How do we maintain what’s available of our balance when we lose someone? To understand what is happening to us so the grief does not leave permanent scars and hurt our lives more than it has to.
Even bearable pain, if persists, may trigger emotional response. Much more so the all-pervasive suffering of grief when we lose someone — it magnifies our fear of death, anxiety about the future, anger and blame, self-pity, jealousy of “the living”, just to name a few.
The resulting experience of grief usually consists of:
- Natural and inevitable pain of severing ties with someone we loved and dealing with a different life,
- Artificial discomforts of our own making caused by coinciding destructive emotions.
Subduing self-induced reactions
Tackling destructive emotions that coincide with a natural pain is the key to reducing the burden imposed on our lives, interactions with others, relationships, productivity, our physical and mental health. Finding strength to work with non-ecological reactions instead of avoiding or suppressing them, e.g. diverting our attention to “positive” things, suppressing emotions with external activities, being “with people”, diving into work, etc.
Admitting the fact we produce destructive emotions
Recognizing and acknowledging our anger with people not being considerate enough of our situation, jealousy to current happiness of someone else, various fears about our future, of loneliness, etc., — is the important first step. Awareness of our emotions and thoughts throughout the day, in response to arising memories, specific situations, sensory triggers or even conditions revealed by dreams.
Some of the destructive emotions frequently triggered by grief:
- Fear of death
- Anxiety about the future
- Offense, feeling unfairly treated
- Jealousy, envy
- Anger, hate, blaming others
- Unresolved grudges
Fear of death
We normally react to death near us as a threat to our own lives. Our minds strongly object to such undesired future and anything that may lead to it. The stream of mental activity is not limited to a biological, instinctive response. Our consciousness fights for the life we are attached to, unmet expectations, every wish we depend on, against every pain or loss dying implies. It is not just a momentary scare, but a lasting and strong emotional undercurrent.
Despite its powerful impact, the fear of death is no different to any other destructive mental activity — it ceases once its causes and habitual repetitions within a given context are dealt with.
Anxiety about the future
It is based on multiple fears about a different, unknown, undesired life. Fear of loneliness, missing all the things we will not have without the person we lost, of living without being able to talk to the person, etc. Our minds actively reject, try to avoid such a future, not to participate in it, or even mentally destroy it.
We have to fully accept the change, a new future and our position in it, tackle all fears and connected dependencies, e.g. dependence on relationships, comfort, well-being.
Offense, feeling unfairly treated
The feeling of being unfairly treated by life that has “taken” someone from us, “deprived” us of related things we feel entitled to. We have to subdue our claims and their causes, e.g. dependence on fairness, past cases of offenses.
Jealousy and envy
Sometimes we cannot help it but feel envious of others who seem happier, those who we think did not lose someone as we did. It can be situational, fleeting envy or a persistent jealousy of the whole world. Both reflect ill will, thoughts aiming to harm others, take away what they have, etc.
Anger, hate, blaming others
We hate the world, the circumstances, the changes that cause us so much pain. Our suffering skewes interactions with others — making us see them as causing additional pain. So we snap at people, easily become angry with them.
Another destructive extreme is blaming ourselves. For not giving enough love, not being there for them, not talking enough, causing trouble, etc. We continue hurting ourselves because of our dependence on perfection, ethics, morality, principles, etc.
We cannot change the past, but we can locate and remove the causes of actions we regret so we do not repeat them in the future. Self-blame undermines our ability to change. So a part of the process is forgiving ourselves for our mistakes and imperfections.
Similarly to the self-pity described in previous section about depression it is harming, thinking less of ourselves because of our attachment to the person, clinging to good things we experienced, etc.
Memories of past offenses, things the person should have done differently, any claims we may still bear — may give rise to destructive emotions. Unless we process them so the reactions to these memories are in line with our current, ecological worldview, until the feelings we experience are warm feelings of love and gratitude.
|Tackling artificial discomforts of our own making is the key to reducing the burden imposed on our lives by grief.|