Loss, and the subsequent grief, is something that everyone is faced with at some point. This can be the loss of a loved one through death (parent, partner, child, sibling, pet, friend, or someone else), but it can also be the loss of a job, or lifestyle, the loss of health, body part or a way of living, the loss of a dream or a future, the loss of an image you had of someone or of an image you had of yourself, the loss of a house or home, a relationship breakdown, the loss of a pregnancy through miscarriage or abortion, the loss of indentity in some way or something completely different.
We all have different ways for dealing with our losses and everyone is ultimately doing the best they can in the situation they find themself in. Maybe take a minute to think about how you get through losses or how you have gotten through past losses. Think about what the loss was, what was profound about it for you (and this will change depending on the kind of loss too), common factors (maybe things like what happened to your body, weightloss or gain, change in sleep habits, anxiety, as well as other things), ways you managed to get through (things like talking to people or withdrawing, or just keeping going, avoiding it, finding a purpose to drive you forwards, or something entirely different) also, expectations you had of yourself, in terms of ‘time frame’ or ‘get over’ the loss. It might also be interesting to consider how other people reacted to you and what was said, how people treated you and their expectations of you.
I do just want to come back to that feeling that many people have about ‘getting over’ a loss. I have to ask, do we ever actually ‘get over’ the loss of something or someone important? I’m not sure we truly do. We can grieve and heal (at best), or we can find ways and means to cope and just get through (at worst), but with the loss of anything significant, life changes. We can adjust to that change, but ‘getting over it’ can imply forgetting, and loss and what/who was lost can not be forgotten.
It is also important to note that it is very common (and generally accepted) that the full journey through grief can take two years. That’s a long journey to embark on and one that is often misunderstood because people often seem to misjudge themselves, or misjudge other people, who are still grieving a ‘long time’ after the loss (with that ‘long time’ being anything from a couple of weeks, to a month or more). The reality is that people can grieve for years, or can partially grieve and then it can be rebrought up in different life circumstances. Grief is not quick. It is a process of pain, and a time of healing. So be kind to yourself with it.
Alongside that, you may have heard the different stages of grief being mentioned and yes, there are. There are stages to a loss that everyone goes through. People don’t necessarily go through them all in the same order, or in a specific time frame, and people can jump from one to another and back again, or people can get ‘stuck’ in one stage for a variety of reasons, but there are definite common factors in all bereavements.
For interests sake, these are;
~Shock- ‘I can’t believe this’
~Denial- ‘This can’t be happening’
~Anger- ‘WHY DID X HAVE TO HAPPEN?’~Bargaining- ‘If I do X, then Y might happen’ or ‘If I hadn’t have done X, Y would not have happened’
~Depression- ‘It’s really happened, that’s never going to change and I’m never going to feel better’
~Testing- ‘What happens when I do this? How will I feel? What will it be like?’
~Acceptance- ‘X has really gone, but I’m still here’
Those are taken from the ‘Kubler-Ross’ Grief curve model but I would think they are stages we can all relate to.
It’s also worth noting that if someone has had a bereavement and not fully grieved, and then has another loss, you can then get a compounded effective of both; any new grief can bring out any unresolved or unhealed grief from the past, even years, decades on.
Sometimes though, that grief can feel too much and can be too much to bear, or it can feel like you’re stuck somewhere with your grief, or that you haven’t grieved at all. That’s the time where seeking therapy can be useful and helpful.
It is quite a common thought that there’s not much point coming to see a therapist with grief because we can’t bring the person back or change the situation and that, very sadly, is absolutely right; we can’t.
But what can we, as therapists, do?
We can offer a space and time for you to embark on your journey through grief.
A key theme with many bereavements is to not want to upset other people, or for someone to feel they have to be strong for others, or that they will be judged, or they judge themselves, or they don’t want people to see them crying, or something else.
Being in therapy can give you that place where you can express whatever you are feeling (be it sadness, anger, desperation, or something else) without worrying about the impact on the person you are sharing it with. Your therapist is someone who is not in anyway involved in the loss and has no personal connection, so there is no need to protect him or her. You therapist is also not there experiencing his or her own grief at the same situation. Your therapist can hear your fears, for yourself, for the future, can hear your angry, at the loss, at the situation, can hear your desperation without backing away and can accompany you throughout all that. All your therapist is there to do, is be with you, through your journey of loss.
It’s very common with grief to repress or suppress it, shutting out the genuine emotions that are there, sometimes through fear, or through necessity, or through desperation. Your therapist can help you to gently connect to this if and when you are ready to.
Sometimes grief can also be very intrusive and many people can feel a part of it, or want a bit of it or you, or want to offer something specific, or to try to fix it; and when people do these things, it is often with the absolute best of intentions for you, it might just not be what you need. The time and space that you have during your session is just yours, to do what you want with it, without people trying to be a part of it. Sometimes, that can be talking about the good times, or deep sadness about the loss, it can be despair at what has happened, it can be tears, it can also be silence.
It is also common for someone who is grieving to be embarrassed or ashamed, maybe about the amount of time they have been struggling, or their thoughts or emotions around something, or showing their feelings, or something different. Sometimes people also want to hold onto grief because there is fear that if they stop grieving, the person or situation will be forgotten, or mean nothing, or something else. Being able to build a relationship where you trust someone and can share those thoughts and feelings can allow you to explore them, release them and help to adjust to the new way of life or being.
So yes, we, as therapists, can change your loss, but we can be there as you journey through grief, to get to a place that is less distressing and more one of acceptance.
And all that said, there are different therapeutic approaches for working with grief. Some people want to experience their pain and journey through it in it’s depth, and counselling may be better for that. Some people want to, or need to, work with it quickly, and something like hypnotherapy or BWRT® might be better for that.