Is Grief Holding You Back?

My wife and I are big fans of “The Biggest Loser”. Each episode, we pop the top off of some ice cream (only halfway joking here) and tune in to the timeless story of human strength: to overcome, to change a life, to be the Biggest Loser.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/freeparking/577399789/
Frank Bramley: A Hopeless Dawn Photo Courtesy deflam. CC

I am not surprised, season after season, when a trainer sits down with one of the contestants and asks: “What’s holding you back?” I’m even less surprised to hear contestants recount heartbreaking tales of loss:

  • Repeated miscarriages
  • A child or sibling’s tragic death
  • Losing a parent

Year after year, half-baked grief turns up in these contestants’ stories. It’s probably somewhere in yours, too:

  • The pressure to be what your sibling was is driving you mad.
  • Guilt from a strained relationship is deterring you from forming new ones.
  • Perceived failure to live up to a parent’s standards leads to unhealthy coping methods.

Even if you’re not in one of these dramatic situations, you’ve probably been impacted by grief in some way. An incomplete or nonexistent grieving process will hold you back in way you may not even realize. Take a moment to reflect:

  • List the Losses: Make a list of the last three or four significant losses you’ve experienced. This doesn’t have to involve death; a loss could mean moving on from a community or church, leaving a job, losing a friend, etc.
  • Examine the Relationships: Take an honest look at the relationships involved in the loss. If you left your workplace, for example, think of how you interacted with coworkers and supervisors. Which of these should you seek to carry forward? If you’ve been through a death in your family, specifically examine the relationship between yourself and that person. Are there lessons you learned? Memories that will sustain you in difficult times?
  • Identify Sticking Points: Ask yourself some tough questions. What do you regret most in that/those relationship/s? Is there something you left undone or unsaid? This can be incredibly difficult for children of abusive parents or others in similar situations as they grieve a loss in that relationship, but it’s even more important to confront in these situations. Speaking of parental issues, do you hang onto unrealistic expectations they may have had for you? How about something hurtful that they said during your childhood?
  • Seek Closure: Where possible, rectify those issues you came up against. Seek (and give) forgiveness where others have hurt you. Seek (and give) understanding. Even if you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, this is a particularly important step. I’m not trying to talk you into a Lifetime Movie Network moment, screaming at a headstone or pounding on the grave. I’m suggesting that these are issues you sit down and work through in your own heart. By the way, you may need to extend some grace and forgiveness to yourself.

I’m neither a psychologist nor a mental health professional. In my time serving families in the midst of loss, though, this has been the pattern of grief. Fascinating is the fact that “loss” doesn’t have to mean the death of a loved one! When we have that experience, it’s important to pause, reflect, appreciate, and when we’re ready, find a way to move forward.

How have you gotten through a significant loss in your life?

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2 thoughts on “Is Grief Holding You Back?

  1. Personally I try to reflect on the metaphor of the seasons, when contemplating the journey through grief. Autumn; the loss reflected in the falling of leaves etc, Winter; bleak stage ,hibernation and darkness. Spring; offering new life new hope and new energy. summer; more light, and optimism. To think of grief as being on a journey using this visual imagery, helps me to understand each stage or season as needing to establish itself before the next stage can appear. The grieving person steering the pace, but understanding that eventually the journey can progress x

    1. That’s a great way to look at the journey! In my experience, though, this progression is not always linear. I’ve heard grieving people describe this feeling as akin to standing with your back to the ocean, blind and deaf: without warning, the tide might come in and knock you back.

      I love the analogy; everyone grieves differently but I agree that each person will experience these “seasons” through their recovery.

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