The 5 Most Destructive Ways to Respond to Grief and Personal Loss
As we grow and mature we may think we’ve learned to handle life’s crises and disappointments. But no matter how well or wisely we’ve aged, or how dense our emotional fiber has become, we are all vulnerable to sudden and shocking tragedies that can send us into a tailspin of hurt and despair.
Grief is not something you can shake overnight; it’s something you first must learn to cope with before you can overcome it or reconcile it with your life’s continuing mission. But many people respond to grief in unproductive ways, giving it more lasting power than it deserves. There is a right way to handle grief and a wrong way, and falling into any of these traps can leave you marooned on a desert island of misery.
When you are grieving, please do not:
- Withdraw from the world.There will be times when you want to be alone with your grief; that is both healthy and necessary. But if you aren’t careful, withdrawing from the world can become a habit. Instead of turning to others for support, sympathy and guidance you retreat inward, into a silent, emotional prison you share only with your pain.If you’ve suffered a devastating loss, this is the opposite of what you should be doing. Family, friends, peers in support groups and grief counselors all have valuable input to provide that can help you come to terms with your loss. They can be your sounding board or your shoulder to cry on, giving you outlets to express the pain, disillusionment and pessimism that will eat you alive if you keep it bottled up inside forever.
People you love or trust or who understand what you’re feeling can be your lifeline during your darkest hours. But they can only help you if you let them.
- Indulging your depression.You cannot overcome grief through willpower alone. But you can gradually loosen its grip on your life by refusing to give in to the depression that accompanies it.When navigating through a period of intense grief, you must not surrender to your loss of motivation or feelings of hopelessness. A healthy lifestyle is a powerful antidote to grief, and you must push yourself to eat properly, get plenty of exercise, preserve your normal sleeping schedule, maintain good grooming habits, keep practicing your favorite hobbies and just in general go on about the business of normal, everyday living.
If you act as if you have something to live for eventually you will, as you gradually break away from the grief that consumes you. Only if you choose to stay in the shadows will you have to live there forever.
- Judging and blaming yourself. Everyone who experiences a horrific tragedy will replay the event over in their minds, wondering if they could have done anything differently. During this period of self-examination you may come to believe you were negligent in some way and partially at fault for what happened. But you must recognize this as an inevitable stage in the grieving process, and understand that your perspective is not entirely objective.This is an area where grief counselors and trusted confidants can make a significant impact. They can help you see things more fairly, accurately and realistically, as you move from denial and anger to acceptance and self-forgiveness. It’s a hard truth to accept but loss is a part of living. You can’t protect yourself from it completely or prevent bad things from happening to the people you love.
- Making huge life decisions too soon.Following a significant personal loss or disappointment you will have to start over, and your life will never be the same. But as you struggle to regain your emotional balance and move on to a new future, don’t make the mistake of thinking that material change can somehow make you whole and well again.For anyone who is grieving, this is not the time to get involved in a new relationship, sell your house and move to another state, quit your job or close your business, or take any other grand life-altering actions. This is not how you start over after a personal loss. It is actually a form of denial, a way of running away from your feelings you so don’t have to face them.
Regardless of how much you may be tempted to flee when grief haunts you, it is better to resist the urge and stay where you are. Work through your feelings first and then consider making some life changes. If you try to run, your grief will shadow you wherever you go.
- Turning to drugs and alcohol as an escape mechanism.
You may want to escape from your grief, at least for a little while. That is understandable, but drugs and alcohol aren’t the answer. They are a threat, a skull-and-crossbones poison that you should avoid at all costs.If you are experiencing grief drugs and alcohol can help mask your symptoms. But that is not productive or constructive. You must acknowledge your pain; feel it, deal with it and move beyond it, one step at a time. Drugs and alcohol will keep you stuck in your misery and prevent you from resolving your true emotions.
Even more ominously, people undergoing emotional trauma are extremely vulnerable to substance abuse, since the pain they’re trying to escape runs so deep and is experienced so frequently.
When you’ve been hit by personal tragedy, drugs and alcohol are ticking time bombs. They may provide temporary relief, but in the end they will leave you trapped in a chemical fog that will only deepen your despair and strengthen the control that grief has gained over your life.
From the Winter of Grief to the Spring and Summer of Living
Grief is a difficult emotion to experience. But it is as much a part of life as the changing of the seasons, and the only way to overcome it is to recognize it as a natural response to trauma that can and will pass with time.
Just as you learn to accept your loss, so too must you learn to accept your grief. Trying to fight it or hide from it will only increase its power and prevent you from moving on.