The Gift of Grief

In our society, you are revered when you ‘don’t let your emotions get the best of you.”  Grief is rarely talked about openly and is considered taboo. The average bereavement time a person receives after the loss of a family member is around 3 days and that might be generous. Three days is just enough time to attend the funeral/memorial services but not enough to mourn, yet we are expected to return to our jobs and lives without missing a beat and be fully functional. The loss of a family member is a devastating experience that alters a person for the remainder of their lives.  Grief can encompass many losses in your life such as divorce, loss of a job, house or a stage of life.   Even with good changes, there is still a feeling of sadness and loss of what was.  Grief is relative.  Some people say that divorce is like a death, and it is in the aspect that your hopes and expectations die, such as of growing old with your partner and being a support to one another.  However, with the change and death of a relationship, you still have a choice on how you want your Ex to be a part of your life going forward. When you lose a family member to actual death, you have no choice.  You have no choice on burying the hatchet in the future, sharing time or a conversation with each other, or co-parenting.  These are all choices that you still have, whether you choose to exercise them or not.

We don’t talk about grief, unless it comes in the form of a divorce or loss of a job, things we know we can replace.  Your grief will unknowingly make people uncomfortable.  It’s easier for people to digest the loss of a job, house or relationship because they often come with inspirational sayings such as, ‘when one door closes another one opens,’ or ‘you’ll get a better job, there’s someone better suited for you out there’ and on and on.  But, when you lose someone to death, the people around you won’t know what to say or what to do, some may even disappear from your life.  As you attempt to step outside of your grief for a brief moment and into your old routine seeking some normalcy or respite from your new reality, people may wonder ‘how can they do (that),’ ‘why aren’t they at home grieving,’ ‘there’s no way I could do that?’  This will  have little to do with you, and more to do with the person’s difficulty and inability in dealing with the enormity of the situation and sometimes their own emotions. The secondary experience of grief may feel too intimate, too real for someone in your orbit.  I don’t necessarily think this is a fault, it is just a response, some people just can’t be present to another person’s pain or because they can’t take your pain away and fix it.  Grief can make the people around you take stock in their own lives, questioning what is real and worthy in their own lives and this is uncomfortable for most everyone regardless of the circumstances that precipitated it.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has identified the 5 stages of grief, but know there is no right or wrong way to grieve there is only your way. The stages of grief are fluid.  You might stay in one stage much longer than other stages, you may go back and forth between the stages and right when you think and feel you’re at the tail end to acceptance, you might circle right back to the beginning stage during your grief. Because of this, grief can feel like it’s The Never-ending Story or Groundhog Day the movie only not a fantasy nor funny. Grief isn’t linear and if you think it is, you are being a disservice to yourself and others.

 


One thing for sure is that grief will change you in some may. One never really heals from the loss, instead you accept the circumstance.  To ‘heal’ would suggest that you are the same as before the loss, that you will never feel the pain or think of the loss.  You may be able to organize the loss in such a way that it ‘makes sense’ to you, but you can’t really go back to who you were prior to losing someone close to you.  The term, “Time Heals All Wounds’ really isn’t true.  What Time gives you is the opportunity to accept the reality of the loss and get comfortable with not seeing, hearing, speaking to or sharing milestones with your loved one.

The loss of a loved one can set the stage for self-examination and can be an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important to you.  What you value may become crystal clear to you and others.  This is the biggest gift because the loss may propel you to live as authentic and honest as you want. Forget about living via the constructed expectations of society, family, friends, or self.

Loss will change you, even when you think it hasn’t.  The experience of losing someone you love is traumatic and therefore will alter you in some way. You will be changed regardless of how much you want to be yourself prior to the loss. Loss is experienced viscerally in the depths of your nervous system. The bigger the shock the bigger the trauma. Put it in simpler terms, shock gets experienced by your body (nervous system) and becomes registered in your long-term memory. Once an overwhelming experience becomes locked in your long-term memory, you register it as trauma. Because this trauma is recorded in the limbic system, your behavior may change based on subconscious experience.  For instance, abandonment and trust issues may be amplified.  Such as, ‘I don’t (subconsciously) trust you to be here for me, you will leave me, I can’t rely on you.’  Have compassion for yourself.

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The loss of a family member is devastating, even when a loved one has lived a long life. To lose a parent is tantamount to losing the foundation beneath you. You are having to grapple with the loss of your life-long and unconditional support/love and not being ‘taken care of’ any longer even though you’ve been self-sustaining for years and also have your own family. To lose a child, well, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  To lose a sibling is like losing your childhood, your camaraderie.

For myself, the loss of my brother in my teens changed me and family. It is no wonder that I became fascinated with psychology with ‘what makes people tick’ and spirituality with ‘what does all of this mean?’ in a search to answer my own internal questions.  Since the loss, what I value most is Time, family and real, honest conversations.  I value the time that I have and others take to spend together, however mundane.  I also value deeper conversations with others, so I have little interest in the superfluous conversations.  Money, things, jobs I can always replace, but I can never get back Time to spend with my brother.

Activity:

What or whom have you lost?

What do you value most now?

 

Know that:

You will laugh again, for real.

You will feel joy again.

Your life may change to exemplify what is truly important to you.

Your empathy may increase.

Remember to:  Be patient with yourself. To love yourself. To have compassion for yourself.

 

Your Stress Set Point

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You may have heard of  a ‘weight loss set point,’ in which the theory suggests that a person has a certain set weight point that their body likes to be regardless of how much weight lost.  But, are you familiar with the stress set point?  I think the focus on a person’s ‘set weight point’ is actually the ‘stress set point’ of the person, considering stress is often  the culprit for gaining and losing weight.  However, weight has been easier to study, simply because there is a tangible and finite result to measure.  Stress is not.  Stress is ambiguous, sneaky, encompassing and often, we don’t know we’re under stress until something isn’t working or reached a breaking point.

Everyone has a stress set point, and this set point is basically the level of stress that your nervous system is used to, regardless if your stress level is wreaking havoc on your body and overall well-being.

Why is knowing your stress set point important? Simple, it will affect your mental, emotional and physical health and your relationship(s).

A person’s stress set point will often tell me (and you) 3 things:
1. Your stress set point will tell me your level of intensity.
2. It will tell me how comfortable or used to this intensity or chaos you are.
3. Your stress set point (and level of intensity) will tell me whether there’s a possible addiction or an addictive personality.

How does this stress set point get established?
Well, your stress set point becomes established by the stressful or traumatic experiences you have in life. The experiences can happen in childhood and or adulthood. There are various elements to this such as stress hormones and intensity level, but I will explain this simply.  Below is a picture of a Temperature thermostat model with zero (0) being calm with the least amount of stress to the nervous system and 10 being the highest amount of stress to your nervous system.

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Let’s say you’re born and your nervous system starts at 0 (zero) with little to no cortisol (stress hormone) flooding your system because your family environment is calm and all of your physical and emotional infant/toddler needs are met. Then as you grow older and move through life, you experience a stressful event(s) such as consistent neglect, beatings, being bullied or constant state of perfectionistic family expectations. These are only a few stressful/traumatic examples that children can go through. With each stressful experience, your nervous system becomes flooded with stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline), increasing your stress set point (tolerance level) up to, let’s say a 6 or higher. At this level, your body becomes accustomed to being flooded with stress hormones.

I’ve given you an example that included experiences in childhood, but as you know, stressful and traumatic experiences also happen in adulthood. This can mean that if your stress set point was a 6 during childhood, and you further experience a major or multiple stressful experiences in adulthood, then the cycle begins again increasing your stress set point (tolerance).

However, when your body has consistent time to decompress and reduce its stress level from a 6+ to a 4 or less, you most likely will feel uncomfortable as if something is wrong and subconsciously create a stressful situation to increase the amount of stress hormones flooding your body, bringing your stress set point back up to a level 6.  This can create a need for intensity by seeking out stressful experiences to induce stress hormones flooding your system.  The higher your stress set point, the higher your intensity level.  You need intensity to keep feeding your stress level.  This is a way for your body to become ‘addicted’ to the flood of stress hormones, even if you are sick and tired of feeling stressed, and for the addictive personality this can feel the most comfortable.

I say ‘addicted,’ because like anything your body experiences, you can create a tolerance level, just like you can with drugs and alcohol. You may begin with using substances casually, yet you like the feeling it gives you, then you begin to use more or more often building a tolerance level for that drug. Over time, you need more of the drug/chemical (stress hormone/intensity) to get the same feeling as before, but often leaves you feeling worse.

Intensity can come in the form of high stress jobs, sports, extreme sports, multiple partners (affairs), intense or chaotic relationships and chaos in general. Just a few examples.  Seeking intensity (or your stress set point) is a means to feel ‘normal’ by inducing stress into your system and can also be a set up for addiction to take place.

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The good news: Your stress set point, like your weight set point can be changed. The bad news: it takes work. I know, fun times.  Consistency is the name of the game. With consistent ‘work’ at reducing your stress and intensity level to  calm your nervous system, your set point can be lowered which is the place where healing, flow and creativity happen.  Learning your stress set point will help you gain awareness into patterns and behaviors in your life (Do you have an addiction or addictive personality?), your relationship dynamics (Do you seek out or create chaotic or intense relationships?), and your health (Is your health impacted in any way or do you seek out substances to quell?).  Awareness allows for choice in how you want to live.  Oh, and I almost forgot,  a natural by-product of reduced stress is weight loss.

 

 

ANGER

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InsideOut

Look at this face. How can you Not love this face? How can you not chuckle? Yes, I know it’s much easier to laugh and love a cartoon character, because frankly being the recipient of someone’s anger can be down right scary.

But, in all seriousness, we’ve all been there before whether we outwardly expressed our anger or internalized it. Your boundaries were once crossed leaving you red-faced complete with a dialogue you didn’t know existed much less wanted to admit. You, at some point felt the pains of being treated unfairly or seeing someone being treated unfairly, betrayed, disrespected or simply cut-off in traffic.

Anger gets a bad wrap because many of us stay in anger much longer than its conducive for our health and relationships. If you look at the news, you will see that it’s riddled with anger and strife. We have no deficit of anger in this world, unfortunately. Anger can wreak havoc on your body, your relationships and your life.

Anger can also protect you, keep you safe and propel you to make a change.

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We all have beliefs about anger, whether it was ok for you to express your anger growing up, or you weren’t allowed to get angry, maybe you witnessed anger being used way too much or not at all. Beliefs could also sound like, “it’s not ladylike to be angry,’ ‘it’s not God-ly to be angry,’ or ‘it’s manly/macho to yell or fight.’

Whatever your beliefs are about anger, the emotion itself has positive and not so positive attributes. The light and the darkness of balance. Anger is often used as a shield from being vulnerable. Some people confuse anger with power. I’ve often seen individuals that were physically abused, disciplined by being repeatedly spanked (beaten), or experienced the rage (overpowering) of an adult (parent/caregiver) as a child, use anger as power when adults. When a child endures repeated abuse, physical ‘discipline,’ or rage, he/she is powerless to change or stop the experience. The child must endure just to survive. He/She may make a subconscious vow to themselves that they will never be powerless as an adult- hence the use of anger to overpower others and feel powerful.

Anger keeps others at a distance. Anger, if held too long can keep you from creating intimacy in your relationships. You may long to be intimate (emotionally), but to do so would mean you would have to disarm yourself and let go of your shield of anger. People relating to the person with chronic anger (long-held resentments) find it difficult to be vulnerable because it is like hugging a cactus. You can only go so far until you are repelled or pushed away.

But, if you dig a little, you’ll find what’s underneath the anger is sadness, sorrow and grief. Because of the sadness and sorrow, individuals may cling to their anger, they may become addicted to the feeling and claim anger as part of their identity. They wonder “Who would I be without this anger/resentment?’ Or they think, “I’m scared of losing control,” because the anger and sorrow/grief feel so overwhelming as if being washed over by a tidal wave.

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For all you spiritual people out there that believe, ‘its not spiritual to be angry,’ some of the most self defined spiritual people who I have come across as clients, in yoga class, sound therapy, at church etc., harbor some of the most exquisite anger. Simply because they deny it. You’re either dead or a sociopath if you don’t feel emotions. If you deny one emotion you deny them all.

Here’s the thing.

You can’t heal by denying your anger. You can’t heal by holding on to your anger either. One of my mentors and massage instructors said to me a long time ago, “The quickest way to God is through your anger.”
“What?!” I didn’t quite understand that, because I fit in the above category-denial. Not until I walked through my anger, acknowledged my anger, sat with it, felt it, to feel my grief and sorrow was I able to really open my heart. This still is a practice for me. I drive just like you do.  And I’m human.

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The burgeoning field of psychoneuroimmunology studied emotions (rage, fear) in relation to disease. They found a correlation of anger to heart attacks, high blood pressure in men and breast cancer in women. If we don’t express our anger, then it fester’s in our bodies eating away at our tissues. It is self-imposed stress on the body and mind. When a person experiences anger, circulation (oxygen and blood) is cut off from traveling to the cortex part of the brain. The cortex part of the brain is responsible for logical, rational thinking and the ability to see long-term consequences. Therefore, when a person becomes angry, they really aren’t thinking; they’re not in their right mind.

However, with any difficult subject, it’s not all doom and gloom and never one-sided. Here’s how anger is positive for us: Anger helps you fight for what we want, it helps you stand up for yourself when you’ve felt slighted and claim what you will and won’t tolerate, and anger can propel you to change if you get angry at an injustice to someone or self and you want to change the situation.

So, like this little monster above, Anger isn’t all bad, and really is just one big scared softie underneath.
Exercises:

Make a list of people who you have any anger or resentment toward. (this will probably be easy)

Make a list of the ways/reason’s you’re upset with yourself. (grab some tissues and be honest with you)