When grievers are dealing with the emotional pain of a loss of any kind, they are constantly bombarded with advice that negatively impacts them. Most professional grief support providers know better than to say many of these things. The problem is that the vast majority of people trying to support them have no professional training. Their immediate friends try to be helpful, but just do not have the best information at their disposal to provide meaningful support.
Many of us have been told what not to say to grievers. The problem with a list of “don’ts” is that it is easy to forget. The reality is that things sometimes pop out of our mouths before we think of how those comments might be perceived. Rather than offering a list, we will be looking at a few of those comments and explain why they can be painful to the griever.
Please keep in mind that there is an enormous difference between “intention” and “perception”. Most people never intend to upset those grieving by offering advice. They are desperately trying to provide help and support. The problem arises in how the griever perceives the comment. Grievers have a reduced sense of concentration and may be highly sensitive to what they hear. Things that they might normally dispute or ignore can cut like a knife to the heart. That is why these well-intentioned remarks need to be avoided.
“Get Over It!”
No caring person wants to see another suffering. We naturally want them to feel better! After an arbitrary amount of time, many think that the passage of that time should somehow make a difference in how the griever is responding to their loss. This is frequently when people tell them that they need to “Get over it!” The reality is that when something major happens in our lives, we never “get over” it. The memories of that event will be with us forever. With the proper education and assistance, we can learn to “survive and thrive” in spite of that event.
Telling someone to get over it is often perceived as telling that person that the loss they experienced is not significant enough that it should continue to impact their life. If that loss was significant enough to cause grief, it will continue to impact their life on some level. The degree of impact is not controlled by time. Time only passes by and sets that emotional pain into place as part of their “new normal”. When that happens, not only does the griever not get over it, but rather continues to live that pain silently. They start stuffing their feelings to avoid hearing this painful suggestion again and again.
A far better thing to do is to let them know that it is possible to take grief recovery action to lessen that emotional pain. By taking such action, they will be able, once again, to enjoy the many positive memories of that relationship.
“I know how your feeling…”
No one knows how anyone else feels over their loss. It does not matter if you have had a very similar loss. You may remember how you felt after your loss, but that does not mean that you have a clue about what is going on inside this griever. Their feelings are based on their personal relationship, which is obviously different than the relationship that you grieved. When grievers hear people say this, they know it is not the truth.
For the griever experiencing the very personal emotional pain of their individual loss, hearing people continually say these words, as a means of comfort, can eventually result in anger and disbelief on a level similar to what is experienced. To make matters worse, even members of their own family, who have experienced the same loss, do not really know how others in that family are feeling.
If you have experienced a similar loss, it is better to say, “I know how it felt to me when I was dealing with _____, but how are you doing right now?” If you ask this, be willing to listen to their answer, without analysis, criticism, or judgment. Understand that there is little you can say at that moment to make this better. If you have not had a similar loss, but want to say something, you might begin with, “I can’t begin to imagine what you are going through at this time…” and invite them to tell you how they are feeling.
“They are in a better place…”
Even if you knew the deceased and are certain of this family’s faith convictions, this may or may not reflect what they are thinking. Furthermore, that person may be in a better place, but that does not make the loss any less emotionally painful, because the family is stuck here and has to deal with everything in “this place”.
The reality of things is that a person who is deeply grieving a death and constantly hearing this from others might possibly consider suicide so that they can join that person in that “better place.” This is obviously a worse case emotional response. If the family’s faith involves belief in an afterlife, they do not need constant reminders. If they are not people who hold this as part of their personal faith, it is a comment that holds no value for them.
“You shouldn’t feel bad because…”
Emotional loss is painful. Telling people why they should not feel sad does little to change that pain. If anything, they may begin to feel bad about the fact they are experiencing pain. No matter what reason you may have to offer on why they should not feel bad, it has very little impact on their level of emotional pain.
The perception of many grievers, on hearing this, is that their personal pain is not something that matters.
“You must be feeling…”
Grief can be very much like being on a roller coaster. The feelings associated with any grieving experience can, at times, be overwhelming. At other moments, the griever may feel relatively at peace with their situation. The problem, for those trying to offer support, is that we can never truly know where they are on this emotional ride. No matter what you think, you never really know how they are feeling and to suggest that you do, can easily be taken as another example of “I know how you feel”.
Grievers get very tired of people telling them how to feel. If you suggest that they are feeling sad, and at that moment they are not, they may now feel bad for not feeling what you suggested their feeling should be.
It is, again, far better to invite them to share their feelings instead.
“You shouldn’t feel guilty…”
Grievers may or may not feel bad about some of the choices they have made. Suggesting, before they say anything, that they should not feel guilty, frequently makes them think of all of the reasons why they should feel guilty. Many grievers never associated their feelings of loss with guilt until someone suggested that they should not feel guilty.
Introducing the concept of feeling guilty encourages the griever to feel that they are somehow responsible for the loss. This is rarely the case.
If on their own, grievers tell you that they are feeling guilty, it might be helpful to ask them if they are instead thinking of things they wish might have been different, better, or more in that relationship. If they say yes to this, you might begin to talk about the Grief Recovery Method actions they can take to better express and deal with those feelings.
“You should be grateful for…”
Grievers sometime perceive this as another way of discounting the honest pain they are feeling. While they might feel grateful that their loved one is no longer suffering, that does not mean that they, the griever, are not suffering.
“It was God’s will…” or “God never gives us more than we can handle…”
I have heard this expression passed on to grievers more times than I can begin to count. This may or may not reflect their personal religious belief.
This comment sometimes causes people to question their personal faith in a God that would “take their loved one from them.” Children can be particularly sensitive to this comment. In a number of situations, I have heard a friend or clergy member tell a child that “God needs your Daddy more than you!” While this is meant to be comforting, that is rarely the case. These children are often left questioning their relationship with their faith.
“They led a full life…”
This may be true, but many of us wish that we still had more time to share.
As with many statements that people make to grievers, this one is based on an element of logic. The problem is that grief is emotional and not logical. It speaks to their head, rather than their heart. As a result, it offers little or no comfort.
“You need to keep busy…”
Keeping busy does keep our minds occupied, but it does little to relieve the emotional pain of loss. When the busy work ends, the pain is still there. It is not uncommon for grievers to keep themselves busy to the point of exhaustion. They continue to repeat this cycle over and over, thinking that on some level, it will help them get beyond their emotional pain.
Keeping busy solves nothing. It is not helpful advice. Grievers would be better served with being offered recovery actions to help them move beyond the loss, rather than just being offered busy work, which encourages them to stuff their feelings.
Most of these statements and comments are things that all of us have heard other people say when we were growing up. If you think back to your childhood when adults told you to get over it and other bits of unhelpful advice, those comments likely did not make anything better. Since you heard these things from the people you trusted, you very likely still tried to make them work for your situation. It was not until I took advanced training in helping grievers that I have finally realized that they had become part of my belief system growing up, too, and that I needed to avoid falling back on repeating them to grievers.
As a grief support professional, my goal is to help grievers move through and beyond the emotional pain of loss. There is a high probability that others have encouraged you, intentionally or unintentionally, to hide your feelings.
The greatest gift you can give anyone grieving is to listen with your heart and not your head. Allow all emotions to be expressed without judgment, criticism, or analysis.
*This post is adapted from Stephen Moeller, Grief Recovery Specialist, for the Grief Recovery Method blog.*
When was the last time you had a fantastic day where it felt like nothing could take the wind out of your sails? You didn’t spend hours being upset about something; where even mother nature provided a goldilocks-kind-of-day to enjoy. Most of us have to think real hard about this question. Because life isn’t perfect, right? And rarely do we have a day that feels as such. Or, is it how we’re choosing to see it? Furthermore, is how we see our days being influenced by the grief we store in our hearts?
Consider, too, for a moment the grief we store in our hearts and then add on our political climate with opposing views, often among family members. Then, tack on our home climate – is it chaotic, frenzied, harmful, or so busy you would forget to be if it weren’t for your phone (this has been me, too, no shame).
Is it any wonder we’re stressed out to the max? Add on the demands of life and life events that occur that are beyond our control and our bodies become the perfect incubators for disease.
I tend to feel drained by heavily social situations and I also tend to take on the negative energy of others, if I’m not mindful. Meditation is wonderful for a mental recharge/reset but how you prevent it is where I was looking forward to hearing her insight. She said that we cannot attach to the outcome and that where the energy is at in others is not our business. It’s a practice of mindfulness; witnessing the energy of others, acknowledging that that is their current experience, and noticing what is going in our own energy space. And then it’s a matter of choosing to not allow ourselves to get into negative energy and doing whatever we can to elevate our own (to put our oxygen mask on first).
Some Things You Can Do to Shift Your Energy Quickly
Remove yourself from the presence of the situation/person.
Saying a prayer or an affirmation to yourself. For example, I am in charge of my thoughts. I decide how I want to feel. God/Angels/Universe, help me to see this situation differently.
Taking a walk in nature is a wonderful mind/body reset, too.
Meditation, as previously mentioned. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. Even 10 minutes helps! Recently, I learned of a neat technique through a young girl’s youth program in which I’m a mentor. Sit on the floor, put a hand in front of you on the floor with your fingers spread out. With eyes open or closed, take the index finger of your other hand and, starting at the base of your thumb, trace your fingers all the way around your hand, breathing in as you trace your finger moving up and exhaling as you trace your finger down. It’s a very effective calming technique and because you’re focusing on your breathing, it’s also a quick meditation practice that’s easy enough for kids and adults alike that may have never meditated or have tried it but found it challenging. Quieting the mind is hard; however, the point is to focus on deep, belly breathing. Thoughts will come and go and that’s okay. Always come back to your breath; you can’t do it wrong. It may be helpful, too, to count up to 8 in your head as you inhale, and while exhaling, count down from 8.
Listen to uplifting music.
Read positive quotes.
Watch some animal/baby YouTube videos. Seriously, this works. A good laugh is good for the soul.
Reframe the situation. What is one positive thing you can say about what you’ve experienced? What has the experience taught you? How can you carry that lesson moving forward?
The above are generic suggestions for shifting energy quickly. Life is full of challenges and this is not an attempt to simplify or minimize those challenges. Take what is helpful and ditch the rest. It’s a matter of cleaning up our side of the energy space. We are all energy. And, thoughts are energy, too. Thoughts become feelings and feelings become actions. And we back it all up with energy.
Back when I went to Austin, TX for my grief recovery certification training, I mentioned in this blog post meeting a new friend who is a Buddhist. We have kept in touch and recently we had a conversation about how to not take on the energy of others and we discussed the aforementioned. My friend went on to provide a beautiful analogy of our spirit/inner-light. She told me to imagine myself as a candle – “you are a light,” she said. She went on to explain that when you take one candle to light another, the first candle doesn’t get dimmer, rather, it burns just as bright – it’s not losing anything. So, when you’re sharing your light with others freely (without holding on to a certain outcome), similarly like a candle, your light is not extinguished and it’s then allowed the light of others to burn brightly, too. I just found that to be a beautiful analogy for the human spirit. We don’t have to feel like we’re losing a part of ourselves (and giving up our energy) when we help others burn brightly. Rather, we take care of and nurture our (inner) light so we can help others.
Sharing My Light So YOU Can Burn More Brightly
Wednesday night, I gave my last talk before I was planning to start my first Grief Recovery Group. I came into it with a ton of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement! I had two people show up that weren’t even from the community and I left with the same energy, enthusiasm, and excitement – not for me – for them. Why? Because they took action and showed up for themselves. They are tired of the grief weighing on their hearts and lives and have decided to do something about it. I admire them for it because it takes courage. All the while, my heart is sad for those who feel that the pain is more deserving of their heart than the love that is locked away because it’s unable to be fully expressed.
Over the last five weeks or so, I’ve given three talks in three different communities. The first talk had 2 people in attendance. The next talk had 1 person. And the last talk, as I mentioned, 2 showed up. I know there are a lot more than 4-5 grievers out there within a 45-minute drive of me. I know there are.
It is so common that few show up to these talks at the beginning that I was forewarned. Yup, my mentors at The Grief Recovery Institute told me this would happen! Perhaps you wanted to come but you had prior obligations or you had an emergency. I get that things happen. No worries. Who I am directly talking to right now are those who know they’re hurting, whose hearts told them to put their shoes on but whose minds talked them out of it. Because I know that’s exactly what was happening and what I was told would happen.
We all reach the end of our ropes at some point. Perhaps your hurting heart is just not there yet. And, that’s okay. There is no timeline to grief because truthfully, you’ll never be rid of it. Never. The love has nowhere to go when you’ve lost the one you were giving it to. However, it is possible to think of your loved one and not be taken back to the deep grief you’re currently feeling. It is possible to think of your loved one and remember the happy times more than all the things you never got to say, wish you would’ve said, or all the memories you’ll never share again. It’s living alongside grief. It’s actually living – moving forward beyond the grief that is possible.
I can’t want this for you more than you want it for yourself. If this resonates with you and you feel a tug in your heart to join those who’ve decided to take this journey of healing, you have until Wednesday, May 29th, at the latest to join. We actually start next Wednesday, the 22nd, however, week 2 is the cut-off date. After this 8-week group, I don’t know when the next group will be held.
Will you choose to heal? If not now, when? If not this, then what?
P.S. If you would like more info or would like to begin your healing journey next week, email me directly at victoria [at] theunleashedheart [dot] com OR reach out via Facebook messenger on my page, The Unleashed Heart.
Dr. Phil once said, “you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” I believe we’d all agree with that statement.
So, if we’d all agree with that statement, why do we deny when it’s our own shit that’s keeping us stuck or getting in the way of our lives? Why do we treat grief like it’s an elephant in the room that’s obviously present but no one wants to talk about?
We’re Not Taught the How
Lately, I’ve contemplated the narrative that all you need is prayer; that prayer alone will get you through whatever pains you. So, I’m taking this opportunity to present another perspective through the lens of someone (myself) where prayer alone wasn’t enough. Faith is one thing. That’s not what I’m talking about. Because, without faith, I simply don’t think we’d take certain actions in our lives. What I’m talking about is the action of prayer alone getting us through – being the how – we get through difficult times.
Let me ask you this: How is prayer alone working for you? Be completely honest with yourself; remember what Dr. Phil said.
Prayer alone wasn’t enough for me. I believed I had plenty of faith to go around. I believed that if I would journal on God’s word enough, read enough scripture, listened to the Bible app faithfully in the background of my life, that I would have some sort of epiphany and be healed of my sorrows. So much so, I got a “Let Go Let God” tattoo on the inside of my right wrist. All you need to do is give it to God and he’ll do the rest, right? Wrong.
Maybe you relate to this. Maybe you’re struggling right now in your faith [in God] because you feel abandoned (as I did for many years). Perhaps you feel like you’re not Christian enough, therefore, there is no hope for you.
It’s OK to Not Be OK
I want to share this message with specifically you today and anyone who has convinced themselves their OK because they have faith and prayer. To drive this message home, I am going to use an example I pray never happens but one that I know many will relate to and one I’ve personally experienced watching my father fade away due to cancer (passing away only four years older than I am now).
I proposed this example to my husband because I wanted to know his feelings on the matter, but in the back of my mind, I also wanted to drive this point home to him and that I want to share with you today.
Hypothetically, I am diagnosed with cancer. It’s terminal and there is nothing more that can be done. I asked my husband if he felt he would be drawn closer to God [in prayer] or if there would be a part of him that would want to retreat and pull away (which is a natural response, by the way). He said he would pray harder; he would pray more than he’d ever prayed. And I replied with: And I died anyway. “Don’t you think,’ I said, ‘you would have a difficult time reconciling that in your heart?” This is what we experience and struggle with because we are human. There is nothing wrong with us. However, given that we’re all going to die someday and we have no way of knowing how; I want to share that, for most of us, prayer is and never will be – enough. And, I believe people often use their faith or prayer as a way of convincing themselves they’re doing just fine. I know I’m not the only one who has done this. Perhaps you’re identifying with doing this right now in your life?
For God to do His work in our hearts, we first need to sweep our side of the street; we need to do the inner-work. Then, and only then, are we able to give our hearts fully to Him and to others in our lives; loving with our whole hearts – not just the broken bits we’re desperately trying to super-glue back together and hope it holds. But life rolls on, right? Crap rolls downhill and snowballs and adds up in our hearts.
Resolving the Unresolved
By holding on to the familiarity of pain, we’re not fully living in joy either. God is joy. God is love. Until we resolve the unresolved, we’re not able to fully step into who we are, what we feel, and what we wish to contribute in this life. We’re all walking around a little shattered inside.
So, when I am snubbed by the faithful when I say that the Grief Recovery Method (GRM) isn’t faith-based, I’m partially telling a lie. It’s true that there are no scripture readings in the program. It’s true there isn’t open prayer during the program meetings. It’s also true that God is not shoved down your throat in the program, too. However, the message I really want to get across when I share about GRM, is that it’s you doing the inner-work, so He can do His. It is transformational, not in the way of conversion, but in the way of self-love, self-acceptance, emotional resilience…all the things God wishes for us. So, I guess in that way it is faith-based. Faith in knowing we are fully supported. Faith in knowing that God places people in our lives at just the right time. Faith that there is hope…even on the darkest of days.
That which is holding you down can become a powerful force that raises you up. You just have to be willing to take the ascent.
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One of my favorite shows (in fact, I DVR it) is CBS Sunday Morning. This past Sunday, there was a story about a man who receives people’s secrets on postcards. Secrets that many would otherwise likely take to their grave. It’s gained so much traction, there are exhibitions of the postcard secrets. It’s an amazing example of how one idea can change your life.
Anyway, it got me thinking about grief being a result of a secret or maybe many secrets. We tend to hold the most painful things closest to our hearts and the postcard secrets is a beautiful outlet for people to give their grief a voice.
A Grief Wish in a Bottle
If I told you to write a message of truth about your grief on a piece of paper, put it in a bottle, and throw it into the ocean – what would you have it say? What do you wish others knew about your grief? What would be your S.O.S. or your grief wish?
Like the gentlemen said in the postcard secret story (at around 3 minutes 45 seconds) about how keeping a secret keeps hold of us; I believe grief keeps hold of us, too. We hold ourselves back from our lives in work, love, relationships, and our potential. Our growth is hindered and our perspective shifted in a new, unrecognizable way that we’re afraid to step into our lives fully because it’s a path we didn’t choose.
You may be reading and thinking that you don’t have grief. You may not have experienced an emotional loss of any kind (which is grief). Although I believe that is highly unlikely, perhaps the word secret resonates with you more?
What is your secret? Does this secret cause you grief? I bet it has and maybe still does. Know that that is normal and natural. And also know that it’s not weak to ask for help – it takes courage.
Fear & Grief
You may be afraid to open the windows and doors of your mind and heart, letting all the grief out because what if changes you? Well, grief changed you, right? And that wasn’t your choice. You have a choice, though, now – in how you move forward and what is written in your life story moving forward.
You may be afraid to let go of the familiar feeling grief has provided you, somehow making you feel connected to what you lost. But know that it’s the resistance of letting go of the grief that is keeping you in the past, too. Grief may have changed you, but it doesn’t need to define you for the rest of your life.
My wish for you is that you can look back on what you’ve lost and rather than be pulled back into the feelings of the loss and allow it to dictate the present, instead, inner-peace washes over you about how far you’ve come. Rather than the positive memories being overtaken by the negative, you command the driver’s seat of the present – in how you feel, what you know to be true, and the internal perspective of the grief you choose to give focus to.
Inner-peace: that’s my wish for you.
P.S. Feel like sharing your grief wish? What do you wish others knew about your grief? What is it, about your grief, you need to get off your chest? You can email directly at victoria [at] theunleashedheart [dot] com. No reply will be given unless requested – this is simply for you to put to words what you wish you could say (or scream) out loud and will be read by my eyes only. Or hey, maybe find a place in nature and do just that. Call it an exercise in grief release.
The title of my post is the question I have for you today: Do you believe you’re worthy of healing?
Your first reaction may be, ‘of course, I do.’ Or, you may be asking yourself: What kind of question is that? But how many of us act on it – even if we’re convinced we do deserve healing? Not enough; kids today are still learning the default setting we’re passing along.
Give it some thought, though – really. Do you believe you’re worthy of healing? When you’re on pain island and would give anything to be on pleasure island, what action would you take? What would you sacrifice to get to where you’d rather be than in the depths of pain you may be in right now? What would it take?
It is not uncommon for women especially, to put the oxygen mask on everyone else around us before ourselves.
What happens though, when everyone you’ve sacrificed yourself for to thrive, look at you one day and you’re all tapped out – you’ve got nothing left to give?
The “G” Word
But, what is guilt?
Guilt is an intent to do harm. But, you didn’t intend to do harm did you?
Based on a Canadian study, by the time we are 15-years-old, we’ve heard more than 23,000 messages that are negative about expressing any kind of sad, painful emotions. We’re taught, through this influenced learning, that it’s a negative thing to have feelings in the first place by how adults around us are modeling ways they negatively handle painful emotions.
Once we reach adulthood, we don’t know any better. All of the conditioning we’ve received becomes our default setting. So when life happens, and we experience significant emotional losses, we neither know what to do about nor if healing is even possible. More importantly, we push away our feelings and by doing so, we’re sending ourselves the message that we’re not worthy of healing. Because, whether you’re choosing to stay in the pain or choosing to make a commitment to healing your heart – either way, you’re making a choice.
Where would you rather be – pain or pleasure island?
You are worthy of healing. Always and forevermore.
P.S. If you’re in my area in south-central ND, I have two free talks coming up this coming week about grief and an introduction to The Grief Recovery Method. I hope you can join me! 🙂
Every 12.8 seconds someone completes suicide. Every year, more than 600,000 kids experience foster care. And, 1 in 20 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling before age 18 (this may be higher). Add on the statistics for the death of spouse or child, divorce, miscarriage, loss of a pet, all the intangible losses (loss of trust, for example), and all of the more than 40 losses – I’d say grief is a pretty big deal. Agree? Also, the economic cost is over $75 billion annually, too. And moreover, the medical costs associated with grief as well. It’s all staggering! Grief is quite the bully, isn’t it?
Grief costs us all. Aside from the obvious costs, we also lose time; of being able to be present in our lives. Especially in the early days of grief, where the days run together and life around moves on but you feel like you’re stuck in some parallel universe, watching life all around you sail by.
We are robbed of so much when we’re feeling lost in our feelings and resist giving them a voice. The feelings seem to have nowhere to go or we don’t know what to do with them all when they rush in. So to cope, we stuff them down and bury them or turn to things to occupy our time and minds (alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, exercise, workaholism, etc.). Unless we’re blessed to have a heart with ears (listening ear) that doesn’t attempt to fix and hold space for us, then we isolate. And, I think eventually cut ourselves off from others regardless, because we have this notion that others get sick of hearing the story, right? Get on with it! Get over it! It’s been 2 years, you should be over it by now. Even if no one ever speaks these words, you feel them. I know these words well. Thirty years – you’d think I’d be over it by now, too. And there it is – a myth about grief that time heals all wounds. Time does nothing but pass, friends. Time doesn’t heal squat. It’s the action you take within time that makes the difference – nothing else.
You know what grief has cost you. I don’t need to tell you. You feel it and know it well within your heart; you just haven’t articulated it out loud. Because acknowledging out loud what grief has cost you will mean you’re in the position of awareness. You then have a choice to make – ignore it and go on with your buried grief feelings or the hard choice – face those feelings head-on.
Only you know when the time is right for you to move beyond your grief. Just make sure you’re not holding on to what is familiar out of fear.
“…As a seed buried in the earth cannot imagine itself as an orchid or hyacinth, neither can a heart packed with hurt imagine itself loved or at peace. The courage of the seed is that once cracked; it cracks all the way.” – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
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