Grief can be all consuming. As such, it is healthy to take time out of grieving as a means of coping. It is unhealthy when this time out becomes semi-permanent. Here are ways people step back from grief.
There are four common defense mechanisms that mourners employ that can short circuit healthy grief. All of these coping skills if used to take a brief vacation or break from the overwhelming demands of grief can be healthy and effective. You as a mourner cannot mourn intensely 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Taking a short respite from grief occasionally can be healthy.
If any of these defense mechanisms are used by the mourner to escape completely the work of confronting and processing grief emotions, the grief process becomes short-circuited and the mourner becomes stuck in their journey.
- Denial is a defense mechanism that can protect mourners from uncomfortable, painful grief emotions. This coping skill is commonly an early part of grief which allows us mourners to accept as much of the painful new reality as we can tolerate at that moment.Denial can give us a break from the hard work of grief. An extended period of denial though hides us from reality, keeps us from acknowledging our grief, expressing it, coping in a healthy manner and healing our grief wounds.
- Suppression of grief is “stuffing your feelings, “keeping a stiff upper lip,” “staying strong for others’ or any other action in which we mourners do not allow ourselves to express or cope with powerful emotions resulting from the loss. Grief emotions will be dealt with now or later. If later, the unaddressed emotions may come out in destructive ways.
- Running from grief is keeping busy or filling your life with other interests to escape the reality of the loss and the impact it has on the mourner’s life. Becoming a workaholic, submerging your time and efforts in social and church activities, or focusing on others and their grief are prime examples of running. The problem with running is that when the mourner stops to rest, the grief and its impact are still there.Some of the worst advice given to us mourners is to become busy with a filled schedule and forget the loss. That busyness only delays the inevitability of having to adapt to the consequences of the loss of a loved one.
- Avoiding grief is refusing to deal with those things that remind us of our loss in any way. When we mourners use this defense mechanism, we refuse to talk about the death or its consequences at all. Extreme avoidance can cause us to withdraw from people, places and things that were once of great interest, but are now just painful reminders of our pain and loss.
When you find yourself avoiding or short circuiting your grief remember the following important grief need you have to stay healthy and heal:
AS A MOURNER YOU HAVE A NEED AND A RIGHT TO EXPRESS YOUR GRIEF. THE PERSON WHO DIED IS PRICELESS TO YOU, TO OTHERS AND TO GOD.
YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO MOURN THE LOSS OF SOMEONE VALUABLE AND TO SEARCH FOR A NEW WAY TO LIVE AND MOURN. YOU CAN LIVE AND MOURN WELL IN ORDER TO HONOR HIS OR HER MEMORY AND TO HONOR GOD’S GIFT TO YOU OF THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PERSON WHO DIED.
GIVE EXPRESSION TO YOUR LOVE AND YOUR GRIEF EMOTIONS EITHER IN WORDS OR ACTIONS. MAKE THOSE GRIEF EXPRESSIONS PRODUCTIVE AND MEANINGFUL FOR YOU AND OTHERS. YOU OWE IT TO YOUR LOVED ONE AND TO YOURSELF.
Adapted from (c) 2011, Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT in “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” Available on http://grief-works.org/book.php. Also available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookstore. Available now for Nook and Kindle.