Monday, July 18, 2016

In Support of Grieving


Over the years a local pain clinic has referred a number of their patients to me for hypnotherapy for pain relief. My observation: Those who gain relief are more emotionally available—more able to experience anger and grief—than those who don’t.


Being emotionally available

In the relationships in my life and in my hypnotherapy practice, it is my experience that when we are available to “feel feelings”—by this I mean we are able to stay with our internal sensations of grief, anger, shame, vulnerability, despair, for example—we are more able to make changes on behalf of our well-being. By “feel feelings” I do not mean acting out—road rage, throwing a tantrum, going victim, or being a drama queen / king. I mean noticing and allowing the natural arising of emotions in response to our experiences—without being reactive or moving away from them. Rather than shutting down, we allow emotional processing.


Becoming more emotionally available

Learning to be more emotionally available requires an openness to noticing internal sensations of emotions and a generosity towards our self as we do the work of reconnecting what had been previously inhibited.


How does it happen that some of us lose connection with our natural ability to grieve? And how do we reclaim it?


Old message: “Don’t be weak, stop crying, be strong!”

During a session, as Jan describes her childhood experience of her withdrawn and unaffectionate mother, I notice wetness gathering in her eyes and ask, “Would it be okay to make room for what’s connected to the moistness in those eyes?” With tension in her face and throat she says:


“No! It’s weak to cry and I need to be strong.” I ask, “Where did you learn that? You didn’t make it up yourself.”


Jan is the second youngest of seven siblings. As long as she could remember, when one of them cried, Mom would get angry and say “go to your room” or she herself would withdraw. If Dad was home, he’d say “Don’t be weak, stop crying. Be strong.” Jan learned to not cry and, along with it, she lost access to her ability to grieve.


Getting it intellectually

I ask, “So, now as you recollect some of your childhood and tears starts to well up, what in particular do you need to be strong for?” She replies, “Dealing with life, just staying strong in general.” Me: “Perhaps you would consider that maybe that tear is part of dealing with the losses you already suffered as little girl.” Tears well up; one rolls down her cheek.


This was the beginning of Jan reclaiming her emotional capacity to grieve. First, she got it intellectually: When she has the urge to cry and grieve, immediately the old message triggers—“Don’t be weak, stop crying, be strong.” Without thinking about it, she automatically tries to squelch the urge. It was learned decades ago and now plays out by habit. And this old message and habit completely miss what grieving is: A natural part of recovering from loss (and hurt) in a way that allows one to get on with living.


Getting it experientially

Parallel to her growing intellectual understanding, over several months, Jan begins to get it experientially. She gradually learns to recognize and allow feelings of grief. Her vitality increases as her depression lessens. She makes changes in her life on behalf of what she wants for herself now. Her sense of well-being increases.


Living more fully

Every time we suffer a loss that we don’t heal from, we lose vitality. For those of us who learned to inhibit our natural emotional processes, Jan’s story speaks to the possibility of reconnecting with our ability to grieve the losses we suffered and move on. We shift from existing within the echo of what had been to living what is now. 


If one emotion is inhibited, all emotions are dampened

To whatever degree our availability to an emotion, say grief, is inhibited—and however we may have learned that inhibition—our access to all emotions are dampened. Not just (so-called) “crummy” feelings, but good ones, too. Reclaiming our ability to grieve also opens up our natural ability to feel joy, satisfaction, love, affection, connection, wonderment, surprise, astonishment, and more than we have names for.


Simply put, we feel more alive.


Your comments are welcomed.
Footnote: About examples
Stories and vignettes that are inspired by my own or my clients’ coming to change are not intended to accurately portray therapy and are most often fictionalized syntheses written to make clear some point. When drawn from a particular interaction, they are used with permission and are always altered to protect client anonymity.  

All are offered with gratitude to my clients—all of whom teach me that our capacity for intelligent and life-affirming responsivity and change exceeds conscious imagining. And all are offered in support of people making enlivening change in their own lives and in support of those of us who, in turn, support others opening to more options for being alive and vital.


David London said...

Seems the timing of the appearance of the "grieving" discussion coincided with the numerous killings and maimings around the world. Typically, grieving can/will lead to some form of "closure" eventually. However, when one killing is followed by another then another, our individual and collective grievings are plausibly less of an emotional "solution", and we are left still raw, confused and perhaps anxious about what and when and how an internal "settling down" will occur. From that perspective, grieving can become associated with anticipatory tension and worry. Perhaps, adrenaline and cortisol levels are elevated in individuals and communities.

JT said...

David... The last two sentences of your comment suggest to me that trauma can become our response to news of rolling killings and maimings. Staying with one's own responses to all of this is challenging, and for me, better than the alternative of going into fear mode or numbing out. Thanks for your comments.