It wasn’t until I was going through the training to be a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® that I realized I had been living in the mythical land of grief. Everything I thought I knew wasn’t right at all. I learned that as a society, we approach grief with our head and not our hearts. This means we try to rationalize our response to loss, rather than feel it. These myths have supported this approach to grief for generations. They help us to avoid grief rather than face it.
“Myths tell us what those like us have done, can do, should do…Listen to the wrong myths, and we might even go back a few steps.” ― N.K. Jemisin
I was told there were stages. I was told I needed to keep busy. I was told I shouldn’t be sad. I was told I would feel better in time. Like many of you, this guidance became my roadmap as I faced the various losses in my life. You may have also heard these statements and never questioned their validity: Give It Time; Be Strong; Grieve by Yourself; Don’t Show Sad Emotions; Find a Replacement and Keep Yourself Busy.
THE SIX MYTHS
Let’s walk through each one in more detail, see why they don’t work and what you can do to instead:
Give It Time. If you are grieving after losing a loved long ago, does it hurt any less? Do you miss them any less? Probably not. My maternal Grandmother died in the early 80s. I had a miscarriage in the early 90s. I still remember both losses as if they were yesterday. Even though time has softened my grief, it has not healed these wounds. These losses are a part of me and always will be. Giving grief more time certainly won’t change how I feel about my Grandmother or my miscarriage.
What you can do instead: Give yourself the space you need to grieve without any time limits. Understand it will take as long as it takes. Your grief may soften over time but the loss will always be a part of you.
Be Strong. As the oldest of two girls I heard this statement throughout my entire life, “You have to be strong for your sister.” I took this literally by walling off my heart at a very young age. I thought if I didn’t feel or show my emotions I was setting a good example for sister. Not expressing my sadness only hurt me in the long run. After my divorce, my children chose to live with my ex-husband because I was the “stronger” one. They thought I was “better” at being alone than he was. This was the furthest thing from the truth. Being strong set the wrong example and brought me heartache.
What you can do instead: Be human. Express both happy and sad emotions. It is healthier for you emotionally, physically and spiritually. It also sets a better example for those around you. Your sadness gives them “permission” to also be sad
Grieve by Yourself. Society has taught us not to burden others with our grief. I felt that way after the suicides of my two friends. I didn’t want to bother anyone with my sadness so I stayed to myself. Family and friends have their own problems. The last thing they need is my sadness creeping up on them. Grieve alone so you can stay out of the spotlight. This is not healthy.
What you can do instead: Take time for yourself, but not to the point of isolation. Find a healthy balance between being alone and spending time with friends or family. Choose family members and friends who will support your grieving choices and listen without judgement or criticism.
Don’t Show Sad Emotions. As babies, we were free to express our emotions. We laughed when we were happy, and cried when we were sad. Our emotions changed at the drop of a hat. This was expected behavior. But at some point in our childhood, an invisible switch was flipped and we were told it was no longer “acceptable” to express our sadness. I am not sure exactly when this happened, but it was probably when I was in elementary school. My parents started saying, “Go to your room if you are going to cry.” This lead me to believe that sadness was a bad thing and must be avoided at all costs. So, I pushed my emotions down. Way down. I built the wall higher around my heart. Not the right approach if you want to be “healthy” and have healthy relationships.
What you can do instead: Be honest about your emotions. Express your sadness rather than avoid it. Sadness makes you human. It’s what ultimately gets you through your grief.
Find a Replacement. Were you ever told after a relationship break-up “Don’t feel bad, there are plenty of fish in the sea”? If so, did it help you to feel any better? You may have felt worse because it implied you should never grieve over the loss of a relationship. It also implied that moving on right away would help you to feel better. But does serial relationships ever help you to feel better? I would argue they don’t and most people probably feel even worse. By not grieving we carry the same emotional issues from one relationship to the next. It is often a contributing factor to why there are so many break ups and divorces today.
What you can do instead: Grieve for your relationship before moving on to the next. Be sad for the future that is never going to happen. Forgive your former partner and yourself. Decide what you can do better or differently the next time around. This way you move forward in a healthy way and don’t carry any unresolved emotions with you.
Keep Yourself Busy. Speaking from experience I can say I became a workaholic after the suicides of my two friends. I thought if I kept busy enough, my grief would go away. But it never did. It just got buried. Consequently, it churned and churned until I felt like I was going to explode. I became exhausted emotionally, physically and spiritually. Keeping busy is just an avoidance technique and can be one of the worst ways to handle grief.
What you can do instead: Take the time you need to face your grief. Schedule extra time off work when needed. Practice self-care. Be gentle with yourself.
Replacing these myths with healthier ways to grieve helps you to better navigate the ups and downs of your grief journey. It helps you to leave that mythical land of grief once and for all.
Sending you love, comfort and peace!