In Russel Friedman’s blog[i] of February 2013, he recalls ‘More than 30 years ago, in a speech, John W. James, Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute said, “Grief is the most off-limit topic for conversation in the English-speaking Western World.”’ Now, 35 years after this speech and with more than 500,000 copies of our books in homes and libraries, it seems little has changed as to how people understand and deal with grief.
After supported thousands of grievers during the last 40 years, The Grief Recovery Institute identified 6 myths which prevent many of us from identifying and processing our pain. In my capacity as a Grief Recovery Specialist, individuals repeatedly tell me they don’t suffer from grief.
We have been raised to feel uncomfortable with the topic of grief. We have been conditioned to shelve our feelings and wait for time to heal our wounds. We deny our natural and normal feelings of grief. Then, to feel better, we embrace many if not all the grief myths, ultimately limiting our ability to process any type of emotional loss.
Loss & Comparison
We can be left feeling incomplete when a loved one dies, we get divorced, lose our job, or are impacted by any of the more than 40 events which lead to grief. There can be a sense of business left unfinished or conversations not had.
The Grief Recovery Institute does not compare loses nor do we compare the individual impact of the 6 myths. If we were to compare we must defend the resulting position and right and wrong has no place in The Grief Recovery Method®.
When loses are compared, one can lose sight of the fact each one of us reacts to loss in a different way. Much of our reactions depends on the unique relationship we had with the individual or the event that caused our grief. Additionally, our grief is influenced by what we have witnessed, heard, or experienced.
The 6 myths are so universal most of us are familiar with them. These myths do not appear in any particular order, some overlap, and each can be limiting in several ways. Without the proper tools to process our incomplete emotions the myths can allow us to remain present with our pain. Being aware of the 6 myths is a significant step to recovery.
The purpose of this article series is to identify these myths, explore their origin and how they perpetuate. Part 1 of this 3-part series discusses 2 of these 6 myths: “Don’t feel bad” and “Replace the loss”.
Don’t Feel Bad
By the time a child is 15 years of age they have been sent 23,000[ii] messages implying their feelings do not matter. Inavertedly, we received these subtle messages suggesting our feelings did not matter and our resulting sadness was an inappropriate reaction to our grief.
We take these lessons from our childhood into our adult lives. Well-meaning parents and grandparents told us not to feel bad and would soothe away our pain with ice cream, cookies, or a trip to the store. Because the lessons were given to us from an authority figure we believed their advice to be true.
Learning to navigate our human emotions means learning to accept the good with the bad, happiness with sadness, etc. When we are taught to deny our feelings, we fail to engage in the entire human spectrum of emotions and we inherit the inability to access and communicate our feelings in a natural way. We learn to deny the feelings of the moment.
Learning how to bury our emotions has been closely connected to the next myth.
Replace the Loss
For many of us, our first experience with death is the loss of a family pet. To ease our pain, our well-meaning parents may have said, “Don’t feel bad. We will get you another fish/cat/dog.” Early on we learned expressing our feelings was somehow considered unacceptable and when something is lost we need only replace it with something else.
Now, think back to your teenage, or early adult, years when your first love relationship fell apart. Family and friends most likely responded by saying, “Don’t worry, there are plenty of fish in the sea.”
We learned to deny our emotions and replace the loss as a solution for our pain. If our pain is replaced, we can forget the pet that died, the relationship which dissolved, and the pain of loss is to be forgotten.
As we mature we then apply this same technique to any additional broken relationships or other losses. Unresolved pain from your first love can be carried into your subsequent relationships. This emotional programming follows us, whether we are aware of it or not, and it prevents us from fully engaging in our current relationships.
According to Friedman, first marriage divorce rates hover around 50%; second near 67%; and third are said to be 73%[iii]. Every relationship you create is unique and the new cannot be a substitute for the old.
Our emotions are real. Unresolved emotions, stored within our cells, can have a devastating effect on our health. Grief is a normal and natural reaction to a change in something which is familiar. What is not normal is how society makes us feel when we express these emotions.
When you allow yourself to grieve naturally, completing any unfinished business of the past, you create a solid foundation upon which to build your future.
Watch for 6 Myths Keeping You Stuck in Your Grief (part 2) in an upcoming issue of a Beautiful Life.
Tammy Adams loves to problem solve, inspire and motivate others who are ready and committed to change. Tammy has spent over 30 years in the field of education and as a Certified Life and Executive Coach Tammy teaches individuals to challenge and conquer their limiting beliefs and insecurities to create the life of their choosing. As a Grief Recovery Method Specialist Tammy understands that unresolved grief can limit an individual’s capacity for happiness and is gifted at supporting individuals through the pain and isolation cause by an emotional loss, of any kind, to a place of happiness they believed no longer existed. Tammy’s clients say, “Tammy helped me unpack the baggage and put a smile on my face in the process. It’s a rare quality for someone to fully listen without judgement but yet still steer you in the right direction.”
[i] Understanding Grief: Still the most off-limit topic? Russell Friedman https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com/blog/2013/02/understanding-grief-still-most-off-limits-topic-grief-myths
[ii] Don’t Feel Bad! The Myth. (Grief Myths Part 1) Russell Friedman
[iii] Dealing with grief and loss: Why people try and replace the loss (Grief Myths Part 2) Russell Friedman