Somewhere, we got the idea that losses should be avoided at all costs because they are too painful. The result: no one taught us to effectively mourn when a significant ending occurs. As a result we often are stuck in a flat, gray place.
Losses are as much a natural part of life as your breath or the sunrise. Before something new can be created, something must be left behind. But many endings aren't the ones we wanted or expected. Many of us are still left holding an empty bag of dreams; jobs lost, 'forever' relationships abandoned, or loved ones who have passed on. Losses can also be about money, hair, health, or a child moving out to go to college.
Loss: A Double Whammy?
Loss can be a double whammy. There is the loss itself, but also when you don't deal with important endings effectively, your ability to move on and feel open, safe, and vulnerable vanishes. You carry around your emotional wounds like a heavy weight strapped to your back. The confidence to climb out of the abyss shrinks. "You're forever shattered," your mind says. "The world is cold, cruel, and unfair."
Life's colors fade into monochrome as you lose interest in everything. No motivation, meaning, or sense of belonging. Or you can take the opposite coping strategy and just carry on as if nothing significant happened. For some, handling losses can feel like an impossible assignment.
Sadness and flatness won't be your only companion. Fear edges you out of meaningful interactions, keeping you to itself, for worry you'll get your tender heart broken again. Anger also vies for attention, turning you against everyone - yourself, others, and the universe.
The Five Steps to Move Through Loss
Losses make sorrow and grief feel bottomless with no end in sight. But facing your emotions is taking the first step to push them out of your body and out of your space. Whether you've been laid off from the job you've had for the last 20 years, your sibling unexpectedly died, or you need to end a long-term relationship, here are Attitude Reconstruction's five tips to help you move through the painful event.
1. Freedom comes from facing your loss and crying.
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Tears are nectar. Crying is healing. It's the body's natural reaction to hurts and losses. Acknowledge your loss and cry it out. You can be alone or with someone, in therapy, or with a friend or partner.
The listener's job is to just provide a safe place - not offer "wisdom" or personal experiences. As the silent witness, lovingly keep offering a safe ear. Keep offering. Often it takes repeated and respectful invitations to venture into this painful domain.
When you are able to talk about the loss, voice what you miss and what you appreciated most about the person or situation. Talk about and relive the wonderful memories. Speak about all the qualities you loved, what you won't experience any more, and all the adventures you had together. After each memory or quality, over and over, say "Thank you" and allow yourself to cry when the tears surface.
2. You also must say the "dreaded" G word - good-bye - to fully acknowledge the ending.
Saying "good-bye" can be incredibly hard and usually brings up tons more sadness. With the loss of a sibling, say good-bye to your dreams of growing old together and doing fun things. It's painful but necessary in order to heal. Say, "I miss you. I love you. Good-bye. Good-bye."
3. Express the fear and anger that surfaces, physically and constructively.
If you're left feeling anxious or panicky, shake and shiver that fear out of your body while continually reminding yourself, "Something greater than me is in charge. This is not in my control."
Anger is also part of dealing with a loss, reminding you how unfair this tragedy is. I recommend you find a constructive way to pound, push, shout, or stomp out the anger energy - hard, fast, and with abandon - where no one or nothing of value is destroyed. While moving the anger energy, remind yourself that, "It is the way it is. It's not the way I think it should be."
4. Attending to your emotions and thoughts frees up some energy to start to say "hello" to life again.
If you've isolated yourself, take tiny steps to reach out and reconnect with others. Do something little like shopping, sharing a meal, or seeing a movie. Even if you feel like a robot going through the motions, do it anyway. It will get easier as you re-engage with your world.
5. Whenever you feel yourself sinking, take a few minutes to cry and say "good-bye" again.
Like the proverbial onion, you'll have to peel away the layers of missing, bit by bit, to thoroughly process your loss.
It takes time to move through that helpless-hopeless feeling that descends when you lose something or someone dear. But have faith. Gradually, you'll find your enthusiasm, confidence, and energy returning. And little by little, the light will begin to shine.
If you don't feel like your sadness is accessible when you experience a hurt or loss, sometimes you need to kick start it because your grief won't go away on its own. Unexpressed emotions pile up, and you'll start to feel bad about yourself. Those voices become stronger and bigger and louder than anything else.
For instance, if your friend is in a serious accident, you may lose sight of the severity of the event and deny something has happened. Set aside some time to acknowledge your friend's situation. Think about the particulars. Putting yourself in her shoes will bring up sadness, anger, and fear. Shiver about what it would mean if it were you.
Remind yourself, "I'll feel better if I cry. It's okay. I just feel sad." If you find yourself resisting, be gentle but persistent, and you'll tap into your sadness. Then you will be able to stop feeling guilty and wholeheartedly show up for your friend.
©2017 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.
Book by the Author
Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
With practical tools, real-life examples, and everyday solutions for thirty-three destructive attitudes, Attitude Reconstruction can help you stop settling for sadness, anger, and fear, and infuse your life with love, peace, and joy.
About the Author
Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/
* Watch an interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace
* Watch video: Shiver to Express Fear Constructively (with Jude Bijou)