Most people have no concept of the overpowering nature of grief until they face it on a personal level. They most likely encountered family or friends who were grieving and wondered why they were so upset, because they had no concept of the emotional pain these people were experiencing.
Grief is a very individual and personal emotion. Much of this pain is a factor of the things we might have wished had been different, better, or more in that relationship. It is also impacted by the dreams and expectations of a future that is now going to be very different than we had expected.
Here are 3 reasons why grief is so challenging and some suggestions on how to deal with it.
1. We were never taught how to deal with the emotional pain of loss.
This is a subject that we have covered in previous articles in some detail. Most of us have spent a lifetime learning how to get things, but we were never taught anything on an emotional value when it comes to losing them.
Parents do not generally sit their children at a table and explain to them how to deal with loss. They are so concerned with protecting us from painful events, it never occurs to them that this is information that we need to know. In all likelihood, their parents never thought of this either. Our parents can only pass on to us what they know. When it comes to dealing with loss, more often than not, the information that they do pass on to us is actually “misinformation.”
We call these things misinformation because they really do nothing to deal with that emotional pain. It is advice that speaks to our logic and intellect, but grief is emotional, rather than intellectual. More than anything, the things we learn at an early age are designed to make us “socially appropriate” and easier for others to accept.
Again, this “misinformation” is not passed on in list form, but rather based on things we hear from our parents when we are dealing with emotionally painful events. They become part of our belief system because they are so often repeated. They include such things as:
• Don’t Feel Bad (Hearing this rarely makes you feel better!)
• Replace The Loss (Often, with the loss of a pet or toy, this is the “solution” for dealing with our tears.)
• Grieve Alone (“If you are going to cry, go to your room.”)
• Grief Just takes Time (”The comment often made when we ask how long this will hurt. In truth, time just goes by and you become accustomed to feeling this emotional pain.)
• Be Strong (Big boys and girls don’t cry! We are often told we need to be strong for others.)
• Keep Busy (If you are busy, you won’t have time to feel sorry for yourself!)
None of these are helpful in helping us deal with the emotional pain that is grief.
2. Our friends and family tend to provide less support than we expect.
This is something that we at the Grief Recovery Institute hear from grievers on a regular basis. There are multiple reasons why this is the case.
The most obvious one is that most of them have had little or no education in how to deal with their own loss. That being the case, it is difficult for them to offer any more assistance than suggesting things similar to the misinformation above!
It is possible that those friends and family members are grieving this loss as well, or that this loss reminds them of another loss that they experienced. Every relationship is different, even within the same family, which means that everyone’s grief is also different. When someone is dealing with their own feelings of grief, they are less able to offer meaningful support to others. It is not uncommon for people in the same family to feel that others are not hurting as much, simply because they are not displaying their grief in the same way.
Yet another factor is that, while those around you may have shared experiences related to that relationship lost, you each have your own memories of that event, which may be different. It is not uncommon to hear people sharing memories and each remembering things a bit differently. The reality of what happened is not what touches us on an emotional level. It is our perception of what happened that becomes our reality. As a result, we can each grieve certain memories in an entirely different way. That is why things that may be grief issues for one family member may not seem meaningful on any level to another.
There is also a tendency within some families to avoid mentioning the name of someone who has died, because they feel that to do so will only upset you. Their avoidance can seem to you like they have forgotten your loss, which can hurt as well. With no one really having the proper tools to deal with the emotional pain of grief, it can feel like you are the only one in true pain.
3. Grief is cumulative!
When we experience a new loss, this tends to stir up all of the other grief issues that are still lingering from past losses. If you have not taken action to effectively move through and beyond previous grief experiences, they will stay with you no matter how hard you try to suppress those feelings. As a result, you end up not just dealing with the current loss, but past ones as well.
This does not mean that your situation is hopeless and that all of this accumulated grief will be with you forever. You can take effective action to move beyond the pain of loss. This will put you in the position to enjoy past memories, without being overwhelmed with regrets and other sad feelings.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to any change you experience in life. You don’t need to be “fixed” to feel better. You simply need direction and education on how to “recover.” This is the focus of The Grief Recovery Method, as presented in “The Grief Recovery Handbook.” Recovery from loss is a choice, and that choice is yours!