07 Oct A Lesson on Processing Grief
My cat killed a squirrel the other day. I was not happy about it, so I grabbed my cat and took him inside the house for “time out”. As I went back to tend to the squirrel, I noticed what I assumed to be the squirrel’s mate jumping around its deceased partner, making distressed screeching noises. It occurred to me that this living squirrel was in shock and denial that its mate was dead. It was a heart wrenching scene.
In watching this all unfold, I was reminded of how our animal instincts drive each one of us through the process of mourning.
It is widely recognized that we as humans go through phases of mourning and grief when we suffer a loss. I have personally been through this process many times, as have many of the clients I work with. And this living squirrel I was observing was showing all the stages of grief during a time lapse of less than five minutes. First denial, then anger, bargaining, testing and, finally, acceptance as the squirrel went on its way.
The Emotional Response to Loss
Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the The 5 Stages of Grief model in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. Since then, others have contributed their own research and ideas on how we process grief.
Though models vary, the basic foundation is this:
This is before anything happens, and life is moving forward without any major disruption. We feel stable, comfortable in our circumstances. Overall things are positive.
Otherwise known as shock, this is when something has happened that threatens our stability, whether that be the loss of a job, an unexpected move, or the loss of a loved one. It literally stops us in our tracks in that moment while our system grapples with the reality.
During the denial stage we are resisting reality, and operating from a heightened emotional state driven by disbelief. As during the immobilization or shock stage, we often experience intense emotional and/or physical responses, like our system is reeling from the news.
Our system is not willing to accept the new reality without putting up a fight. Anger is a common response in the processing of grief, often marked by frustration, blaming others, and lashing out. The nervous system is on high alert, and isn’t averse to using rage as a method of protection.
Often those experiencing grief will try and “bargain” for a better outcome, particularly if the undesired outcome causing the outcome has not yet been realized, such as a loved one with a terminal illness. If the desired outcome is still not achieved, it can reinitiate the grieving process afresh.
If bargaining does not work and the undesired outcome comes to pass, we then move into the necessity of processing what has occurred. It’s like the wind has been taken out of our sails, and we may experience loneliness, isolation, and depression. Emotions can be intense, and outside support may be needed to continue the healing process.
The testing stage marks the first step towards taking an active role in our own healing. We realize that we want to heal, and start trying different ideas to see what may start to bring an element of joy back into our lives by beginning to focus on our own physical and mental wellbeing.
Once we have moved into the acceptance stage, we have learned to become fully present with our loss and how it has affected us, but no longer at the mercy of such intense emotion. We start to look towards the future with a sense of hope, even if we still acknowledge that our loss will still at times bring up feelings of sadness. We are no longer victims of our grieving.
Finding Meaning and Ultimately Healing Our Trauma
If the emotional stages of grief sound like a rollercoaster, that’s because they are. It’s no wonder so many of us would rather avoid the whole process than be forced to deal with such intense emotions.
Yet as humans, we have the ability to rise above this through techniques which guide us to acceptance in a less painful and often more meaningful manner.
At Pathwaves, we support you in making the journey through emotions easier. First, we help you embody the truth that emotions are a natural part of living – a vibration in your body – and are nothing to be afraid of. We also help you learn how to experience more than one emotion at a time.
For people who attempt to avoid the pain of intense emotions, one of the most effective soothing techniques is to introduce the concept of honor into the equation. By honoring ourselves for being present, and walking through the emotions instead of running from them, we creates a win-win for ourselves. We learn how to process any emotion, and we don’t compound the negativity by fighting with ourselves over our feelings.
Another technique for reducing the pain of an emotional rollercoaster is love. When we feel love intentionally, we benefit from that positive vibration, which immediately reduces the height of the peaks and valleys of the emotional swings. Love makes the entire journey more enjoyable.
We are often reminded at weddings that love is patient, and love is kind. Love does not envy or boast, as it is not proud. Love does not dishonor others, and is not self-seeking. Love is not easily angered, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love does not rejoice in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always preserves. Love never fails.
Applying both honor and love to the emotional response equation for grief allows us to rise above our animal instincts, and experience our natural urges much more easily. We will no longer be under the control of impulse, but a mature adult living life fully with an enhanced ability to enjoy living in all of its seasons.
Through the Pathwaves NeuroEmpowerment™ program, we use a proprietary form of integrative neurofeedback – what we call Neurofeedforward™ – to influence the nervous system, and recondition your responses in order to address the negative loops that lead to suicidal tendencies. Our method has been able to effectively help more than 95% of our clients change how they feel and function, so they can live happier and healthier lives.
To help those who cannot afford the services of Pathwaves, consider donating to The Pathwaves Foundation. Please call (305) 858-6616 for more information.
If you’d like to learn how you can accelerate change through our methodology, we are here to help. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation today.