Honoring the ‘Emotional Self’ During Time of Loss and Grief
Loss is not easy. Some losses are more difficult to deal with than others. Perhaps due to the fact that the grieving experience is not linear, and there is no right way to mourn a loss. Although it is stated that it typically takes one year to recuperate from a loss, it is hard to understand how long it really lasts. Evidence shows that it takes longer to entirely restore to the original, self and that the time of recuperation depends upon numerous factors.
Dr Elizabeth Ross-Kobler is known for her work with the terminally ill. She has identified 5 stages a person goes through during the process of grieving a loss. She describes them as: (1) denial, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression and (5) acceptance.
Dr. Ross-Kobler explains that a major aspect of overcoming the grief of losing someone close to us is getting help and finding a support group, during which the focus is on moving along the emotion scale: from denial to sadness, anger and bitterness to bargaining, all the way to coming out of the depression into acceptance. Many have stated that the best approach of healing that one can offer themselves and others is the learning of genuine personal love and acceptance. This refers to situations where the individual experiences a circumstance or condition (frequently an unfavorable one) without trying to alter, or exit it. It does not indicate quitting or totally agreeing with it, instead it refers to stopping the inner ‘struggle’ or 'battle'.
In order to recover a loss, one should learn to let go of the negative emotional state, and move into the state of acceptance and forgiveness, it is nearly a necessary condition in order to harmoniously progress through life. Progressing does not always suggest the achievement of external things; it describes living life without unfavorable ideas and feelings that are associated with the loss.
Grieving a loss (no matter what kind) needs significant adjustment. This includes the release of negative feelings and thoughts that are associated with the loss, which will support the disappearance of the sadness or despair.
Individuals report that one of the worse experiences of loss is the feeling of emptiness. It mimics the feeling of loneliness, which can heighten the despair. The fact that we had the physical presence of the subject of our loss eclipsed much of the unfortunate sensations that existed prior to its absence.
Experiencing the deep sense of emptiness, the sadness and pain, calls a person to form a new sense to life (a fundamental part of the recovery process). Thus when a person discovers that he or she is unable to move along with these phases, due to the fact that the unhappiness is not rising, he may suffer a deep sorrow, which requires the assistance of a professional (i.e. therapist).
Grief is the experience of sorrow and many of us do not know how to handle it 'properly.' The grieving experience is disorderly and round. Although there are recognizable sensations (identified by Dr Ross-Kobler as well as shock, worry, disbelief, hurt, and frustration), there is not a recognizable linear order to manage, handle or deal with these feelings, and this is exactly what seems difficult for a lot of people to manage... there is no formula to instruct an individual about the best ways to get rid of the disorderly sensations a loss can stimulate.
The preliminary response of shock comes from an unanticipated reality where a disparity emerges in between 'what is wanted’ and ‘what is'... it is hard for us to come to terms with it... and the more we attempt to regulate it, and withstand accepting the new reality, the more intense the shock, the concern, stress and anxiety that will exist in our mind ... What we persist, exists!
Three identified ways to respond to a loss
Loss feels like losing control. The worry of releasing, and subsequently not having control over the circumstance, shakes our core. Individuals have various means to respond to loss of control. The expert literature refers to them in the following manner:
1. "Emotional Externalizers": who turn outwardly and inform anybody, who will pay attention, about their unfortunate situation;
2. "Emotional Internalizers": who turn inwardly and stay away from people and social contacts;
3. "Emotional Sprinters": who will flee from the circumstance, and most likely be in denial (they have troubles acknowledging the situation).
The challenge for the individual who experiences loss is to learn to redefine the world as he has understood it… this requires "releasing" numerous subconscious assumptions and beliefs. If an individual is unable to let go of what is enabling him to heal, and ‘accept’ the new situation, depression, stress and anxiety, and various other negative frames of mind, will arise.
Thus it is important to make some sense of what is going on in the person’s internal world.
Ways a person strives to deal with a loss?
There are some things an individual can do in order to attempt alleviating all the chaotic, and perhaps negative feelings, they experience due to losing someone or something close to their heart:
1. Paying attention to the feelings
It is normal to experience emotional hurt or pain. For example, it is difficult to accept the non-existence of what was lost … or feeling emptiness … experiencing anger and feeling resentful … be angry at God…
No matter what are the feelings, they are valid. Yes, the feelings can be validated and acknowledged, but must not take over and stay with the person forever… recognizing that keeping these feelings will cloud judgment, will sabotage a suitable progress of life.
2. Finding a professional to talk to
It is important to seek the help of a mental health professional for anyone who goes through the changes and the emotions. A neutral party will help deal with all the feelings, as well as with gaining coping strategies and feeling supported during the unpleasant process.
Having someone that will listen and be there no matter what emotions are experienced, without passing judgment but with compassion and understanding is a good way to move through the grief. A professional can assist in resolving the negative feeling that typically accompanies a loss. Short-term professional counseling can be a big assistance throughout times of change.
3. Keeping a personal journal
This method can assist a person to express their feelings and thoughts. It is significant to the healing process, being able to share these feelings and thoughts freely without passing a judgment on it. Allowing the things present at the subconscious to be expressed in writing is a valuable process. Therefore they no longer 'hunt' or 'pollute' the mind! More so, writing things down assists with processing our feelings.
4. Paying attention to the SELF
Remembering to take care of the self and making it a PRIORITY! It can be as simple as addressing our needs, and listening to our emotions. Simply asking: what do I need now? What would make me feel better now?
The natural propensity is to forget addressing the self. BUT we have to do the opposite ... one of the building blocks of the healing process is to go 'against' the tendency of the mind and make ourselves a priority...
Simple as that! Learning to give the self (the mind, the emotions, the body) time to heal and to go through all it needs to experience, so it can move forward towards the recovery stage.
Making a list of 4-5 favorable affirmations everyday about the way a person wishes to feel. Examples: "my situation is temporary and it shall occur soon", "I feel a little better with every passing day", "I am prepared for healing”, “I know this shall pass too…”
7. Pursuing new activities
Getting involved in something that distracts the mind from the difficult time can give a person the sense of fulfillment and enjoyment. Getting involved in volunteering activities is a healthy way to deal with loss. Helping others in need has scientifically been proven as a good way to distract one from one’s own pain. Research shows that the best way to get out of difficult times is through helping others.
8. Focusing on what feels good as much as possible
Study reveals that mind-calming exercise is one of the finest means to develop a healthy well being: psychologically, mentally and physically... A person in a positive state of mind will make decisions that will tend to serve the self better in the long run. Thus, striving to create a positive state of mind is an important element of healing the grieving experience that loss causes. Some techniques that are in spread use to help a person develop a positive state of mind are: meditation, spending time in nature, physical exercise, traveling or spending time with people we love. Basically anything that helps establish a more positive attitude throughout this time ... it might appear challenging at the beginning, however if a person can motivate themselves in the described direction, a routine will be formed!
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