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Therapy and Treatment

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Loss and Grief

Loss and grief is something we all have to deal with in life at some point. Some people are better at dealing with loss than others, there are various reasons for this but one thing I’ve noticed is that when people understand the loss process they seem to be able to deal with it better. I think this is because sometimes it’s very helpful to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and also knowing that what you’re going through is normal and being able to recognise and identify with the emotional and behavioural symptoms is beneficial.

Loss and grief is essentially the same thing because we grieve for what we lost. If you think about it there are many things you’ve probably lost in your life, not just losing a loved one when they pass away but also loss of relationships (a break up, a friend or family member moving away), a loss of a habit (stopping smoking, drinking), loss of possessions (mobile phone, handbag), you can practically lose anything! The difference is how connected we have felt with the thing or person we have lost. In my experience self esteem plays a role as well, those with more self esteem seem to deal with loss better than those with lower esteem. I think this is because self esteem relates to the amount of belief you have in yourself, the more belief you have the more likely it is you’ll believe that you will be ok. This isn’t necessarily a conscious belief, it’s more a subconscious one. 

There is a process we all go through to cope with grief. Sometimes this is referred to as the 5 stages of grief, personally I prefer the grief curve because you can place yourself on the curve and see where you’re headed next as well as the end of the curve where you reach resolution. Below is an example of the grief curve:

Usually the most difficult thing to deal with is the first reaction: Shock. Many of us don’t like change, we like to feel comfortable in our environment and know where we are because this gives us a feeling of security. That first burst of shock can rock your world and suddenly make you feel very insecure indeed! This can also lead to a feeling of panic, especially if for example a property has been broken into. Not only do you feel violated at the fact someone has been in your property, you would also feel very insecure knowing they’ve been through your private possessions.

Next we have denial or a feeling of numbness. The grief curve gives options because there are different situations in which we feel grief, for example if someone has suddenly died you may be more likely to feel a sense of denial, especially if you just spoke to the person recently. If you’ve been burgled you may be more likely to feel numb, denial might be less likely here because you can immediately see what has happened, a feeling of numbness is your subconscious’s way of protecting you. 

Questioning the situation is a natural progression, why did this happen? What have you / they done to deserve this? We question things to find a better understanding, it’s the minds way of trying to come to terms with events so we can move on. But we’re not done yet!

It’s normal to feel anger or guilt as a reaction to loss. Anger comes from fear, so you may be angry at the situation or the person that’s left you but actually you’re afraid of the next step: the feeling of loneliness. Guilt is a common one, especially in those that question whether there was anything they could have done to prevent the situation. This is where people start “what iffing” –  for example: “What if I hadn’t asked the person to out for milk, maybe they wouldn’t have been run over…” “What if we hadn’t gone out tonight, maybe we wouldn’t have been burgled” etc.

Now we reach the bottom of the curve, this is the lowest you’re likely to feel, so a feeling of depression / loneliness sets in. You may also feel ill more often as this is a common side effect of depression. This is the bit where you wonder whether this awful feeling of being low will ever end. Will you ever be happy again? Will you ever be bothered about life again? The answer is (hopefully) yes, but we have to climb back up the curve first…

There are re-entry troubles because you have to leave behind the depression. Sometimes people get used to the depression, it can be easier to hide away from the world than move on and struggle back into life and it’s ups and downs. Now you’re struggling to get your foot on that first step, but once you have, the next bits are much more enjoyable…

Hope is next, you begin to find that you want to feel better which makes you hopeful for the future. Perhaps you begin to make plans, looking forward to the future. This leads onto the next step, acceptance. If you’re able to make plans for the future, that would indicate you’ve begun to accept the events of the past. Sometimes this phase can last a while, it’s hard to accept something that’s painful but once you have you can move on. Acceptance and moving on may be at the top of the curve, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have feelings of guilt. It’s hard to move on from a loss, the key is not to push yourself.

Something very important to remember: the grief curve is not a process that is set in stone. You can move up and down the curve like a yo-yo, everyone deals with things differently and each situation is different. Problems with loss occur when the person is stuck at a certain point or they yo-yo between two points constantly. You must give yourself time, sometimes support groups where people have been through something similar can be of a great help as you may identify with people in your situation and they can give the right kind of support.

I hope this has been of help, next time I’ll write about depression and the physical, emotional and behavioural effects.

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by Jenny