The past few months of my life were filled with joy, yet marked by loss. I lost relationships, myself, my lifestyle, illusions, beliefs, and finally – I lost someone very close to my heart. Some of these losses have easy fixes, while others will take me years to understand and accept. Yet I was able to find some helpful ways to cope. I would like to share them here.
Loss has many faces. I cried when there wasn’t much reason for crying and couldn’t shed a single tear, in the face of tragedy.
When we think about loss, what usually comes to mind is the death of a loved one. However, isn’t it simply the irreversible end of anything, good or bad, in life?
When a child cries about a lost toy, does he miss a mass product of Chinese labor? Or is he suffering because the comfort of what he has grown to love has suddenly disappeared? We, human beings, don’t like change. Even when it’s good for us, we run from it like the devil is behind us. And so, losing what we are familiar with is painful. After, mourning is a natural and needed reaction.
I feel that we often ignore the small losses of life. The end of a job, a relationship, a great trip, even the morning after, can be shattering. But if our problem doesn’t feel big enough, in the gray stare of “socially acceptable”, we may try to sweep it under the rug. However, loss is a deeply personal time and it is important to truly experience each one, in order to move on.
Refusing to deal with loss is like covering a deep wound with a sheet of paper. Sure, you can’t see it anymore, but it’s still there, aching and leaking pus. If you don’t want past losses to reemerge in unexpected ways and keep you from living your life, it’s important to mourn and work through your pain.
Here are a few steps I gathered through personal experience and scientific research:
1. Whatever You May Feel, It’s Normal
“Everyone experiences loss in a different way” may be a cliché but there is infinite truth to it.
A friend of mine told me how when she was a kid, a relative passed away. My friend didn’t have the same reactions of sorrow, as the rest of her family. However, she felt socially pressured to act in a certain way, to show others that she was sad. Her experience was of guilt, shame, and forcing herself to act against her natural instincts.
Although as adults we know much more about ourselves and human behavior when it comes to loss, we can still feel pressured to display our sadness in a certain, socially acceptable way. In truth, there is no right way to grieve.
I’d like to make one important distinction here. There are unhealthy reactions to loss, such as numbing the pain with drugs, alcohol, food, sex, burying yourself in work, etc. There is also complicated grief disorder (CGD). However, as long as you are not hurting yourself or others, you can work through loss in many different ways. You don’t have to show any emotion that doesn’t feel right to you.
Even though you may share the loss with others, your sorrow is your own and you have the right to do whatever feels natural. Sure, others may expect you to act in a certain way. Yet, the realization that pain, much like love, is a deeply personal experience, helped me acknowledge and accept my reactions to loss. They may have been different than the reactions of my family, but they were still normal. I realized that it’s ok not to fulfill anyone else’s expectations, when it comes to a personal experience like loss.
2. Don’t Run From Your Pain
Pain is a sign of danger and so we instinctively try to avoid it because we want to preserve ourselves. While this may be a perfectly good mechanism for physical pain and simpler lifeforms, when it comes to grief it is not the best strategy.
It may feel good to distract yourself from the loss but, unfortunately, doing so can easily create serious psychological trauma in the long run.
Suppressed Emotions Can Manifest as Physical Illness
First of all, it is a well-known fact that emotions can’t stay buried forever. They come out one way or another, whether you like it or not. Psychosomatic disorders (bodily ailments with no physical root) are a common way of expression. When you’ve pushed down your feelings for a long time, eventually they burst out in the form of psychosomatic disorders. Some of the most common forms are gastrointestinal and cardiovascular disorders, migraines, and skin diseases.
Want Healthy Relationships? Don’t Suppress Your Emotions
Suppressed emotions also corrode relationships. Even if those relationships are not directly affected by the loss you’ve experienced, running from your pain can change your overall behavior and make others feel uneasy around you. When we communicate with partners who have suppressed their emotions, we feel threatened on a subconscious level. The understanding between the partners also becomes impaired.
Don’t Let Sorrow Snatch Your Life Away
Trying to run from the emotions that loss brings out, might make you avoid people, places, or activities that are connected to the experience. According to Prof. John Archer, this behavior could restrict your life and put you in a box.
Suppressed Emotions Keep Reemerging
If that’s not enough to convince you to live through, rather than run from your loss, then perhaps a look to the future would. As we already said, emotions don’t simply vanish into thin air, even if we try to wish them away. Unless you acknowledge and respect the feelings caused by loss, they will likely come back to bite you in future situations.
Let’s say that your romantic partner has left you. Instead of processing the emotions caused by this loss, you suppress them or distract yourself. In your next relationship, the emotional residue might lead to the belief that your current partner will act identically to the last one. As a result, you might keep yourself at an arm’s length, scared of getting hurt again. On the other hand, processing and expressing your emotions will help you see your new relationship for what it is – a completely separate situation with a different person, who might make you happy, not cause you pain. How we deal with the past determines our future reactions.
For a long time, I distracted myself and avoided negative emotions. Then, a solo trip to Southeast Asia forced me to face myself. There was nowhere to run from my pain. I had no choice but to stay in it for a while, experience it, and understand it. That’s how I could finally let it go.
You don’t necessarily have to go to the other end of the world to work through your loss. Simply allow yourself to spend some time in the emotion, instead of sweeping it under the rug.
3. Rituals Matter
It’s no wonder that rituals have been a part of society for thousands of years, regardless of region, religious beliefs, or scientific advancements. As indicated by a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, rituals help us deal with emotions and regain a sense of control.
Loss is often thrust upon us – it derails our lives and we have no say in the matter. Rituals help by allowing you to take action and guide at least some part of the process. We all need to experience a certain sense of control over our lives, to feel grounded and secure, which is why ceremonies are an excellent tool.
Furthermore, rituals can be cathartic, when you don’t know how to express your emotions. They provide a safe, socially acceptable space for you to release your pain.
A few weeks ago, I had to face the loss of a loved one. Although I was devastated, the tears wouldn’t come. I felt an immense pressure build up inside me and could not release it. Crying is an incredibly important mechanism that we have developed for various reasons, such as cleaning our bodies from toxins, alleviating stress, and provide emotional ventilation. It’s no wonder that many people feel much calmer and happier after a good cry.
What finally set me off, was the cremation ceremony, held in honor of my loved one. Although I did not get to say goodbye in person, or even see her body, the ritual gave me space for a cathartic emotional expression. Hearing stories about that person and doing little things to help the ceremony along, was a vessel that allowed me to let go. I leaned on the wall behind me and released all the tears, pressure, and sadness that had been building inside of me.
Rituals don’t have to be religious or customary to work. In fact, you can make them up. And, as the study from the beginning of this section indicates, it doesn’t even matter whether or not you believe in the efficacy of the ritual. Even non-believers were able to work through their loss better, with the help of a ritual.
Although it may be conceptualize, loss is a permanent part of life and a deeply personal experience, I hope that the principles that enabled me to work through it will find you, in your time of need, and help you process it.
How do you deal with loss? Share your story in the comments below 🙂 [/vc_column_text][/vc_column]
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