Putting Others Ahead Of Yourself While Grieving Is Simply the Wrong Order
The idea that you should be strong for others is another grief myth that tends to start in childhood, when we are taught that it is somehow more appropriate to put other’s needs ahead of our own. This myth is a double bind as it implies that we deny our own emotions while at the same time be sensitive to the feelings of others. This strikes me as an impossible and irrational feat. And rather than being noble or considerate, is also very unhealthy for the griever to repress their feelings for the sake of the imagined comfort of another.
The healthier path through grief involves being able to share the truth of one’s grief experience with others, in a way that is helpful to the griever. Every day in my counseling practice I witness people healing from their grief through expressing their feelings and mentally trying to come to terms with the loss. Grief is tailor made for witnessing and, I would argue that for many, it is an integral part of the recovery process.
When people show up in counseling confused about this edict about being strong for others, it can be helpful for me to ask “Do you want to be human or do you want to be strong?” This can be challenging for people who have been taught to repress their emotions, or who feel silenced by others. Adults can also feel conflicted about what parts of the grief experience to share with children, fearing that their grief will somehow harm the younger generation. But repressing grief just teaches children that these feelings are not acceptable, and can make them feel fearful that bad things can happen if grief is openly expressed.
I am not arguing for intense public displays of grief, and those who are experiencing debilitating sadness or hopelessness may need support from a group or a counselor. But sharing the truth and the reality of the grief experience with others, including children, normalizes the experience of loss, and makes the journey less lonely and bearable.
So it just does not make sense to suggest that a grieving person be strong for others, and it is disservice for anyone, (including the griever), to pressure them into silence. Much can be gained through extending calm acceptance and inviting the griever to share whatever they need to. That is the true role of the witness and friend to those in grief.
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Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counselor, Registered Clinical Counselor, 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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