Some of the most “put together” people find their way to grief recovery. They look good, sound good, and they try their damnedest to convince us (and themselves) they are feeling good. When we meet people who’ve recently experienced a loss, we ask them how they’re doing. Typically, the answer is the same: “I’m fine.”
Do you like to be lied to? Of course, no one likes to be lied to. But, have you lied about your feelings following sad or painful events? It is sad to know that we’ve been taught to lie about our feelings for fear of being judged or criticized.
The danger of “I’m fine” is that it does not help the broken heart. Saying “I’m fine” merely distracts us and others, while pain and loneliness persist on the inside. The net effect is to create a scab over an infection, leaving a mess underneath.
Unresolved grief consumes a tremendous amount of energy. The grief stays buried under the surface, and only the symptoms are treated. And many people, including mental health professionals, misunderstand the fact that unresolved loss is cumulative and cumulatively negative.
Our energy is most efficient when our minds and bodies are in harmony. Unresolved grief tends to separate us from ourselves. I look back on 2014 now and I am fully aware that I was separated from myself. Have you ever been driving down the road and suddenly realize you’re a few miles from where you last had an awareness of where you were? It’s as if your body wasn’t even driving the car. You were in your head, having a conversation with someone who wasn’t even in the car!
As we continue depleting our energy, we lose our sense of vitality and spontaneity. And, as time goes on, you fall into the trap of quiet desperation – sometimes feeling good, sometimes feeling bad, but never being able to return to a state of full happiness and joy. Each time a loss is not completed, there is a cumulative restriction on our aliveness. Life becomes something to endure and, because of misinformation, we never had a fair chance to deal effectively with the loss events in our lives.
You may have tried any number of ways, as I did, to try to improve your sense of happiness and well-being. Therapy, religious or spiritual beliefs, or even twelve-step programs may have provided valuable insights and tools. And yet, as I did, still have a lingering sense that you are incomplete with your past, a feeling that, in turn, diminishes your hopes about the future.
The Grief Recovery Method, established by John James, a Vietnam Veteran, had lost his newborn son and, following that loss, his marriage fell apart. He had searched for something that could help him, all the while, many people with good intentions, said unhelpful (even hurtful) things. Combined with the misinformation about grief we’re raised with, John reached a breaking point. On the beach by the Pacific Ocean, he had a gun to his head and had every intention of completing suicide, when a question came to mind he had never before considered. He asked himself: “What do I wish had been here for me?”
It was then, The Grief Recovery Method began to take shape and the book, The Grief Recovery Handbook, was written, followed by the other books and programs (Helping Children with Loss and Pet Loss programs) that now transform lives internationally.
This beautifully written program is rooted in hope. It is written by a griever for grievers – regardless of religion, race, or anything else.
What do you wish was there for you? Perhaps, like John discovered, and, I, too discovered – a program that takes an emotional loss, turns it upside down and inside out, provides hope, and guides you through action steps that enable you to live in the present moment – more fully. It is a gift, to give yourself, that keeps on giving.
Would you agree that the victim mentality seems to be almost epidemic in our society? If the word victim seems a bit harsh, how about we swap it for helpless. Who here heard, during your childhood statements like: “Don’t do that, you’ll make your father angry” or “You make mommy feel so proud.” If we pick apart those statements, there is the suggestion that someone “makes” someone else feel something. A “victim” foundation is laid with the idea that other people are the chief architects of our feelings. Children quickly realize that if they have the power to make dad or mom feel something, then dad or mom can make them feel something, too.
Digging more deeply into who is responsible for feelings, we have to understand something referred to in psychology called the basic action chain.
This formula explains how and why we respond to things as we do. It’s made up of four basic elements:
First is the stimulus: something that we sense that starts the process. Any stimulus is “neutral” until you give it a positive, negative or no value whatsoever.
If that stimulus is strong enough, it causes you to generate a thought, which is what gives it value.
If that thought is strong enough, it may generate a feeling.
If that feeling is strong enough to reach a saturation point, it will cause you to take some kind of action. It might be to run, cry, laugh, scream or any number of different things.
If you look at this formula, it all comes down to the thoughts that you generate in response to that initial stimulus. It’s common to hear people say, “He made me mad!” If how you feel is in response to your very own thoughts, it makes this statement impossible! The other person may have given your reasons to be mad, but ultimately that decision was your own choice.
Most of us have spent a lifetime blaming others for what we do and how we feel. It’s certainly easier to blame others rather than take personal responsibility for our feelings and actions. As adults, we can make choices about how much power we wish to give to others regarding our happiness. This formula also tells us that if we really want to feel better, we can use our thoughts to take positive action for ourselves! This is a powerful example we can be for children and teens.
Perhaps the best action you can take, as part of moving forward, is learning how to forgive others, rather than letting them control you. This might sound strange or even impossible. Ultimately, it comes down to understanding that forgiving someone has absolutely nothing to do with condoning their actions! It’s purposefully and a rightfully selfish action on your part to take back control over your happiness!
Forgiveness is an action. It’s something that we chose to do because we are tired of being the one that continues to suffer because of something someone else did to us. As is often the case, the “wronged” party is the only one that continues to suffer. The other person is either blissfully unaware of it or enjoys the power that you have given them to influence your feelings. Once you have taken the action of forgiveness, you are in a far better position to once again take back control over your life.
How to Take Back Control of Your Happiness
First and foremost, the other person is not part of this process! Forgiveness during the grieving process is an action that you are taking on your own. This is not something you do “with” them, but something that you are doing for yourself. If you try to involve them or make them directly a part of the process, it can often lead to more problems and arguments.
Since you cannot go back in time to change the past, forgiveness is about giving up the hope of a different or better yesterday. It’s about acknowledging those things that another did or said that caused pain and making the decision that you are not going to let that hurt or control you anymore.
Forgiveness can be very empowering. It can give you the chance to be free of another person’s emotional control. It has nothing to do with the other person. As previously mentioned, it is something that is for you and you alone.
Implementing a Plan
Let’s use an example to illustrate this. The Grief Recovery Method is all about taking action to recover from painful events. Let’s say a teen experiences his first break-up. The emotional pain associated with a breakup is actually a form of grief. The concept of putting “forgiveness” to work is an important element of this process. It’s this approach that distinguishes The Grief Recovery Method from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other approaches. This method is about dealing with grief as an emotion, rather than as an intellectual problem. After all, that is what grief is: grief is an emotion!
Successfully moving forward, after the breakup of a relationship, involves taking action for your happiness. Learning how to forgive is a vital part of that process. Failure to take the needed actions, to move beyond that emotional pain associated with the relationship, can get in the way of teens (and adults) being successful in the next relationship.
Another example to illustrate the point of responsibility for feelings is a true story about a preschool class of four-year-olds where one of the teachers was absent. The curious children asked where the other teacher was and the response the teacher gave was “You children were so bad last Friday, and did not listen, so Ms. X had to stay home and rest because of you.”
The consequence of that phrase was that one student didn’t want to go to school the next day because the student believed he had made the other teacher sick.
Teachers, like parents, are powerful influence sources in the minds and hearts of children. You or I may be able to dismiss ideas with which we do not agree, but children will hear the words of teachers and parents as gospel.
Change the Language
To accurately communicate the responsibility of feelings, rather than saying “You really make me angry,” restructure the sentence to “I am angry.” By doing so, you are taking responsibility for your reaction to the other person’s words or action.
This can be one of the most powerful lessons we can teach children. We must become aware of our use of the idea of others causing us to feel. As we change our language, the children will change, too.
You can change the feelings you create. You are responsible for your own happiness – don’t make others. Besides, that’s a lot of power and pressure to put on someone else, isn’t it?
P.S. Interested in joining me, and other hurting hearts for a transformational experience? I’m starting my next group this coming week! Details HERE!