QUOTES & WISDOM
TOP OF THE MIND
QUOTES & WISDOMfrom the Top of the Mind
QUOTES & WISDOM
Top of the Mind
Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL
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Grieving Isn’t “Losing it” – It’s Finding It!
“Falling to pieces, breaking down, losing it “… have you noticed the pejorative terms that we tend to use to describe grieving? Whether we are talking about ourselves or someone else, I believe that these terms are making an already difficult process even more difficult. Why? Because our perception affects our experience, and when we see grieving the loss of a loved one, a relationship, or any other important aspect of life as our failure to cope, this adds to the pain, and often results in our staying stuck in the grieving process longer than necessary.
My first experience of grief came at the age of 21 when I lost both of my parents to cancer within around six months of each other. I was an only child and knew nothing about dealing with emotions or grieving, and, therefore, just shut down emotionally. This, in itself, wasn’t especially problematic, because shock and denial are indeed some of the early stages or phases of grieving that can allow us to marshal the necessary internal and external resources needed to deal with the loss. However, because I saw the grieving process as “losing it,” I stayed shut down for over 10 years.
It wasn’t until I entered a master’s degree program in Counseling Psychology that I learned that feeling the natural, normal, healthy emotions of grief isn’t “losing it”… it’s finding it. In other words, I had been avoiding feeling the pain of losing my parents to cancer, but in doing so, I had also shut off access to the love I had for both my mom and dad. I couldn’t touch the love…it was too close to the pain.
Once I mustered the courage to feel the pain and allow the tears to flow naturally, I noticed that, for the first time in my life, it felt really good to feel really bad.
In other words, rather than “losing it,” I was finding it… finding the love I had for my mom and dad that had been buried for so long… finding a part of me that I could be proud of (someone who loved his parents, and is sad that they are no longer in his life)… and finding a way through the pain that, when allowed to run its natural course, results in the pain gradually diminishing and the love growing stronger.
That’s why today, I call the tears of grief liquid love. They are a behavioral representation of how much we care, something to be proud of, and something that represents a pathway to healing.
Notice the difference between this more purposeful perspective on the grieving process, and the tendency to see our feelings of grief as breaking down, falling to pieces, or losing it. For those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this all has to do with how the brain processes information,
That is, if our middle brain, or limbic system, holds a belief that our emotions are our failure to cope, it engages the lower brain (the brainstem) which triggers anxiety, shame, and self-doubt. Because we can’t “control” our grieving (meaning that it happens naturally) we also feel out of control, which makes the initial emotional experience seem even more threatening, and we can find ourselves trapped in this lower brain, feeling powerless and confused.
On the other hand, if we can empower the upper 80% of the brain (the neocortex, or what I call the “Top of the Mind”) to choose a more purposeful perspective on the emotions of grief (“finding it versus losing it”…something to be proud of because it speaks to how much we care), we can dive in to the “wave of emotion” that is the grieving process, and come out on the other side feeling just a little bit better.
Therefore, if you feel that this new perspective is something that resonates with you, I suggest that you begin to practice grieving “on purpose.” That means purposefully allowing your tears, or “liquid love,” to flow when the wave of emotion washes over you, and making those tears and emotions something to be proud of, something that speaks to your strength and courage versus your weakness, and something you would teach or recommend to someone that you love.
In doing so, you will no longer be losing it but finding it, and what we find can be a priceless gift to ourselves and others.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill