The Many Guises of Grief

When people come to therapy, they usually complain of feeling anxious or depressed, and while they certainly appear to be suffering from those symptoms, it sometimes emerges that these painful emotions are rooted in grief  or loss which has not been processed, or sometimes even recognized.

The article below, by Michelle Steinke-Baumgard, discusses how this can happen.  In our society, we do not adequately honour grief and loss. We are often made to feel we are being self-indulgent or unstable if our grieving goes on “too long” or does not fit into some imaginary standard of what we ought to be feeling. As a consequence, we ignore or stuff our feelings, try to keep busy, or try to pretend we are OK so we won’t be a nuisance to those around us. And some of us do this because we don’t want our feelings to be a nuisance to ourselves.

However, grief is implacable. It has its own time-table for healing and it will not be denied. It is important to remember that grief is a physiological process–it is in the body as well as the mind–and we cannot hurry it along or make it go away just because we will it so.  If we try to do this, the consequence can be drastic. I have worked with people whose entire lives and careers  became stuck because they were overwhelmed by grief which was not honoured or recognized.

The reason it is so difficult to identify is that grief wears many disguises. Sometimes it feels like sadness. Other times it can make us feel angry, numb, exhausted, and yes, depressed and anxious (just to name a few possible emotions we might experience).  That is why it is so often misidentified, especially if years have passed since the original loss.

The good news is that, once we understand we are dealing with grief, the process of recovery is greatly enhanced.  We can acknowledge the original loss(es) and process them with a new consciousness of how they have influenced our lives and our decision-making processes, sometimes for years or even decades.  When we do this, it is my experience that the person almost immediately begins to feel a lightening of mood.  There is a certain amount of relief in just knowing they are suffering from a NORMAL physiological process–one that can be named and identified–which will resolve itself if we merely respect our natural healing proclivities.

I have posted Michelle Steinke-Baumgard‘s excellent article below and encourage you to reflect on your own grieving processes, as well as how you may or may not have responded to those in your life who have experienced loss of one sort or another.

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