Grief is a consistent theme that I address in my clinical work. Loss in its many forms is present in all of our lives and so is the related grieving.
Grieving has 5 stages that one works through in order to find a path toward peace and healing. The stages of grief are not there to compartmentalise difficult or painful emotions, they are nature’s way of allowing us to come to terms with events and to ‘pace’ us to deal with trauma. The 5 stages of grief are: Denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance.
My experience of many of the clients that I’ve worked with is that they have become stuck somewhere amidst the natural process of grieving.
Denial is this first stage that many of us face when we initially encounter grief.
Denial is often not a literal denial of the events occurring but simply feelings of shock and paralysis; we organically disconnect from what is going on around us because the events we’re faced with are too big and painful for our psyche to process. This stage is intended to give us time to process the reality that we’re faced with and allows us to come to terms with, and to accept the loss that we’ve experienced. Nature has a wonderful way of knowing what we are able to handle and when.
The next stage in this process is anger.
Anger does not have to be logical or valid, it just is; and when we allow ourselves to feel and to own this emotion, we find that it can dissipate. Anger is a very necessary step in coming to terms with the brutality of loss and tolerating this stage can be a very cathartic process. In therapy it is so often regarded as a break through when we see a client begin to express anger for the first time because we recognise that a shift has occurred. However, many of the clients that I’ve worked with can and will connect with anger, but they will then direct that anger inward and blame themselves for everything that has happened in their lives. This is where people get stuck. The ‘unwell’ or ‘critical’ voice uses the anger to internalise blame toward the sufferer and to implicate responsibility. When we become consumed by anger we are simultaneously taken over by an overwhelming sense of loneliness. This internalised anger isolates us from the world, we then feel resentful toward ourselves and toward others for not being able to meet our needs or soothe our pain. We become lost and full of rage and we avoid connecting with our emotions because they become so intensely painful that we cannot see a way forward.
The truth is that we can learn to grieve and to embrace a nurturing and compassionate a relationship toward ourselves and each of these stages gives us insight into grief's terrain.
Grief is the intense emotional reaction to loss. It is the response to a connection that has been broken, but most importantly it is a spiritual journey to healing. Anticipation of the pain of that journey keeps us stuck and prone to further mental torture and depression. When we allow ourselves to sit with the sadness (the stage that follows anger), we honour our loss and we own our truth. We also respond to, and meet our own needs. So many of us just want to be acknowledged and to be comforted when times are tough…if we cannot do that for ourselves then where does that leave us? If we do not work through our grief, we lose the opportunity to heal our soul and those core wounds remain untended forever. Some of my own scars will always make me feel sad but I also know that I am stronger today for the path that I have walked and that these scars have become part of who I am, and that is something I have come to be proud of.
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