As we approach the holidays, a lot of us are probably feeling “some type of way”. The reality is many people are experiencing their first holiday without their loved ones. This could be because their loved ones have passed away or because of COVID-19 concerns. Even if it is not your first holiday alone, we all can agree this is a very challenging holiday season to navigate.
Our grief oftentimes magnifies our experiences and our emotions.
This can feel unbearable. When we experience pain, it is our natural response to pull away, close off, shut down, or suppress our emotions. It’s our primal way of protecting ourselves from pain. When it comes to grief it is important to give our self the space to feel it even though it hurts. When we completely close off our grief it can feel like “emotional constipation” and our emotions can become stuck. This in turn makes us unable to digest the pain of the grief.
We all grieve differently
This can be because of our various levels of attachment, our previous life experiences, the manner in which we lost our loved one, or the person we lost. When we experience grief in a healthy way we learn how to navigate in and out of the pain of the loss.
This is described by (Strobe and Schut, 1999, 2010) as the Dual Process Model. The Dual Process Model entails a person’s ability to recognize what they typically do to cope is no longer working. This prompts them to find ways to adapt to their new painful normal.
Some days the mourner is preoccupied with thoughts of their loved one. The mourner may lack energy and drive which may make it hard to eat or sleep. This is called the Loss Orientation (LO) space. Other days the mourner may have energy and their attention is preoccupied with other things such as dealing with life, working, caring for others and various enjoyable activities. This is considered the Restoration Orientation (RO) space.
Are you allowing yourself to grieve and giving yourself reprieve?
Healthy grief involves alternating between confrontation of the loss (LO) and periods of avoidance and respite (RO). I often say avoidance is a big NO, but in terms of loss its helpful to stay within your window of tolerance. If the pain feels too overwhelming, it is ok to step away for a moment.
What makes grief so challenging is we oftentimes grapple with the reality of what a future looks like without our loved one physically present. We never get over the loss of a loved one, but we can heal. Learning how to gently lean into and out of the pain of loss. Accepting that our love for our loved ones will last forever.
To say that this year has been hard is an understatement. If we ever needed therapy, we surely do need it now. If you need help navigating grief know that it is OK to seek help. Don’t hesitate or wait for things to get worse. You are not alone and you can seek help now.