Grieving everyday losses

The authors of “The Grief Recovery Handbook” describe grief as the set of conflicting emotions that accompany a change in a familiar pattern.

That’s a broad definition, and they deliberately chose a broad definition.

Why? Because grief is everywhere. Our familiar patterns are broken all the time and as a result we may experience conflicting emotions. That’s what grief IS.

Why bring this up?

Because a failure to grieve leads to suffering. If we don’t acknowledge the emotions we’re feeling they get pent up inside of us and make their way to the surface in other ways.

If you apply for a job and don’t get it, it may trigger sadness. Absolutely normal.

If we don’t allow ourselves to BE sad however, and instead pretend to instantly believe “Ah well, I guess they weren’t a fit for me anyway”, we suppress our grief.

Suppressed grief will come to the surface sooner or later. We may mull over the lost opportunity for weeks to come. It may chip away at our confidence in applying for other jobs. It may make us increasingly apprehensive about our career.

If instead we allow ourselves to be sad when something sad happens, we can deal with the sadness of the event then and there. Allowing the sadness to, just, be…

Another example.

While I was travelling through South America on my motorcycle at some point my helmet was stolen. It was stolen right from underneath my head while I was sleeping.

When I noticed it was missing, I knew immediately it was stolen.

First, I felt sadness. So I decided to take the rest of the day to GRIEVE my motorcycle helmet.

I let the sadness be. And when I let it be I could feel more of it. I was sad because it was a good helmet. Other helmets had much more draft in them, but this one kept my head warm at all times.

I was also sad because I did not want to ride without a helmet.

Then I felt overwhelmed. Where the f*** was I going to find a new helmet? I was in the middle of Paraguay. No one even uses a helmet in Paraguay.

Then I became mad. Those damn thieves. Screw this country. Screw South America I thought.

“I’m sad and I’m mad and I hate these people” I said to myself. I said it only to acknowledge how I felt at the time. Now I don’t feel that way. But to pretend I didn’t at the time would be silly.

I let it all be, and it sucked. But it only sucked for the next couple of hours or so. By the next day I was once again at peace.

I had grieved the loss of my helmet.

I still think of it sometimes. But I smile, because it served me well.

If we’re not used to grieving and we’re hit with a big loss, like the loss of a relationship, we don’t know how to respond.

“There’s more fish in the sea” your friends might say. “Fuck her” some might say in an attempt to show you some support.

But my advice to you would be: Be sad if that’s what you feel. Be angry if that’s what you feel.

Just let it be.

And it may not just be the loss of your ex-girlfriend you feel grief about. You can grieve the loss of a future together. The loss of being in a relationship.

Any loss you can grieve (and probably should).

What recent loss would you like to grieve? Let me know in the comments below.

Are you living in a bubble of your own creation?

Meet Steven. Steven is in pain.

His girlfriend told him she needs space. She doesn’t like how he focuses on her flaws and not his own. She says she’s tried telling him, but he doesn’t change.

This definitely got his attention. He realizes something needs to be done (although he’s not sure what).

“She’s confused” he tells me, “I know she loves me, she’s just scared. I just need to give her some space.”

I’ve heard it so often before. I try to explain to him that “needing space” is often a prelude to the end of the relationship. It’s a softer way of telling someone you want out of the relationship.

He’s not ready to hear it.

“What’s your plan?” I ask him, “You give her space… and then? Until when? What happens after?”

“I need to work on myself” is his answer.

Probably true, but at this point he hasn’t defined what that means.

I can tell he feels like he’s the only one that understands the situation. “It’s complicated” he tells me.

But you know what? It rarely is.

If you want to be together, you try to BE together and you try to work out whatever is preventing you from doing that. If you need to work on yourself, you work on yourselves TOGETHER. You grow TOGETHER and TOWARDS EACH OTHER.

Sometimes you can’t be together. It hurts. It can be difficult. But it’s rarely complicated.

When you say it’s complicated it’s often because you yourself don’t understand and can’t explain what’s going on OR because you haven’t made a decision whether it’s worth fighting for or not.

You can’t understand what’s going on without looking honestly at things as they are. And often we don’t want to see things as they are because we want to hold on to an alternative reality that feels more pleasant.

We are not ready to accept that maybe this is the end of the relationship — because we weren’t expecting it to end. Not now. Not like this. Not this soon.

Our mind tricks us into keeping this alternate reality alive. It blocks out outside opinions by convincing us that no one understands. It tricks us into holding on by offering explanations for her behavior, after all “she’s just confused”, “not thinking straight” or “scared”.

We create a bubble for ourselves and make it impenetrable so that even our loved ones cannot pop it for us.

But, even though the people around us will not fully understand everything that’s going, they are able to give us little reality checks that can help us construct a more accurate view of our situation.

It’s only until after my relationship came to an end that my friends were in a position to tell me that they didn’t like the way my ex treated me or they didn’t like where the dynamic between us was going.

The first time I heard that, it came as a shock. But then, it slowly started to make sense. As time went by after breaking up I realized more and more about the alternate reality I had been living in.

Talk to the people around you, your friends, your family. They won’t have a full understanding of the situation — but they don’t need to to give you valuable advice. They don’t need to know everything to know that your relationship wasn’t healthy for you.

Even long after your breakup, you can still be living in a bubble that your relationship was great and your ex was perfect. The sooner your burst that bubble, the better you’ll feel! And the easiest way to do that is by getting feedback from people around you.

What alternate reality have you been living in? Let me know in the comments.

Let your friends ground you in reality

When my college girlfriend left me for another guy while we were on a break, I had isolated myself somewhat from my friends.

Looking back I think I sensed she didn’t mix well with my friends, so I was either with her or with my friends – never both at the same time. During the relationship, the balance shifted more and more towards spending time with her at the expense of spending time with my friends.

This is a common pattern leading up to a breakup by the way: Living in a bubble with your girlfriend isolated from your friends (and family).

When she suggested a ‘break’ and subsequently slept with another guy, I had nowhere to turn to but my friends.

Awesome as they are, they welcomed me with open arms and listened to my story.

I remember two distinct moments when this played out.

The first was when I told my buddy Tommy she had slept with another guy, but… we were on a break, so technically it wasn’t foul play.

(I was defending her actions, desperately finding a way to forgive her so as not to lose her.)

“That’s still a pretty shitty thing to do though”, Tommy said.

“What is?” I replied, for a moment not understanding what he was referring to.

“What she did… Sleeping with someone that quickly (1 week) after the ‘break’ – that’s a shitty thing to do”

I looked him in the eyes. I could see that the words he had chosen seemed obvious to him, yet to me they were not. It sounded foreign.

But they sank in.

This was the first time that it started to dawn on me that she had done something shitty to me.

My projection of her slowly started to change.

I was still madly in love with her, but this was no longer something trivial she had done. No, this was a shitty thing she did.

And it took my buddy Tommy telling me in my face to burst the bubble I was living in.

This is one of the benefits of talking to friends.

They’re not looking at the situation with all the emotional baggage that you are.

If you’re lucky, they know you and they can tell if you’re not thinking straight. They’ll pop your bubble, and that’s a GIFT.

One more example.

About a month ago after the breakup I was talking to my buddy Marty. The breakup came up in conversation – as it does – and he surprised me by what he said.

“You know man, I didn’t really like her that much.”

“What?” I replied. I was very surprised to hear that. Especially since I consider Marty one of my best friends.

“Yeah. Your ex. I didn’t like her that much. And I think if you ask your other friends, I think they’d tell you the same.”

I was speechless. My friends hadn’t liked my ex? How could I have been blind to this all along?

Sure enough when I did get round to asking my friends, none of them had liked my ex. Some had seriously questioned what I saw in her.

By isolating myself with her from my friends and I had shielded myself from this reality.

This is one of the most valuable lessons I learnt after this breakup.

Your friends can keep you grounded in reality and act as a benevolent “filter” for your choice in mate.

So in conclusion.

  1. Make sure you share your breakup story with family, friends, colleagues – whoever you have close to you. They can help you ground yourself in reality.
  2. Listen to what your friends say about your partner. They’re often able to see things that are difficult for you to see. If none of your friends like her, that’s a sign!

Dealing with obsessive thoughts

For many of us, our way of dealing with adversity is some form of thinking.

“Oh shit, X happened. What does that mean? What should I do?”

When faced with adversity we try to think our way out of our predicament.

By making sense of what’s going on, we somehow hope to gain control over our condition and escape whatever undesirable state we find ourselves in.

A breakup is a prime example. It’s very common for us to get caught in a mode of thinking.

We may think: “What went wrong? What could I have done? Why did she do this to me?”

It’s worth realizing that thinking is not the only approach to a coping with a sticky situation, but it’s a common one (not thinking aka meditation is often a helpful alternative).

Problem is…thinking doesn’t always work too well. And when it doesn’t, it can actually keep us stuck — or worse, pull us down.Continue Reading

Acknowledging your feelings

Throughout the aftermath of your breakup you will feel a wide range of emotions. Some will be more overwhelming than others and some will be less pleasant than others.

Our goal is to process these emotions and learn the lessons they are here to teach us. To accomplish that we must strive to acknowledge our emotions when they occur. It is far too easy to lose awareness, and get caught up in the emotions themselves or in our reactions to them.

When we forget or refuse to acknowledge an emotion, we create more suffering for ourselves.

If we refuse to acknowledge we are angry, our anger will not wane and we will remain angry for a longer time.

We must peal back all the layers of the emotional onion we are feeling.

During my most recent breakup, on multiple occasions I would feel anger swell up. I was aware of all the lessons and technique which I try to teach here, but still I managed to lose my awareness.

I was aware of the anger, but since I didn’t want to be angry, I told myself that I wasn’t going to be angry.

I only realized later that in doing so, I was making a value judgment towards the anger I was feeling. I felt it was a petty, primitive emotion that I shouldn’t be feeling.

I did not see this value judgment for what it was, another layer of emotion on top of the underlying anger. It caused me to suppress my anger and gave rise to a longer-term background level of frustration.

Only when I realized this, was I able to allow myself to feel angry but also allow myself to not want to feel angry at the same time.

Acknowledging your emotions becomes more difficult when there are multiple layers of emotions involved and they contradict one another.

Whenever you catch yourself feeling something, bring your awareness to it. What is it you’re feeling? What label can you put on this feeling? Is there any judgment attached to it? If so, always shine the light of your awareness on the judgment. What label can you put on it?

Awareness

A large part, if not the most part, of our behavior is guided by our unconsciousness. Who we are attracted to, when we get mad, what we think about something — we don’t get to *choose* to do any of those things. Even though we have some control over our thoughts, our default mode is an unconscious autopilot mode.

If I could impart on you one thing only, it would be the concept of awareness. Awareness, consciousness, mindfulness are all related terms and together form the paradigm that allows us to become self-correcting in our thoughts and behaviors.

If we want to self-correct, we need to know what it is that we want to correct. We need to be able to label our emotions, and for that, we need consciousness. We need to become *aware* of our emotions.

In the field of psychology a model that is widely used to characterize the states one must go through to learn a new behavior is referred to as the four stages of competence. This model is useful for us as well as it shows us where awareness becomes valuable. The stages are:

1. Unconscious incompetence: You don’t know how to do something, and you don’t recognize the deficit.
2. Conscious incompetence: You don’t know how to do something, but you are able to recognize the deficit.
3. Conscious competence: You know how to do something, but there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
4. Unconscious competence: You know how to do something and it has become second nature.

On the path to learning any new skill or behavior we start as Unconsciously Incompetent. We are unaware of what we could be doing better and do not recognize the benefit of acquiring the skill to do so.

It is only by becoming aware of what you are doing and recognizing that you could be doing something differently, that you are able to make the step from unconscious incompetence to Conscious Incompetence. You still don’t know how to do something, but now you are aware that there is room for improvement.

This awareness allows you to focus on improving and self-correcting which can lead you to becoming more competent at the skill or behavior. In order to reach this level of competency, however, it is requires you to consciously think through every step as you take them. You have become Consciously Competent.

After enough practice the skill or behavior will slowly become second nature and you will be able to perform it without actively thinking about what you are doing. It is at this stage that you’ve become Unconsciously Competetent.

As long as you remain unconscious of an emotion or behavior, you will be powerless to change it. It is through awareness that we can change our behavior and grow.

Take responsibility for your own happiness

One of the natural reactions to adversity is viewing yourself as the victim of some external circumstance.

We find ourselves in pain and ask “what caused this?” The answer, invariably, is something external.

Often, however, the pain we feel is caused, in part, by ourselves. Or at least, propagated by ourselves.

No one is going to make you happy. It’s no one’s job, except yours. Your most important job is making sure you’re happy.

Blaming others or external circumstances for your misery, is not going to lead to your happiness. Blaming keeps you stuck in victimhood, because blame implies there is a victim.

Instead, choose to stop investing time in those things that are outside of your control and take responsibility for those things that are.

Start with taking 1% responsibility.

Nothing can change until you take responsibility for your own happiness. Break the habit of feeling 100% victim and start by taking 1% responsibility.

Reaching your tipping point

You may be reading this and still very much feel in love with your ex-girlfriend. There may have been many signs that would indicate that the relationship is over and she wants nothing to do with you.

Yet you cannot let go. You understand intellectually that it’s just chemicals gushing through your brain, but it’s more powerful than that. Your subjective truth is more powerful than the objective truth.

So you continue to pursue her. You continue to initiate contact. You look at her pictures on Facebook. You attempt to reconnect and rekindle the flame that was lost.

You end up repeatedly tearing open the same old wounds, never allowing them to heal.

Part of you wants to move on, but a larger, stronger, part of you refuses to. It’s protesting. It’s holding on.

I can only help you once that that part of you that wants to move on has enough resolve, enough clarity and enough determination to say: enough is enough.

In order to start to recover, you must reach your tipping point.

Your tipping point is the point you reach when you realize that you cannot continue to put yourself through this pain. It is the moment you realize that no one person is worth all this pain.

Your tipping point is also the point at which you decide that you, and you alone, are responsible for your own happiness. It is not up to others or one single person to provide you with happiness. You derive happiness by taking responsibility, not by giving it away.

It is the point you give up hope, you give up fighting and only sadness remains.

You are ill-equipped to deal with grief

Grief is the normal reaction to a loss of any kind. The feelings you are having are normal and natural.

However, in a society where we are increasingly conditioned to expect instant solutions — usually pharmaceutical ones — few people know what to do with these feelings, let alone how to help others that are experiencing them.

Grief is the most neglected and misunderstood experience, often by both the griever and those around them.

—Grief Recovery Handbook

The reality is, it hurts. And only when we take the time to acknowledge — and if necessary, explore — our pain, do we reap the benefits of coming out the other end as a stronger person.

We are taught many unhelpful things about grief, some of which are even counterproductive because they fail to communicate the single most important message:

It’s okay to feel the way you feel.

Here are some of them:

1. “Don’t feel bad” — Message: If you do feel bad, that’s not okay.
2. “Replace the loss” — Message: There’s more fish in the sea, if you get hung up on this one, that’s not okay.
3. “Grieve alone” — Message: You should be able to process your grief by yourself, if not, that’s not okay.
4. “Just give it time” — Message: If you feel sad, it’s just because you haven’t waited long enough.
5. “Be strong for others” — Message: It’s not okay to be sad.
6. “Keep busy” — Message: It’s not okay to listen to your emotions.

Your friends and family are ill-prepared to help you deal with your loss

Most people around us, although well-meaning, have no successful grief recovery experiences to share. They often unintentionally encourage us to act recovered. {James:2009tm}

They don’t know what to say. Even a well-meaning friend who has had a parallel loss does not know how you feel.

  1. They’re afraid of our feelings.
  2. They try to change the subject
  3. They intellectualize
  4. They don’t hear us

 

Source: the Grief Recovery Handbook

This can be harder on you than on her

Generally, the initiator of the breakup has an easier time getting over the relationship.

If you’re reading this, more often than not, you’re not the initiator. So that will make things a bit harder on you.

The main reason has to do with breakups not coming out of the blue. The initiator, on some level, has been contemplating the breakup for a longer time. This level of preparation allows them to move on quicker.

Secondly, men are often more dependent on their partners. As a rule, men tend to have fewer ties to relatives and friends.

So while your ex-girlfriend might have a network of friends and family that are able to support her during these times, you may be much more on your own. Another reason this may be harder on you than on her.