Grieving Alone – A Recipe For Loneliness & Isolation
Do grievers withdraw by nature or due to shame and stigma for feeling upset? The idea that you should grieve alone almost always comes from social taboos against expressing painful emotions in public. Unless those in grief choose to grieve alone, this myth keeps others comfortable, while doing nothing for the griever except adding loneliness to the already painful experience of loss. Much like Myth #2 – Don’t Feel Bad, the belief that you should grieve alone tends to be learned in childhood, when many are taught that they should never cry or express sadness in front of others. This is still particularly the case for boys in western cultures, who are coached – or observe – that ‘real’ men don’t cry. What’s communicated through this myth is that emotions aren’t acceptable, can’t be said in public or out loud. This sets people up to have problems when faced with grief later in life and they struggle to deal with their feelings in unhealthy or indirect ways.
Grieving Alone Reinforces Unhealthy Coping, Loneliness and Stereotypes
Feeling censored from expressing grief adds the pain of isolation to the hurt of loss. This can impact men and women in different but equally harmful ways. Many men avoid dealing with their grief due to being disconnected from or uncomfortable with their feelings. They may not realize that they are grieving, and instead experience their loss as physical distress, such as difficulty sleeping, headaches, appetite loss or fatigue. They suffer in silence, unable to make sense of their experience, or visit physician’s offices looking for help to overcome what they falsely believe to be physical health problems. Men can remain stuck in grief if they don’t understand what is happening to them and may look to inappropriate or ineffective solutions to their problem. Women tend to feel weak, guilty or otherwise inadequate that they cannot contain their grief. They may grieve alone, wondering what is wrong with them, and judge themselves harshly. Or they may feel resentful that they are not supported in expressing their grief. Either way, the pain persists for women and men, and shame can take root in response to a lack of social support. A lack of understanding or acceptance from others about the impact of loss can also put grievers at risk of turning to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain.
Understanding and Support are the Antidote to Isolation in Grief
The lack of social support for grievers mirrors an unfortunately widespread intolerance of painful emotions in general. For example, many of my clients have told me that they have lost friends when they revealed that they were struggling with depression, and subsequently learned to keep these feelings to themselves. Grievers risk encountering similar responses when they share their feelings of loss with others. Public education is desperately needed that focuses on increasing understanding and assistance for grievers and others suffering with psychological distress. Emotional challenges are part of what makes us human, and most of the difficulties people face are on the continuum of normal human experience. It is not a burden, but an opportunity and, I would argue, a social responsibility, to assist people in times of sorrow. It can also be an immensely rewarding experience that deepens the bond between individual people, and strengthens the social fabric in general.
For those who are grieving now, if you feel pressured to grieve alone, seek out a counsellor or support group. Tell others what you need. At the very least, let people know that you need to be supported non-judgmentally. You may have to educate others about how to best help you. And you might have to confront your own internalized biases about grief and loss.
If you are struggling to deal with external – or internal – pressure to hide your grief, counselling can help you come to terms with painful feelings and beliefs, and assist you in navigating relationships and social expectations during times of loss.
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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.
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