When you experience any type of loss, the normal response is a period of mourning, also known as “grief.” Grief isn’t specific to human death, on the contrary it often establishes after a significant loss, for example a redundancy, divorce or breakup, a recently diagnosed illness, or financial troubles.
Grief usually comes in five stages: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The only way to process grief is to go through the stages of grief. By acknowledging your grief and allowing yourself the opportunity to grieve, you’re more able to address your grief as it arises and return to your normal everyday life much sooner.
At the same time, not acknowledging or addressing your grief has the potential to set you back emotionally and mentally in both the short and long-term. Here are some ways that you may be blocking your ability to process your grief.
No matter what type of loss you’ve experienced, there are experiences, signs and symbols which may trigger a memory which reminds you of this loss. These triggers might be specific people, a song on the radio, a certain location, a feeling, or even a precious gift from your loved one.
All behaviour can be distilled into moving towards love or moving away from pain. When you don’t take the time to grieve, you might find yourself going out of your way to avoid one of these painful triggers or behaving in ways to alleviate the pain. Doing this on a regular basis could completely disrupt your life and you might even begin to experience anxiety due to the effort it takes to avoid your triggers and your grief.
A number of my clients who struggle with alcohol and drugs are actually numbing their pain/grief about a situation with over-drinking or drug-taking. It is a maladaptive solution supporting them to self-soothe. In my work, I support those clients to find adaptive ways to self-soothe and process their grief.
When you lose a relationship that’s very important to you, which isn’t through death, the grief can be even more intense than you’d expected. Losing an important relationship can be painful especially if it isn’t your choice to give it up. Yet, not grieving the significant relationship loss could impact any future relationships without your knowledge.
Many of us expect our significant relationships to be with us forever, expecting them to endure through the ups and downs of relationships. When they disappear unexpectedly, it could leave you with a distrust of other existing relationships and a fear of starting new relationships. Or perhaps you manage these thoughts by not letting people get too close out of fear that you’ll lose them eventually as well.
In a sense, you’re hampering your ability to connect with others in a meaningful way because you’re always preparing for the worst when it comes to building close connections with other people. Perhaps you could benefit from the words of Zig Ziglar, “Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.”
Even if you’re not outwardly grieving your loss, internally with or without your permission, your body and mind are still processing and experiencing the loss in some way. Rather than experiencing the process as sadness, it might show itself in the form of anger instead.
When you let your emotions build without addressing them, you’re much more likely to take them out on other people when you least expect it. This is most likely to occur with the people you care about because you are most ‘relaxed’ around them and your guard isn’t as vigilant. Not grieving might lead you to lash out at those you love and strain your relationships permanently. This could also happen at work where your guard is lowered for example with colleagues you like and trust.
I remember when I had a number of losses mount up over a short period of time and I was at work and just received some more sad news. I went into a meeting where I should have had my ‘game face’ on but didn’t and I uncharacteristically spoke out of turn in a meeting. I was unable to hold it all in as it were and I thought I was amongst trusted colleagues. Interestingly afterwards nobody asked me if I was okay, the message was given was ‘we all like working with you, don’t ruin it.” I’d like to think the workplace has changed since then!
Just because you aren’t directly facing your grief head-on doesn’t mean that you aren’t still feeling the sadness inside. Not addressing your grief can also cause an overwhelming sadness coupled with exhaustion that could eventually lead to depression.
So, instead of feeling the typical sadness of grief, avoiding your grief will eventually lead you to a more intense sadness than you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. You might notice that you are slower to get things done, lack interest in things you previously enjoyed and have a low mood.
In my client base I have a number of clients who are hard in themselves and willing to push themselves to the edge of their capacity both physically and emotionally. They often choose to push their grief aside and focus on their work and this works for a while. However, unless we replenish ourselves, we exhaust our resources. They then are surprised they have created a new normal which is unsustainable and they complain of feeling depleted of energy. Often night-waking is a part of unresolved grief.
Recognising that you need to deal with the loss before other complications arise is an act of self-compassion as dealing with depression and loss can be a long road to recover from.
No matter your usual personality, being able to reach out to those close to you during times of grief is critical. We are social creatures made to work through difficult times together the same way we celebrate happier things.
While some people have no problem opening up to others and venting their feelings, there are those who attempt to deal with grief on their own, which can lead to a harmful build-up of tension and emotion or maladaptive strategies.
It is normal early on in the grieving process to want some time alone. Having some personal time to try to assemble the million thoughts racing through your mind is needed. What you must avoid is letting your grief cause you to isolate yourself from those who care about you and are there to listen. If you’d prefer to grieve privately you may want to seek out a professional who can support you as you move through your grieving process.
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