Grief and Loss
Perhaps you’ve experienced some of the complex faces of grief and loss:
- Death: the death of a loved one or pet.
- End of a relationship: especially if you experienced betrayal or abuse.
- Invisible losses: divorce, miscarriage, infertility, chronic pain, narcissistic “gas-lighting”
- Business loss: missed opportunities, being fired from a job, business failure, mistakes.
- Subtle losses: not getting something you’ve worked for, trapped in unfair situations.
- Natural Disasters: pandemic, flood, hurricanes, tornados in which you are powerless.
- Moral Losses: if you’ve served in the military, the double bind of duty vs. personal ethics may result in a loss of your sense of purpose.
Perhaps the hardest losses include the invisible or unacknowledged life circumstances, when we receive little understanding or support. This can happen when no one notices your prolonged suffering:
- The private grief of an abortion
- An affair
- A chronic medical problem that few people understand.
- If you’ve been gas-lighted by a narcissist, you may be devastated in a way that is invisible to literally everyone who knows you, as you suffer with self-doubt and shame.
- Chronic illness, pain, or fatigue
- Career change, job loss or retirement
- The death of a family member, significant other, or friend
- Suicide of a loved one
- The death of a pet
These losses can happen suddenly, or may occur slowly over time.
Many times, shock precedes grief. After the shock wears off, you may experience sadness and grief as well as anger and resentment.
Because they are so different, grief and anger, it can be confusing to feel loss and abandonment one minute, then irritation or frustration the next.
And to make it even more complex, most people feel guilty if they experience happiness or joy.
What’s happening in your body in grief… The Biology of Grief.
With loss, the nervous system must work constantly to adapt and “re-map” to a world with a new “geography,” where the old familiar internal landmarks are forever changed.
It’s like driving home, only to find the road has been removed. Every time you drive “home” you have the confusion and frustration of having to find a new and unfamiliar way.
All of these losses require us to “re-wire” how we experience the world. It takes time for our biology to create new neural networks for the changed geography of our lives.
Trying to change the story: Most people’s neo cortex in the front of the brain, tries to change the past, or create an explanation that makes sense of the loss:
- “If only I had . . .”
- “If they would have just . . .”
- “S/he should have . . .”
More complex emotions emerge during this phase, such as guilt, remorse and blame as our nervous system tries to find a way to outsmart the loss in order to avoid it. It can be much more productive to stay with sensations of grief to most effectively move through it.
Gradually people come to accept “what is” and start to move on. When this feeling of acceptance grows, the loss becomes part of our history, something that happened in the past, rather than a crisis of loss in the present.
It stops being a painful tragedy and becomes part of our life’s story from which we have learned and grown. It has affected the course of our lives, but it no longer feels like a current event.
How do you know if you need help with your grief process?
- Are you having many intense emotions for longer than a year after the loss?
- Are your emotions and thoughts about the loss getting worse rather than better over time?
- Do you feel you MUST keep very busy or something bad will happen?
- Do you find you’re reaching for drugs or alcohol to help cope?
- You have significant “unfinished business” related to the loss?
- Are you feeling more and more numb over time? Stuck and not in a process?
- You are hurting physically after more than six months since the loss?
If you have more than a few of these patterns, you might find it helpful to get the transformative support a Somatic Experiencing® can offer. Your system wants to re-engage in life, but perhaps past losses, trauma or medical complication keeps things stuck and needs someone skilled in nervous system function to help things get moving again.
The difference between grief and depression
When we are able to experience grief as a process that the body and our nervous system is able to complete, you may experience a kind of comfort in being with “what is.” Grief has a way of making us simplify our lives, when it is embraced. But when we don’t have the time and space to let things unravel and re-integrate, grief can turn into depression or what we call Freeze.
Grief can open us to new possibilities. But not if we get stuck and drop into a vortex of sadness, despair or hopelessness.
With Somatic Experiencing®, you will learn to differentiate between healthy grief and depression or Freeze. You’ll remember to let your body process the grief using your innate capacity to heal. This may include words, but you will also be developing the deep presence of observing how your body re-orients when your personal world shifts on its axis. What we put our attention on, we catalyze.
You may be surprised, after some time, you will feel the difference between grief and depression or Freeze.
Grief feels like the deep, slow but active process of a physiological response to unavoidable change. It flows like a deep, slow river, that takes its own time to pass. How much time it takes is completely individual and unpredictable. You’ll learn that the deep reparative feeling of grief is different than the immobility and hopelessness of Freeze.
If you are experiencing the complex grief that the invisible forms of loss can take, it may take much longer to unravel the layers of betrayal, loss, anger and injustice you experienced. It’s very difficult to do this work alone. You may feel lonely as well as alone, and your normal support may not be able to go the distance with you.
Be kind to yourself and get some support.
Somatic Experiencing® therapy can help you take advantage of the neurobiology of this deep process, and gradually, and in your own time, return to life, a more wise and compassionate person.