I think this should be the first shared topic. Emotions must be healed so the body, mind and spirit can also be healed. Walls can suffocate you. Break through denial and look at the depression, the anger, and all the other emotions, so you can become more healthy and feel much better.
When a loss occurs, we must go through the grieving process. This is a natural process. If we do not grieve, and the loss happened when we were three years old, the intensity of grief will still be there with us – the same as when we were that three-year-old. We can't push it away, and we can't pretend it's not there. We have to go back, walk through the trauma and grow. The issues may be abandonment, death, the sense of fear – we may feel that if we start to cry we may never stop – or perhaps we may feel like we are falling into a bottomless pit with no visible way out. What if we start to feel? Will we be able to stop feeling?
We are human beings! We are supposed to feel! Feeling is living! A dear teacher once told me that a person can't depress one feeling without depressing all feelings. If we try to, we end up depressed! If we are depressed for too long, we can end up morose – even morbid. If you happen to be a parent, imagine your child being too sad for too long. Would you want that for him/her for the rest of that child's l life? I think not! I think you would want them to be happy and healthy. If you are not a parent, then just imagine another loved one in the same circumstances.
Now ask yourself how you want to feel? You are a beloved one. You are precious and loved and unique. If you don't care for and love yourself, how can you care for and love others? If you believe in God (or a Supreme Being, the Big Guy, even a Higher Power) then KNOW that happiness, love and peace inside your soul are just a few of the blessings. Sometimes we have to go through trials to understand and choose what we want. Another precious teacher told me that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger – that we are purified by "the fire" or "the trials." He also told me that we are spiritual beings in a material world looking for the pathway back to our spiritual home. Sometimes, when we get too involved in the material world, we start feeling empty inside, so lost and abandoned. We know that is not the path we should be on so we feel lost, and we know we will end up with nothing by pursuing the material things in this world which we cannot take with us when our time on this earthly plane is over. What can we take with us? Perhaps we can take our emotions and our memories? And if that is true, what will those emotions and memories be?
Loss – especially the death of a child, a parent, or any loved one is very powerful. We may feel a loss of identity, or a loss of a dream. We can feel loss from sibling interaction, school and/or work performance. We can lose our self worth and be "left empty." If we feel empty inside, we may try to make other people happy, try to be perfect, even forget to care for ourselves totally. Divorce, moving, robbery and/or assault (the harming of the self and the loss of safety), even being successful (loss of privacy or perhaps even the self) – any of these can cause a state of "limbo," where we feel kind of "broken up." We don't know what's going to happen next or what we are going to feel like in the next moment. We feel that perhaps this grief, this sadness, will always be there and will never go away! If that sadness is never going away, then should we just give up hope completely?
Symptoms of grief can include depression, a consuming sadness, feelings of helplessness, despair, emptiness, pessimism, anger, restlessness, irritability, fatigue, shallow breathing, deep sighs. One can lose concentration, energy, motivation – there can be a change in appetite, sleep patterns (dreams become nightmares). One may become agitated or may possibly become slow in speech and movement. Some other, perhaps more serious physical symptoms, can include nausea, diarrhea, pain in the head, jaws, back, etc., exhaustion, chest pains, tearing and crying too much of the time and that "lump in the throat." Never underestimate the physical symptoms. Check with a doctor before you just dismiss some of these symptoms. Eventually too much stress can impair the immune system and/or cause serious physical or mental illness.
There are stages of grief.
1. Shock and Denial
Someone in denial does not see the problem. Seems as if the bigger the problem, the less likely the person is to see it. Shock can come at an early stage. Sometimes a person goes into shock and doesn't recover.
2. Anger and Depression
A person who is angry about an experience may also get depressed and not be able to recover by him/herself.
3. Acceptance and Understanding
It is okay to cry. Use those tears to gain acceptance – even without the "why." The reality is, you are alive – you are a survivor! You will go on with life and hopefully gain some understanding and wisdom – perhaps even being able to help others.
Pain means you are alive. You are living. You are normal. You are responding to life. Now feel the hurt and come out on the other side of it. The entire process should not be done by oneself. Humans are social creatures. We need to share our hopes, our fears, our pain, our dreams with another – to give and receive compassion – to have acknowledgment of that which we have shared. We need to share, to trust, to be intimate – and intimacy happens with your clothes on!!!
A very wise teacher once told me that the opposite of loneliness is intimacy. Several times when I have been so very lonely I have tried that sharing with another human being. I can tell you from experience that it works!
We must feel grief consciously. We need to go through an emotional type of work. We need to think about our feelings, learn how to express those feelings and how to allow them to come out without harming yourself or anyone else. Remember that you are not "weak," "dumb" or "stupid" – those are labels someone else put on you. You must go back and re-label yourself. We will get into those issues in the next chapter about self esteem.
There can be an emotional numbness during grief. That is part of the process. We may want to isolate the self, to run away and not communicate or feel anything. The reality is that to be healthy and learn from the grief we must work and take care of ourselves. If we need to be numb for a little while, that is okay. If we stay numb too long, however, we may get stuck there. We need to go be with other people, talk and work through our feelings, experience the pain and then learn how to let go of it.
Living with pain and keeping it inside is like living with a lion in a cage. He's always there with you. If you don't let him out of that cage, you know that eventually he is going to bite you. The fear of when and where he will bite and just how much he will take with him when he does bite you seems to be worse than just separating yourself from him. Why not just let him out? Of course, once he's loose, he could run rampant and bite someone else. You wouldn't want to hurt yourself or anyone else, so perhaps it would be best to free yourself and leave the lion in the cage for a while. Perhaps even he could learn that it is not acceptable to bite. However anger, like the lion, cannot be trusted totally. If a person bottles up anger and never lets it out, that person will find out the hard way that once a space is too full – something WILL give. That "something" will either implode or explode – either way it can get awfully messy and perhaps even quite dangerous.
Hopefully I won't offend anyone, but a very wise, humorous teacher once said that emotions build up inside of us, kind of like gas. So we should let our emotions out gradually, like passing gas in church. He said that if we don't allow those emotions to pass gradually, if we try to "stuff" them until church is over, we can end up with one rotten, stinking mess! I have never forgotten that! When an emotion rears an ugly head (such as anger), that image of sitting on a bench in church pops into my head.
Immediately I remember the training of this wise, humorous teacher: Acknowledge that you are angry. Know that it's okay to feel the anger. Now choose a positive course of action to release some of that anger. Most times I can just quickly ask the Big Guy to help me deal with this. If there's a lot of anger, I have to go to a safe place and ask the Big Guy to help and guide me. We can't receive His help without asking.
My wise teacher also told me that it's okay if a person doesn't believe in God – just as long as that person understands that there is a Someone out there who is on a higher plane than any person on earth. We need to know that we are accountable to someone or something. We need to have boundaries. (We need quite a few things, actually, and hopefully soon that will be dealt within yet another chapter about boundaries and wants versus needs, after the chapter on self esteem).
Once in a while you will feel such a thing called subterranean grief. This type of grief happens when you see a movie or read a sad story. Sometimes it happens when someone just being nice to you brings tears and emotions you don't quite understand. (Where did that come from?) Those emotions have always been there and normally they are brought up from issues in your past which you have not totally resolved.
Crying is a biological release – the body speaking its mind. It is okay. It is healthy. Let others in your life know that you are in the grieving process. Your spouse, friends, and even your children (on some level) should know that you may express anger or sadness and you may even become depressed. They also need to understand that this is nothing they caused – only that you are in the grieving process.
This is a time to share with others, bond with others and give yourself permission to grieve. Remember that "not feeling" or being "numb" is also a feeling.
There are at least three components of grief:
1. Permission to grieve issues and a need to be in a safe environment to do such grieving. Someone asking, "Why are you crying now?" or "Why don't you just forget it?" is NOT permission.
2. We need to be in touch with our feelings and have the capacity to feel them.
3. We need social acceptance, where others with like minds come together and discuss issues – and this means that anyone can talk about anything. If you are alone, then take a pillow or a teddy bear and hug it and cry. If you have an animal with you, that is even better. That animal can snuggle back, maybe lick your hands or face and give you comfort and a sense of well being.
Why put oneself through such pain? In a spectrum of feelings, SAD is on the opposite of HAPPY. When you are sad and you can open doors and heal wounds, then you start feeling more happy, more spontaneous. Life is never a dull line. Sometimes people feel as if they are on a roller coaster ride. (Some people have higher and lower roller coasters than others.) Just remember that when you are in the low spot that there is a high spot coming! And perhaps the next low, if we do our emotional work, will not be so low – and perhaps the high spot could be even higher!
A person needs to be careful, however, not to become addicted to grief. If that happens, a person can start causing crisis after crisis in order to have bigger ups and downs, to make the "ride" more exciting – the adrenalin rush of the "highs" can become addictive. The key is BALANCE. Eventually, hopefully, with the emotional work a person does, the roller coaster of life won't have really high "highs" and really low "lows."
The feeling/s you have belongs to you today. Sometimes, when a person feels an emotion, there seems to be 20 or more years' worth. Just remember that you are in the "now."
Then there is such a thing as the "spiral effect." Sometimes you feel like you are sitting on the edge of a "black hole." For example, you are a victim of abuse as a child. You have suppressed your emotions – don't want to feel – but a beloved pet does something that makes you angry. (But you don't want to feel!) You try to contain yourself, but then your pet does something again that builds up even more anger. Out of "nowhere" comes this violence! You hit or even kick your pet! That was something you were NEVER going to do! You were NEVER going to lose control like your father or mother did! The guilt that comes crashing in is just devastating! You jump, sometimes slide, into that black hole. There seems to be no bottom to it! When you finally do smack into the bottom, there seems to be no way out – when you look up, you can't see daylight. Will you get out of this alive? It becomes extremely intense.
If you do not know your options and have not done any emotional work, you may feel like you're "going crazy" OR you may suffer a "nervous breakdown" and end up in a hospital. If you have done some emotional work, then somehow, someway, you realize that you must acknowledge your feeling/s, accept this "void" and then choose what to do. Finally you are able to see a little shaft of light coming through the darkness. You grab hold and pull yourself out of the blackness. You vow never to do anything like that again.
Unfortunately, pets can push. Again the pet does something – again you may resort to a kick or a hit – again the guilt – again the slip into the "black hole." This time, however, it was not quite so intense and you knew you could come out alive. You remember what a shame-based personality is and you know you can choose how you want to be and how you want to feel. You also know that because this is a process, you may even slip up again, but you will succeed in changing your behavior because you want to. You know this and you are able to exit from the "void" and feel some hope for the future. You will be able to choose how you react to a similar situation the next time.
Now we come to probably the worst of all – post-traumatic stress syndrome. This can be a very serious disorder which is caused by serious trauma. The trauma could have been stress from long-term child abuse, a war, or a drug/alcoholic home. This person builds up a wall around him/herself just to be able to get through another day. This wall enables them to be "numb." A flashback can be "triggered" if this person begins to feel safer (i.e., comes home from the war scene), or if this person becomes overwhelmed by too much work, or even if this person goes to a movie, reads a book, hears a certain comment or even dreams about the event (nightmares). A moment of past time is re-lived by this person – and he or she sees, feels, hears – lives in that moment.
It is important to understand what is going on inside of this person. He or she may not see his/her spouse, parent or child standing there. This person sees an enemy. This person is experiencing the terror of the trauma that caused the syndrome in the first place. He or she could "go after" you or run from you. All of the feelings this person felt in those moments of horror come back out of proportion.
People who have post-traumatic stress syndrome need support. They need to talk about it. They need to get in touch with their rage, hostility, fear, etc., in order to understand and deal with the trauma and heal themselves.
Another lesser version of that syndrome happens sometimes. A person can be arguing with a spouse or friend and realize that the other person is sounding or acting just like someone who abused him/her in the past! If that happens to you, ask yourself, "Where in my history did this happen before?" When you remember, then you can heal it with a feeling and/or memory. You can choose to handle the situation in a more healthy manner.
This is very important to do for ourselves since we tend to pick other people to be in our lives whose patterns are very similar to someone in our past who hasn't treated us with respect or who has abused us. It is a human reaction to try to change the past. Subconsciously we pick out a similar person so perhaps we can "do it differently" this time.
Actually, anytime you feel an emotion which seems to be "out of proportion" to the situation, STOP! Ask yourself, "When and where did I feel this before?" For example, one of your children spills a glass of milk and you hit the ceiling, or someone talks about their opinion (on a matter that doesn't even relate to you) and you feel they are criticizing you. Once you stop and look at the situation and remember where and when you felt the same uncomfortable feelings, you can acknowledge those feelings, then heal yourself.
A person can choose to keep him/herself so busy that they don't have to think about or ever deal with any issues. This type of person normally has flashbacks which connect with pain in the body, such as a headache or a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Sometimes a color or an odor can trigger memories – sometimes going back to your old neighborhood, high school reunion or a reunion with your relatives bring back unpleasant memories. Remember that until you heal your emotions you may continue to loop through a lot of pain – pain that can be healed from the inside.
We do need to heal from the inside. If we don't, we may end up with a life-threatening infection, just as in a physical wound which is not cared for properly. Take care of yourself. Love yourself so you are able to love others and be loved – so you can be healthy in mind, body and soul – so you can be happy and filled with hope for the future. Isn't that infinitely better than the alternative?
1. Survival – an Unconscious Act
2. Emergent Awareness
A. Becoming aware through intervention, grief, anxiety, sharing, etc.
B. Need to take care of the self, get in touch with feelings
3. Grieve - Deal with Core Issues
A. Acknowledge - abandonment, anger, etc., then to share and face even the "rotten" core of your being; to risk; to practice forgiveness and "letting go"
B. Accept - you are human, you will make mistakes, you can learn from the mistakes
C. Choose - know that you have a choice in your life
4. Transformation - you begin to feel better and know that all the hard work you have done is worth it - your life is changing, becoming more healthy
5. Genesis - the transition to your higher self, the knowledge that there is purpose, order and continuity in this life - you have a part in this life - you can gather strength from the "bad stuff" and learn and grow
*Recreated from notes taken during lectures at various hospitals, and at the YWCA, etc., including classes given by Jim Osborn, a great teacher