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
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
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
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
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
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