In her decades of experience in assisting clients through the grief process, Paula Shaw has found that there are specific elements along the loss path that need to be addressed and worked through as they arise. These are things that will often make one feel as if they are all alone in their journey or on an island of endless despair. This in fact the opposite of what is actually taking place. Grief follows a similar pathway for many, and you are most definitely not alone or 'crazy' in feeling the way that you do.
There are several aspects of the grief journey that are important to recognize. As with the dimensions of grief, not all of these aspects will be experienced by everyone. However, when experienced, they are destabilizing and frightening enough to make the griever wonder if he or she is going “crazy.” Therefore, I feel it is important to know what is possible, so that if it occurs, it will not produce fear and shame. If you missed the first two parts of this piece, please scroll down and read them.
POWERLESSNESS AND HELPSLESSNESS
Overwhelming feelings of powerlessness and helplessness are a common but debilitating aspect of the grief journey. People often feel powerless over how their grief is manifesting itself. They want to be healing and moving on much faster than they are able to. They may also be very frustrated with the powerlessness they experienced in not having been able to prevent the loss. It is devastating to be forced to deal with a reality you didn’t want and didn’t choose. Almost paradoxically, by allowing yourself to temporarily experience and process the feelings of helplessness, you are ultimately doing the best you can to help yourself. Trying to “be strong” can bury feelings, which may eventually manifest themselves in much more troublesome ways.
CRYING AND SOBBING
Tears are the body’s means of relieving internal tension, and they allow you to communicate a need to be comforted. “It is much healthier to cry than to repress and deny.” That wouldn’t be a bad griever’s mantra. Unfortunately, most people get uncomfortable in the presence of a sobbing person. The messages, not to cry, are strongly and frequently delivered, leading to the inevitable repression and denial of feelings for the griever.
Sometimes, early in the grief journey, people experience an inability to cry. This is usually because they are in the dimension encompassing shock and numbness. To experience this temporarily, is normal. However, if it becomes long term, help is probably needed. It could be that a buildup of messages not to cry has created a state of chronic numbness. Men are particularly susceptible to this condition because messages like “big boys don’t cry” have been denying them their tears since childhood.
Sobbing comes from the inner core of your being. It is an expression of deep, strong emotions within you. Sobbing allows for the release of physical, spiritual and emotional energy. Many other cultures understand this need and encourage sobbing and deep wailing as a normal part of grief. In our culture, sobbing is considered frightening and out of control. The truth, however, is that as you sob, you face the depth of your pain; and this must be done in order to really heal. Tears have a voice of their own, and the wise person allows them the opportunity to speak.
Dreaming about someone you loved who is now lost to you can be very therapeutic. Dreams allow you to feel close to someone who is no longer there. They can be the inner mind’s way of coping with the true depth of the pain, or of gently embracing a new reality. Dreams can help you search for meaning or explore unfinished business. They can also give you hope for the future. Talk them over with a safe person who won’t be tempted to interpret them. This will be especially important if you are having nightmares. They can be frightening, and discussing them with someone will help diffuse any fear or terror they create, so that they will not precipitate the development of sleep problems.
The loss of a loved one often creates circumstances that can lead to having a mystical experience. People often report having been visited by the deceased, or feeling an unmistakable presence. Some have experienced an unusual occurrence that felt like a sign that a loved one was all right. In his book, Understanding Grief, Dr. Alan Wolfelt tells the story of a mother in Alabama whose daughter had died. She woke up one summer morning, looked out the window and saw it snowing in her yard. The snow lasted fifteen minutes and stopped. She understood this as a communication that her daughter was all right. Others have seen a loved one and been told that all was well. Some have felt an actual embrace of assurance. Unfortunately, most grieving people who share such stories are considered mentally unstable. Yet the stories abound. Most people who have them find them to be very healing. If you have a mystical experience, treasure it and be careful with whom you share it.
LOSS OF INTIMACY AND SEXUALITY
When going through the pain of loss, most people tend to ignore their needs for intimacy and sexuality. They feel too sad and depressed to be physically intimate. It is important to remember that sexual intimacy isn’t the only form of intimacy. Being hugged and held or gently touched can be very helpful when you are mourning. This is a basic human need. If your life includes opportunities for this kind of experience, try to give it to yourself. It is possible that the loss you grieve is that of the person with whom you shared physical intimacy. This can make the loss even more difficult to bear. The person you reached out for, who offered you comfort, is now gone. This is another aspect of your life now changed by the loss. Don’t deny or minimize the pain this creates. Don’t view your sexual needs as inappropriate. Sexuality is normal and can be a powerful force to help reconnect you with life, as long as it is expressed in a healthy way.
DRUGS, ALCOHOL AND GRIEF
Experience suggests that alcohol is the most widely abused self-medication for the bereaved. People are often encouraged by others to have a drink to take the edge off their pain. Using alcohol as the vehicle to numb or defocus a person, can lead to serious problems. Besides creating psychological dependence on the substance, alcohol abuse inhibits the work of grieving necessary for healing. Too often, sedatives or anti-depressants are prescribed for grieving people, giving them strong messages that their grief isn’t okay and that it should be altered. Certainly there can be circumstances when a temporary, carefully monitored medication may be needed. For the majority of people, however, a more rapid healing results when the work of grieving is done in an unaltered state. There have been far too many instances where long term alcohol and drug abuse had its origin in avoidance of the pain created by loss.
It is natural to go within when you are in pain. A temporary retreat can feel like the only safe place to be. However, it is important to stress the word, “temporary.” If this state becomes a life pattern, you are endangering your ability to heal. Healing rarely happens in isolation. There is far too great an emotional overload to handle alone. Talking and writing the pain out is critical to not holding onto it. Some self-focus is needed and appropriate. Don’t let anyone push you into reentering life too quickly, but remember the importance of sharing your pain. Not doing so will stunt or slow down your healing process.
Take a moment to reflect on a grief journey of your own and see which of these dimensions you may have experienced. They will be discussed in even more depth in my soon to be released book, When Will This Pain Ever End? Meanwhile, be sure to subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss further excerpts and helpful tips on moving beyond your grief.
PAULA SHAW, CADC, DCEP is an author, Energy Psychology specialist, therapist, speaker, Reiki Master and Grief Counselor. For more than 20 years, Paula has been passionate about empowering people who are dealing with profound loss, so they can reap something truly beautiful from their pain. She also helps clients who are going through major life transitions or seeking freedom from self-destructive addictions. She has degrees in Education and Communications from Long Beach State University, as well as graduate counseling credentials from Loyola Marymount University. She is one of the founding members of the Association of Comprehensive Energy Psychology and currently serves on its board of directors. Paula is the auther of Chakras, the Magnificent Seven (2002), as well as the upcoming book When Will This Pain Ever End? Finding Your Way out of the Pit of Despair after Suffering Profound Grief and Loss, which will be released in the spring of 2015.
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PAULA SHAW, CADC, DCEP is an author, Energy Psychology specialist, therapist, speaker, Reiki Master and Grief Counselor. For more than 20 years, Paula has been passionate about empowering people who are dealing with profound loss, so they can reap something truly beautiful from their pain. She also helps clients who are going through major life transitions or seeking freedom from self-destructive addictions. She has degrees in Education and Communications from Long Beach State University, as well as graduate counseling credentials from Loyola Marymount University. She is one of the founding members of the Association of Comprehensive Energy Psychology and currently serves on its board of directors. Paula is the author of Chakras, the Magnificent Seven (2002), as well as "Grief...When Will This Pain Ever End?" Finding Your Way out of the Pit of Despair After Profound Loss.
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