by Glynis Sherwood MEd
Don’t feel bad = Don’t feel what you are feeling – A Cautionary Tale
This article is the second in a series of posts that look at popular myths of grief recovery. Myth #1 looked at the erroneous but widespread notion that ‘time heals all wounds’. Today’s post examines the myth that you shouldn’t or don’t have to feel bad after a major loss.
To a large extent the myths of grief recovery reflect a lack of knowledge about the process of grief and the needs of grieving people. But like many myths woven into the psychological fabric of popular cuture, and handed down through time, they are assumed to be true; as if their very existence was evidence of wisdom. To be fair, most of these myths stem from positive motivation to help and heal. And the purpose of myth is to guide folks through the business of daily living. However, when these unquestioned and – to a large extent unconscious – myths are presented to grievers as facts about how to cope, grieving people feel unsupported at best and patronized or invalidated at worst. What can start out as a well intentioned piece of advice from a caring friend can result in the griever withdrawing and suffering in silence, as solitude can feel more comforting than not being understood. Either way it’s a lost opportunity to build a bridge between that friend and the griever that can ease the pain of loss and strengthen their bond.
Not Feeling Bad Can Hurt
At the heart of the myth that you do not have to feel bad after loss is a judgmental attitude that can feel like a reprimand to a grieving person. Judgement suggests that it’s not OK to feel the pain of grief. Or that you can choose not to feel the pain and be the better or stronger person for it. Those who have endured any kind of significant loss know that they can no more prevent the pain of loss than they can force themselves to feel good or even neutral in the face of it. The belief that somehow it is a preferable ‘choice’ to not feel bad when experiencing loss is something almost all of us have learned at home. If we learn that we are supposed to not feel bad, yet cannot achieve this state of mind through sheer force of will, we start to feel bad about ourselves. We come to mistrust ourselves and see our feelings as negative or defective. Yet the pain of loss perseveres. So those in grief who believe they should not feel bad may come to feel shame. Grievers who don’t believe they have permission to feel bad may choose to ‘self-medicate’ with food, alcohol or other addictive behaviors. Addiction stems from denial of our most essential needs, yet attempts to feed those needs at the same time. In the case of grief, the legitimate need is to experience and transform the pain of loss.
Feeling Bad is a Good Idea
If you are grieving know this: It is perfectly acceptable to feel sad, angry, hurt or just plain ‘bad’. In fact feeling bad is a good and healthy response to loss. You have lost someone or something of great importance to you, and it is normal to feel pain at being separated from whatever or whomever means so much to you. Also it is important to understand that the more you allow yourself to feel the pain of grief, the more easily you will get through it. There can be a great deal of comfort and validation that springs from the simple act of self acceptance. If you feel pressure from family, friends or colleagues to ‘not feel bad’, then find a counsellor or grief group for support.
To folks who are wondering how to be there for their grieving friend or loved one who feels bad, you can start by letting them know that it’s ok for them to have their feelings, that you are willing to listen and want to hear what they have to say. Ask them if they would like to talk about it. Respect them if they don’t, but allow the griever to guide you. It can be immensely enriching to both parties to ‘bear witness’ to another’s grief, and to feel the appreciation of the griever who feels understood and accepted for being permitted to just plain feel bad.
Need help dealing with loss and grief? Visit my Grief & Loss Counselling web page
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Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor, specializes in helping people recover from all kinds of Loss, Grief and Stuck Grief – aka ‘the pain that won’t go away. I look forward to hearing from you and helping you achieve the peace of mind you want and deserve.