“Almost all therapeutic work is grief work,” I remember one of my psychology professors saying. This stood out to me as ringing true. We feel grief in many dimensions of our life, in loss, of course, but also in change, even in renewal. We can feel grief when we enter a new phase of our lives, longing for times when things seemed simpler or easier. We can also grieve for a past self and wish to feel like them again. You may have not allowed yourself to fully grieve the complex parts of yourself. Sometimes we want to simply “get over” our grief. Ultimately you will find that processing your grief is possible in therapy.
When we feel sad, we can numb ourselves or turn away from the uncomfortable feelings to cope with the internal pain. We grew up with messages like, “Nobody likes a sad sack.” or, “Don’t be a party pooper.” or, “Put on some lipstick and you’ll feel better.” We are taught that “wallowing in pain” is what weak people do. The irony is that, in fact, wallowing in pain is what strong people do.
Getting over Grief vs Moving Through Grief
Dr. Gabor Mate said, “All of western medicine is built on getting rid of pain, which is not the same thing as healing. Healing is actually the capacity to hold pain.” We spend so much energy keeping “bad” feelings away that we unintentionally equate any emotional discomfort as not being “good.” When dealing with grief, the opposite is true. We need to pour the energy we use keeping pain at bay into surrendering to it in order to move through it.
So, how do we feel grief without completely succumbing to it? Firstly, we do not focus on “getting better,” or “returning to normal.” As hard as it may be, we take each step of the process as it comes, trying to hold the despairing feelings with compassion while maintaining a core sense of self as you focus on healing. And how do we do that? We reach out, to friends, family, and perhaps most importantly, to a therapist.
Healing the Grieving Hole in Your Heart
An important thing to remember about grief, is that it is not a permanent condition. Grief can visit us throughout our lives, but it does not have to move in and stay forever. The key to dealing with grief visitations is feeling them. Sometimes, when you experience deep grief, it can seem like there’s a hole in your heart. Rather than crawl into that hole and feel the grief, you can fill the hole with guilt. This is another way we avoid the discomfort of processing grief; we defend against it by blaming ourselves. That’s how hard truly dealing with grief is – we would rather feel shame than grief! The truth is, we need to learn how to be in close relationship with grief.
You Don’t Have to be Alone with Your Grief
Another truth about grief is that we cannot go through it alone. Processing grief is not the time to isolate, but rather the time to thoughtfully engage with those that you can trust, be vulnerable with, and be honest about the pain you are experiencing. Maintaining key relationships with caring people is vital to productive processing. Therapy is the best place to safely navigate deep pain with an experienced clinician holding the full range of your feelings with empathy and unconditional positive regard.
If you want to process your grief in therapy, please reach out. I help people integrate grief and experience greater hope.