Give Yourself Permission to Grieve


BY: Diana Battles, MSW, LISW

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

Early in their journey through grief, most people will experience varying degrees of numbness. Commonly, within four to seven months following the death of a loved one, the numbness begins to lift and emotions flood in. Relief, sorrow, anger, guilt, loneliness and regret may emerge. Unfortunately, at the time when one begins to feel engulfed in confusing and powerful emotions, friends and family may urge: "It's been weeks or months, aren't you over it yet? Time to pull yourself together and get on with your life." Comments like these imply that unless they jump back into life fairly soon after the death, something is wrong. Many bereaved people are angered and shocked that others could be so insensitive to their physical, emotional and social upheaval after the death of their loved one.

If only close ones realized that, generally, it takes eighteen to twenty-four months to find new stability after the death of a family member. And time is not all that is needed to regain equilibrium and perspective. If you have suffered loss, you need to give yourself permission to experience and express the emotions of grief in healthy ways. With the passage of time, you will be able to find your balance once again.

Each person's style of grieving is unique. Pay attention to what your own body and soul are leading you to do:
  • Cry when you need to cry. A good cry can  release stress. Let go of the bottled up tears that you hold inside: unshed tears can cause your head and stomach to hurt. Scientific studies have found tears of sorrow contain certain chemicals that are natural pain relievers.
  • It's OK to laugh. Humor is a good stress reliever - and it's not disrespectful to the person who has died. They would want you to enjoy life's laughter.
  • If you need time alone, take it. Some people prefer to weep privately or need their own space to reflect.
  • If you need extra sleep, indulge yourself. The emotions of grief are draining.
  • If you are angry, find healthy outlets. Beat a pillow, scream in the shower, exercise vigorously, participate in sports, work at physical labor or pound nails. Address guilty feelings head on. Guilt can immobilize.
If you cannot sort through these feelings with a trusted friend, consider finding a counselor to help you.

Recognize that there is not one right way to express emotions. Others may do it differently than you do. One caution: use ways that are not destructive or harmful to you or to others.

Pay attention to your feelings. Give them healthy expression. Powerful emotions don't just go away. If you bury them, they may fester, emerging at unexpected times. And it takes more emotional energy to hold feelings inside than to express and deal with them.

Talk to someone who will listen without judging. It might be a friend, clergyperson, someone who has experienced a similar loss or who is farther along on their journey of grief, a support group or a counselor. A family member could help, but remember he or she is hurting, too, in a different way, and may not be able to provide the unbiased, nonjudgmental listening you need.

Repeat your story as often as you need to. Much emotion can be remembered and expressed in retelling the story of your loved one's life and death.

Keeping a journal or writing letters to your loved one about your feelings can be therapeutic. A journal can serve as a tool to store and sort out thoughts and feelings. Entries can help you measure progress as you look back to see where you were emotionally at earlier points. The creative arts such as dance, music, drama, poetry and painting can offer healing outlets for emotional expression.

It is a challenge to give yourself permission to grieve in our fast-paced culture, which wants you to "get over it" in a short amount of time. However, if you take the time you need to express your emotions, you will come to find new perspective, growth and healing.

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