief each person experiences is influenced by a variety of factors. The intensity of that emotional relationship, the amount of unfinished business in that relationship, and how we try to deal with the pain of the loss are among the primary elements. Since most people have very few effective learned behavior patterns to deal with loss, it is often challenging to deal with the impact of emotional pain. The average person tries to deal with emotions on an intellectual level. The problem is that emotions are not logical and do not respond to intellectual reasoning.
The symptoms of “complicated grief,” according to a Mayo Clinic paper, are the same as those of “normal grief.” The defining element of complicated grief is the duration of these feelings. And, I would ask: how do you feel being assigned a label for your grief simply based on the timeframe you have the feeling that you do? It doesn’t make much sense, does it? Could it even be damaging? Leaving you to feel inadequate or as if there’s something inherently wrong with you because you are “grieving too long?”
A Little Background Information
The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4), from the American Psychiatric Association, set the normal time for grieving at two months. The DSM-5, published in 2013, changed this period to one to two years, indicating that most physicians and grief counselors felt that this time frame was more realistic. The DSM-5 also included the term “complicated grief” as a mental disorder.
Time and Grief
The reality of things is that time, in and of itself, is not a factor in true emotional recovery from loss. Over time, we may become used to living with the pain of loss. As time goes by, most people simply learn to bury their feelings, rather than to take effective action to deal with that pain. Obviously, two years, rather than two months, gives you more time to bury and discount your feelings. If, after an arbitrary amount of time, you have persisting feelings of emotional pain and try to utilize medication to treat the “problem,” you are often just treating the symptoms of grief without actually doing anything to deal with the underlying problem.
How is “Complicated Grief” different that “Normal Grief?”
What defines complicated grief, according to Dr. Katherine Shear at Columbia University, is that it occurs in only a small percentage of grievers. For people that suffer from this problem, their other relationships tend to be very difficult, and they can ultimately have other health issues. Many with this diagnosis lose a purpose for living. The determination of “complicated grief” is most often reserved for those who have a family or personal history of mental health disorders.
What is Ambiguous Loss?
On her website, Pauline Boss states that ambiguous loss differs from ordinary loss in that there is no verification of death or no certainty that the person will come back or return to the way they used to be.
She’s not labeling it, per se, as a type of grief. Instead, these types of losses lead to a certain kind of grief – complicated grief, as mentioned in the podcast interview.
As I listened to Pauline describe a scenario where a woman’s child went missing and applying the label to that loss as “ambiguous,” it had me perplexed on how or why this label is helpful. Does giving it a name help someone whose never experienced it understand it better versus someone who hasn’t? I’ve never had one of my children go missing. I will never understand what that is like until it would happen to me. And even then, if I experience a similar [ambiguous] loss, does that similarity make it easier for the other griever? Does it lessen the pain they feel? Yes, I will be able to empathize in a way others cannot who’ve never experienced that loss; however, it’s grief all the same. And, my relationship with my child is, and always will be, vastly different than anyone else’s relationship to their child who experiences the same type of [ambiguous] loss.
Do you see where this label does nothing for recovery? Whether a loved one goes missing, and we’re left with unanswered questions, or a loved one dies in an instant of unexplainable death, or we watch our loved one mentally deteriorate before our eyes, these all are grief-causing experiences. Adding a label does nothing to help those who experience these kinds of losses other than giving their loss a name. Just like “complicated” grief can be hurtful, so can the label “ambiguous loss” because, truthfully – as a griever, are you going to want to educate others and explain what “ambiguous loss” means? You’re never going to describe a missing loved one as an ambiguous loss. And, in a clinical setting, being told that’s the kind of loss you experienced, does nothing for your recovery either. It neither takes away nor adds.
The dictionary meaning of ambiguous is this: unclear or able to be understood in multiple ways. The word ambiguous alone means unclear. Isn’t that how we feel in grief? Unclear! We are anything but clear-headed in grief, right? And so, to experience an “unclear loss” doesn’t add anything constructive to the experience of a griever, does it?
Therefore, I view “ambiguous loss” as just a factual, intellectual observation about a certain kind of loss. And again, when we start separating and compartmentalized losses, we’re looking at grief from an intellectual viewpoint rather than a heart-centered, feeling one.
These phrases/terms are only more labels for losses and types of grief. And the means of action that need to be taken, regardless of the kind of loss, doesn’t change when it comes to grief recovery with The Grief Recovery Method.
Grief is grief. End of story. There are no labels necessary.There are no timelines that need to be applied to call it by another name. There need not be a certain kind of loss that only creates separation and comparison among grievers – which is anything but helpful.
Does labeling your grief as “complicated” help you recover?
A label alone does not make things better. It is merely a label. Having a member of the psychiatric community assign this label to a griever may give them a reason to give up. Some people, when diagnosed with a mental disorder, will use this for justification as to why they cannot recover.
Does being told you have a particular type of loss help you recover?
No, of course not. Because you’re still going to have the feelings you have. You’re still going to attempt to intellectualize your loss and revert to the lessons you’ve received growing up in how to address grief. The kind of loss experienced does not change the fact that you’ll always return to what you know – unless you have the education and new tools necessary to complete the loss – regardless of the circumstances of the loss.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss.
Since grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss, doesn’t it make better sense to try to take personal responsibility to take effective recovery action, rather than to allow it to control your happiness? Most grievers want to feel better. Even if someone has suggested that you might be suffering from complicated grief, that does not mean you cannot take action to recover from the emotional pain of your loss. Grievers, do not let a label, which may or may not be accurate, keep you in misery.
The reason that people have a difficult time recovering from the pain of emotional loss is that they do not have the tools to take action. “The Grief Recovery Handbook” is a step-by-step action plan for recovery. It starts at the beginning with what you learned in your childhood about dealing with loss and why many of the “tools” learned were ineffective. You’re then given “new” tools to deal with the unfinished business in that relationship. It offers you the opportunity to deal with those things that make remembering painful safely. It will allow you to be able to enjoy your memories and share them with others, rather than finding them overwhelming.
The first loss with which I dealt, using these tools, occurred 30 years earlier. This timeframe is obviously over that two months to a two-year period for “normal grief” to persist. In actuality, I did not realize how much that loss was still impacting my life. I had become used to living with that pain. Once I took effective action with the Grief Recovery Method, I found a whole new level of happiness. As I have taken more action with other relationships, I have found that I now can truly enjoy my memories, rather than being overwhelmed by my losses.
I encourage you to do this, as well. Do not let grief define you! Do not let a label define you! By taking action, those lost relationships don’t have to cause you to revert to painful memories, regret, shame, or any other painful emotions associated with that relationship. It is possible to reflect on lost relationships with warmth in your heart again. And, know too – that if the relationship was anything but pleasant, recovery will allow you to leave those feelings in the past and give you the emotional freedom you seek. I’ve personally experienced both – it is possible.
There is hope. And, from where I sit, society could use a lot more hope and fewer labels.
P.S. Did you know I have a podcast? It’s called Grieving Voices! Every Tuesday, I share educational grief content and, give grievers the time, space, and platform to share their grieving voice. It is my mission that, as a society, we talk about grief like we talk about the weather. Check it out here!
*a portion of this blog post was adapted from The Grief Recovery Method blog.
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