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Carl Benedict offers online counseling on his web site Serenity Online Therapy.
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Grief and Grieving: The Process of Accepting Loss
"Mental illness is often the result of being unable to grieve losses."

The great psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) wrote: "Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering." Let me paraphrase what I think Dr. Jung meant: "Mental illness is often the result of being unable to grieve losses."

We humans become attached, not just to each other but also to material things (cars), ideas and beliefs ("my father beat me because I was bad"), roles (as a wife), needs (to feel safe), and the ultimate attachment - our own life. When we lose objects of our attachment, we lose parts of ourselves and we suffer. We then must grieve these losses to heal and become whole. Counseling usually involves helping clients grieve losses or "legitimate suffering."

Grieving is the process of accepting loss. As such, grieving is not simply a feeling, or Grieving is the process of accepting loss. Photo of a woman in grief by Carl Benedict.feelings, but a natural process we must go through in the face of loss. In addition, losses come in many sizes: the loss of a wallet, a leg, or the image of yourself as healthy; the death of a child, a dream to be a baseball player, or your role as a husband. Each loss requires grieving to incorporate the loss into the new reality of your life. The process may take a few hours in the case of a lost wallet, or years in the case of a death of beloved one.

Grief and grieving involve many feelings - sadness, depression, anxiety, shame, hopelessness, anger, relief, fear, regret, guilt, abandonment, and others. Grief and grieving involve many thoughts - "I should have done more," "I should have known," "I'm a failure," "I can't survive this," and so on. Grief counseling attempts to help grievers sort out, process, and come to grips with the emotional rollercoaster they ride in the face of loss.

It is helpful to think of grieving as progressing in stages. Grievers initially experience denial, numbness, or disbelief, usually followed by anger that may be directed at doctors, the deceased, God, family, or themselves. Grievers may then find themselves bargaining with thoughts such as, "Oh, God, please bring him back and I'll be good." Next, grievers experience  depression and the full impact of the loss. Finally, they arrive at  acceptance, having incorporated the loss into their lives, enabling them to return to the present with an eye toward the future. 

Below is Carl's 7-minute YouTube video explaining why he believes understanding the stages of grief can benefit grievers.

To view Carl's other YouTube videos on grief, click here.

The stages of grieving are not rigid. In fact, grievers cycle through these stages repeatedly until grieving is mostly completed. I say "mostly completed" because grieving major losses takes time and energy. Anniversaries and holidays are good barometers of how far grievers have come in grieving deaths and divorces.

Successful grieving leads to personal growth. Individuals who avoid grieving subconsciously create defenses against the pain of loss by walling off parts of themselves, thus distorting their perception and judgment. When grievers are able to deal with losses directly, they remain open to life as it is, and, thus, can see things more clearly. When individuals employ counseling or self-therapy to grieve unresolved past losses, they remove blinders or filters that have blocked access to themselves and the world around them. Thus, grieving truly leads to healing, personal growth, and wisdom.

The stages of grieving are normal and healthy parts of the grieving process. Problems arise, however, when grievers get stuck and become chronically angry, depressed, or in denial. They may become suicidal, chronically withdrawn, excessively anxious, or resort to substance abuse or other self-destructive behaviors. This is called unresolved grief and usually requires the help of a professional.

Grief overload is another potential problem that occurs when grievers experience many losses in succession or when unresolved past losses, triggered by current ones, snowball into an avalanche of emotion.  The griever then becomes overwhelmed and usually requires professional help. Unresolved childhood abuse and trauma can easily lead to grief overload when, as an adult, the person experiences new losses. That's why counseling almost always involves helping clients grieve past losses. Carl Jung was correct: Much of what we label as mental illness is really the result of being unable to grieve past losses.

If you suspect that you have some unfinished grieving to do and would like the help of an experienced professional, then click on the picture below the video.

Below is Carl's 3-minute YouTube video explaining how grief counseling became his mission after suffering a devastating loss.

To view Carl's other YouTube videos on grief, click here.

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All Text and many photos by Carl Benedict

"Our very life depends on everything's recurring till we answer from within."  Robert Frost