- Natalie Thomas
Accepting all types of grief, loss, bereavement and suffering
I often hear people say that only certain types of grief or loss are ok to feel and that after a certain amount of time, a person should 'move on' or 'get on with life'. I think our culture tends to deny our emotions in general, and having a background in Western Philosophy I can see that there is still a lingering belief that reason should somehow trump all else. Our rational mind can tell us to 'get over it', but our emotions often tell us something different.
Now that we have much more understanding of how our brains and nervous systems work, we know that our brains don't work in such simple ways, and instead, the rational and emotional areas of our brains are working together.
When it comes to grief and loss, we can be judgmental about which losses we should be grieving, and which ones we should be skeptical about. And yet, grief and loss are unavoidable forms of suffering that we experience as humans. We can't avoid feeling these emotions, and whatever causes these feelings for us is legitimate. Whether you feel grief for the loss of your mother, or brother, or friend, or for your beloved pet, or even for the tree that was cut down in the park you frequent regularly, your feelings are telling you something about a part of you that wants and needs some compassionate attention.
As we are increasingly experiencing the effects of climate change, many are also experiencing feelings of grief and anxiety related to our changing natural world, and yet this is only recently becoming accepted as legitimate emotional and psychological challenges that can be brought into psychotherapy.
We all have unique experiences, circumstances, bodies and minds and different things can cause us to feel loss and grief. By paying attention to these feelings and finding ways to bring curiosity and compassion to them, we can start to accept them and find a place for them rather than try to eliminate, avoid or deny them. We can sometimes increase our suffering by denying the painful feelings we are afraid of. When we learn to calm and soothe ourselves, we can find some healing for our grief and suffering, and we can learn how to live with our feelings of loss without having them overwhelm us.
There are different ways to do this, and in therapy is a good place to find a lot of resources for learning how to soothe your own nervous system. Things like going for a walk and being in nature, singing, cuddling a beloved pet, talking to a friend or even doing something creative like sketching or painting without any expectations can bring us into a state of flow and can calm our nervous systems. When we are grieving, the more ways we can find to express our deep emotions in ways that feel safe and calming, the better our system responds and can be present with our pain in a way that isn't overwhelming.
By accepting your feelings of grief, loss and bereavement and seeking support for yourself if you believe it will help you, you're taking a first step towards healing. Connecting with someone to support you in a nonjudgmental and compassionate way, whether a pet, family member, friend or therapist can be especially helpful if you already experience anxiety, depression or have a history of trauma.
I hope these words and links are helpful for you in some way.