Coping With Grief
Grief, a universal emotion that no one wants to experience, but is part of our human existence. It's a journey that most of us will inevitably find ourselves on, often at the most unexpected moments. When we lose a loved one, it's like the ground beneath our feet suddenly shifts, leaving us in a state of emotional turmoil. That being said, grief can also be felt at other moments and isn't limited to the loss of a loved one.
In this blog post, we'll explore the concept of grief, how it's a normal human emotion, the stages of grief, and how therapy can be a vital resource to help individuals find healthier ways to cope.
Grief is a complex, multifaceted emotion that arises in response to loss. It's a natural and necessary process that allows us to mourn and adapt to the profound changes that loss brings. This loss could be the death of a loved one, the end of a significant relationship, a major life transition, or even the loss of one's sense of self. While the experience of grief is universal, the way we each experience, conceptualize, and navigate it is unique. Grief doesn't have a fixed timeline or a one-size-fits-all manual; it's a highly individualized experience. This could also be why many people express a lurking feeling of loneliness when they are grieving; it's an emotion that not everyone relates to in the same manner.
The Stages of Grief
Grief often follows a set of stages or phases, originally outlined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her seminal work, "On Death and Dying." These stages are not necessarily experienced in a linear or predictable order, and some individuals may skip stages or revisit them multiple times. The stages of grief are:
Denial: Initially, many people experience shock and denial, where they may struggle to accept the reality of their loss. This can serve as a protective mechanism to process the pain gradually.
Anger: As the reality of the loss sets in, individuals might feel a surge of anger. This anger can be directed at others, themselves, or even at the person who has passed.
Bargaining: In this stage, people often attempt to make deals or bargains in their minds to reverse or change the circumstances of the loss. It's a way of seeking control in a situation where control has been lost.
Depression: The feelings of sadness and despair that come with loss are central to the depressive stage of grief. This stage can be particularly difficult and may involve isolation, withdrawal, and feelings of hopelessness.
Acceptance: Ultimately, the goal is to reach a place of acceptance. It's important to note that acceptance does not mean forgetting or "getting over" the loss but rather learning to live with it and integrate it into one's life.
Negative Ways of Grieving
Grief can manifest in various ways, and it's essential to recognize that not all coping mechanisms are healthy. It's important to note that some of these negative ways of grieving are also part of the stages of grief. In this section we are focusing on the long term effects of being "stuck" in that stage. Here are a few examples:
Denial: Some people may refuse to accept the reality of their loss, which can hinder their ability to process their emotions. Remaining in denial can create an energy draining vortex as the person attempts to maintain their false sense of reality.
Isolation: Isolating oneself and withdrawing from friends and family can exacerbate the feelings of loneliness and sadness. It's important to note that isolation is different from spending moments alone. For some people it may be beneficial to process their emotions in small moments of solitude. It becomes problematic when these "moments" become too frequent and when a person begins to refuse to be around friends and family.
Substance Abuse: Turning to alcohol or drugs as a means of self-medication to numb the pain is a dangerous way of coping. It could look like drinking a whole bottle of wine so that you can sleep at night instead of just having your regular glass with a meal. Substance abuse can also lead to risky or unsafe behaviors in attempt to drown out negative emotions.
Anger: Grief can often manifest as anger, which can be directed towards others or inward, leading to self-destructive behavior. Anger is also a natural human emotion that people experience from time to time. It can quickly become problematic when your anger prevents you from moving forward emotionally.
Bottling Up Emotions: Suppressing emotions can lead to long-term psychological and physical health issues. There have been many studies done to prove that emotions can take a physical toll on your body and leave lasting emotional scars. Bottling emotions causes harm to yourself, and could potentially cause harm to others. Imagine a bottle of soda being shaken and when the cap is released the contents explode all over creating a mess to clean up. When bottled emotions finally get a release, much like the soda, we can explode and create a larger mess than we began with which harms not only ourselves but the people around us.
The Importance of Therapy
Therapy offers a safe and supportive space for individuals to explore their grief in a healthy and constructive way. Here's why therapy is an essential resource for those dealing with the loss of a loved one:
Normalization: Therapy helps normalize the grieving process. It reassures individuals that what they're feeling is a natural response to a significant loss, reducing feelings of isolation. Sometimes it's helpful to know that you aren't alone in your thoughts and feelings and to be reminded that grief is a natural process.
Healthy Coping Strategies: Therapists can help individuals develop healthier coping strategies to deal with their grief, replacing negative behaviors with more positive ones. Sometimes it's easy to get stuck into a negative cycle of unhealthy behaviors. Meeting with a therapist can give you the gentle push that you need to put a stop to avoidant behaviors and deal with your emotions in a healthy manner.
Emotional Expression: Therapy provides a platform for individuals to express their emotions without judgment, facilitating healing and self-understanding. Again, grief isn't going to look the same for everyone especially as it relates to emotions. Each person has their own viewpoints and perspectives that shape them into the people they are. Being able to freely express your emotions without judgment can be empowering and freeing.
Grief Education: Therapists can educate individuals about the stages of grief and the different ways it can manifest, helping them understand their own process better. Sometimes it's helpful to gain a different perspective and be educated on the 'process' of grief. It can be comforting to know that what you are experiencing isn't 'crazy' or 'abnormal'.
Support and Connection: Therapy offers a connection with a trained professional who can offer support and guidance, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness. Humans are social creatures and we all have an innate desire to feel comforted and accepted. This is especially true when we are feeling vulnerable and emotionally distraught. Finding support in a therapist or a grief-group can be a healthy reminder that what you are going through matters and you don't have to do it alone.
Grief is Unique
One crucial aspect of grief that therapy often highlights is that it is entirely unique to each individual. There is no "right" way to grieve, and there's no timeline for when the process should be complete. It's not something that you can "get over" but something you learn to live with, adapting to the new reality of your life. Therapy is a resource that respects the individuality of each person's grief journey, providing guidance and support tailored to their specific needs.
In the face of grief, therapy is a beacon of hope, offering a lifeline to those who feel adrift in their emotions. It normalizes the grieving process, helps individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms, and provides a supportive, non-judgmental space for healing. Grief looks different for everyone, but with the help of therapy, individuals can find their unique path towards recovery, learning to live with the memories of their loved ones rather than just the pain of their loss. If you or someone you know is experiencing grief, consider reaching out to a therapist for support and guidance during this challenging journey.