Equipped for Happiness
Too Soon for Recovery?
By Russell Friedman, Grief Recovery Institute
Overcoming Grief: You can’t go over, under, or around it, you must go through it! Our earliest socialization tells us: Don’t Feel Bad, Be Strong, Don’t Burden Others With Your Feelings. Using just those few incorrect ideas, we develop a default position that suggests we shouldn’t feel bad in the first place.
If we’re taught not to feel bad—when feeling bad is the normal and natural reaction to a grief-producing event—it makes it almost impossible for us to access healthy guidance to go through grief, rather than trying to bypass it by going over, under, or around it.
The first thing we must do if we want to deal with our grief effectively, is to allow our grief to exist by acknowledging it, and by communicating openly about it to people with whom we feel safe.
Overcoming Grief And Then Dealing With Unresolved Grief
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind. The range of reactions and emotions in response to grief-producing events is as wide as there are people on the planet. It is said that “Everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace.” We agree.
But experiencing grief, even in our own way and at our own pace, is not the only issue. For example, when someone important to us dies, or when we get divorced, we are always left with some things we wish had been different, better, or more; and with some unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations about the future.
Those six words:
These are the keywords that can help us discover what was left emotionally incomplete for us as the result of a death, a divorce, or any other loss. We call those unfinished or incomplete things Unresolved Grief.
The Hardest Part About Overcoming Grief Is That We’re Taught That It’s Too Difficult
When we first coined the phrase Grief Recovery more than 30 years ago, many people said, “I didn’t know that recovery from grief was even possible.” In fact, many people believed—and some still believe—that once stricken by grief, it is a permanent condition. That’s just not true.
The actions of the Grief Recovery Method that help grieving people deal with their unresolved grief are very accessible to anyone who’s willing to take those actions. They are relatively easy to do, even though we might think that they are hard because we were never taught they exist or how to do them, and because we may have believed the myth that grief is permanent and recovery is impossible.
Am I equipped for happiness? Holding onto pain?
by Russell Friedman
Some of us have become very good at holding onto pain. We may have unresolved loss-of-trust experiences from childhood that keep us in an almost perpetual state of acceptance of pain as a permanent condition. Many of us keep dragging the unfinished relationships of our past into all of our new relationships, and then acting surprised when they always end the same. We may be ill-equipped to deal with the feelings caused by the end of each new relationship, and we may be unaware that almost all of our past relationships are incomplete or unresolved.
In Less than loved ones; Death of a difficult person, we touched upon the idea that grievers develop a relationship to their pain, as if their identity hinged on regarding themselves as unhappy. Many people become so familiar with those painful feelings that they are afraid to let them go. If it were not so sad and if it did not have such dire consequences, one would be tempted to draw a cartoon of someone clinging desperately to a horrible looking creature called pain, terrified of losing it. And yet, that is exactly what it looks like.
Some of us are able to acknowledge that we have sabotaged many relationships. While we have the intellectual awareness that we are the common denominator in the sabotages, we find ourselves unable to change our behavior. If the intellect were the key to successful recovery then we would be able to think ourselves well. We would be able to understand ourselves into better actions. Clearly that does not work. Unresolved grief is cumulative and cumulatively negative.
Incomplete relationships create unresolved grief, and unresolved grief creates incomplete relationships.
Incomplete relationships can cause us to limit our lives, can induce us to sabotage good relationships, and can encourage us to keep choosing poorly. Unresolved grief can cause us to define ourselves as unworthy of happiness. We must learn how to grieve and complete relationships that have ended or changed. It may sound simple, and it is simple. Why then, do so many people resist taking the simple and clearly defined actions of The Grief Recovery Method? In the opening paragraph we referred to how familiar we become with our pain. Familiarity can create a powerful illusion that change is not necessary, that growth is not possible, and that where happiness is concerned, 20% equals 100%.
Holding onto pain is familiar
“Am I equipped for happiness?” Yes, but I am much more familiar with pain. As the direct result of years and years of practice, I am expert at identifying and relating to pain. Happiness is an unwelcome intruder in how I relate to myself. We have all searched desperately for the key to happiness. While it may sound simplistic to say that we held the key ourselves all along, it is true. Access to our own happiness is directly linked to our ability to grieve and complete our relationships with people and events, as well as our ability to grieve and complete our relationship to the pain we generate when we are reminded of the unhappiness we have experienced in our lives.
Many of us say, over and over, that if only this or that would happen I could be happy. The thing might be love or money or success or fame. And yet, how often do we get the very thing we wanted and wind up as unhappy as we were before, and even more disillusioned? To rediscover your ability to be happy, you must go back and grieve and complete all of the incomplete relationships from your past. As you do so, you will begin to find your normal and natural desire and ability to be happy. You may have heard people talk about stripping away the layers of an onion; we prefer the analogy of stripping away the leaves of an artichoke, and discovering your heart inside.
QUESTION: I have had many painful loss experiences in my life. Sometimes I feel as if there is no way I can ever let down my guard and allow any positive or happy experiences in. Will the Grief Recovery Method help me change this fearful habit?
ANSWER: In clearly identifying your behavior as a habit, you increase the probability of growth and change. The idea of changing a habit is probably less intimidating than the idea of changing a behavior. In truth, most of our behaviors are habits that we have practiced so well and so often that they seem like our nature. Many of our survival habits were developed when we were quite young. Often we are managing an adult life with the limited skills and perceptions of a small child. As we grieve and complete the events and the behaviors of our pasts, we become open to our ability to be happy
Is it Ever Too Soon To Recover?
by Russell Friedman
The question of when to begin a process of completing relationships that have ended or changed, due to death or divorce, is confused by conflicting opinions from a wide variety of sources. Medical, psychological, societal and family experts all approach the issue from differing perspectives.
It is not at all uncommon for us to hear of people being told, by their Professional, “it’s Too Soon to begin your grief work, you’re not ready yet.” We grit our teeth every time we hear that comment.
Imagine that you have fallen down and gashed your leg. Imagine that blood is gushing from the wound. Imagine someone walking by and saying: “it’s Too Soon, you are not ready for medical attention yet.”
Now, imagine that circumstances and events have broken your heart. Imagine that you are experiencing the massive and conflicting feelings caused by significant emotional loss. Imagine a friend, or worse, a professional, saying to you: “it’s Too Soon, you are not ready for emotional attention yet.”
This is an area that is so filled with misinformation that it is often difficult to fight through to the truth. We have been falsely educated to believe that grievers want and need to be alone. We have been incorrectly socialized to avoid the topic of the loss, in an attempt to protect the griever.
Here is the simple truth: most grievers want and need to talk about “What Happened” and their relationship with that person or event. They want and need to talk about it almost immediately following the loss. It pre-occupies them, just as the person with the gashed leg is pre-occupied with their accident and their treatment and their recovery. Those who do not want to talk about it will let you know.
When a person learns of the death of a loved one, an almost automatic review process begins. This process may be conscious or unconscious; usually both. In reviewing the relationship, the griever remembers many events that occurred over the length of the relationship. Some of the events are happy and produce fond memories, some are unhappy and produce sad memories. During this automatic review the griever will usually discover some things that they wish they’d had an opportunity to say, things they wish had ended “different, better, or more.” It is those unsaid things which need to be discovered and completed.
The review is most intense and most accurate in the time immediately following the death. It is the time when we are most focused on the person who died and our relationship with them. We will rarely have another opportunity to remember with such detail and intensity. This is the circumstance where “time” not only doesn’t heal, but also diminishes our memory as we move further away from the death itself.
We will refrain from offering any concrete definition as to the “time” involved. Every griever is unique. Every griever responds at their own pace. It is essential never to compare one griever to another. Each and every griever has their own individual beliefs about dealing with their feelings of loss. Each griever is remembering their own individual relationship with the person who died.
We have been talking about the review that follows the death of a loved one. Everything above also applies to the death of a “less than loved one.” Everything above also applies to divorce and to any and all significant emotional losses.
As soon as a griever becomes aware of the review process going on inside their head and their heart, it is time to begin The Grief Recovery Method. The Grief Recovery Handbook is an excellent guide and addition to the natural process that the griever is already doing. The Handbook will keep you on track and help you to complete the pain caused by the loss.
If your loss occurred some time ago, even many years ago, do not despair. The Grief Recovery Method can help you recapture the review that took place and may have been repeating over and over.