5 Things Being A Therapist Has Taught Me About Grief
Welcome to the third and final installment of my blog series on Grief. Be sure to check out the first installment (The Grieving Myth: 5 Steps to Healing) and the second installment (Ambiguous Loss: Embracing the Blur) for more information on Grief. These blog posts are by no means a comprehensive description of Grief, nor will they substitute for mental health care.
I have learned a lot about Grief, both professionally and personally, in the last few years. As with many topics covered in mental health training programs, the experience of learning about Grief is very different from experiencing it first hand. My training helped me to be aware of the research and common myths surrounding Grief and Loss (again, see first two posts on this topic), however experiencing Grief has taught me way more.
Before I share what I have learned from experiencing Grief I want to specify what I mean by "experiencing." I have experienced Grief both directly and indirectly. My direct experience comes from losing family members, specifically my Dad, and experiencing Grief first hand. My indirect experience comes from being truly present with other people when they are experiencing Grief. We can learn so much about ourselves from leaving Judgment and Assumptions behind and truly listening to other people talk about their experiences. My clients have taught me so much through allowing me to be a witness to their experiences with Grief.
1. Grief wants us to itself.
Everyone I have talked to about Grief talked about feeling alone. Grief is selfish in that it wants us to be with it and no one else. It does this in two ways: keeping others away and keeping us from reaching out. Grief makes people feel uncomfortable or fearful and when this happens people say stupid things. Personally I think people are afraid of saying the wrong thing so they try to lessen the intensity of Grief or try to relate in some way to help the grieving person not feel so alone. Unfortunately this can sometimes come off as insensitive, invalidating, and even more isolating. This eventually leads to people experiencing Grief reclusing and not talking to people about it, allowing Grief to be our only company.
2. Empathy pushes Grief away.
When friends and family manage to push past the wall that Grief puts up around us and let us know they are there to listen, Grief loses some control over us. They don't need to understand and they don't need to have similar experiences. If you know someone experiencing Grief and don't know what to say, that is okay. There is no "right" thing to say, so don't try to figure it out. Just be there to listen and validate your loved one's experiences. Provide Empathy, not Sympathy. Empathy is connection, Sympathy is pity. For more examples on the differences between the two, check out this video by Brené Brown.
3. There is a "Grief Club."
I have several friends and acquaintances who have lost family members. I remember being in elementary school and one of my friends told me her Dad had passed away two years earlier. I panicked because I couldn't comprehend what that meant and didn't want to say the wrong thing (see #1 above). After my own Dad died I felt much more connected with these friends and acquaintances. We had something in common that "normal" people didn't have. It felt like we had all been herded into this club against our will. Oddly enough, this was one of the more comforting side effects of Grief because I didn't feel so alone. Since acknowledging my membership in this club I have strengthened my relationships with a few members, friends who have been members longer than I have, who helped me learn how to handle this new identity.
4. Grief encourages hierarchies.
There is a catch to #3: Grief wants us to notice hierarchies. This means that when we talk with someone else who has experienced Grief, Grief wants us to be aware of who grieved "more." It wants us to be aware of whose experience was worse, who hurt the most, and who lost more. Why does it do this? To keep us from feeling comfortable sharing our experiences, or even asking for help, from someone who may have hurt more. For example, if another member of the Grief Club offers to listen to your experiences with Grief, Grief may try to convince you that this other person somehow had it worse than you and that you shouldn't "complain" about it. This is just another tactic of Grief to keep us from connecting with others.
5. Grief becomes quieter with help.
There is no "right way" to cope with Grief. It will always be with us but we can learn how to contain it so it doesn't disrupt everything we value. There will be days when you wake up and know it's going to be a "Grief Day" (that's what I call them), but with help we can keep them from becoming Grief Weeks/Months/Years. Finding friends and family who can listen without Judgment and Assumptions is crucial to healing. I've come to rely on my "Grief Club" members, including family members, when Grief is being particularly difficult to get rid of. Therapy helps too, and can help us identify the specific strategies and techniques that Grief is using on us. It's sneaky and often uses different strategies with different people.
There are some pretty great (and some pretty terrible) resources online if you are looking for help. Here are a few videos that are "Lindsey Approved" that might help you find your path to healing.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the presence of Grief, reach out to a mental health professional you trust.
You can contact me at 720-507-4234 or Lindsey.Boes@gmail.com to schedule a free consultation.
The posts provided here are intended to provide psychoeducation, resources, and support for current clients, potential clients, or anyone seeking information about mental health. These posts are not a suitable replacement for mental health services including medication, therapy, counseling, or crisis management. If you are seeking help for any mental health or relationship struggle, please contact a mental health professional you trust.