Coping with Loss and Grief
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Teresa Mulvena, CBT Cert, MA Counselling, MBACP (senior accredited)
1st November, 2010
Carl Jung said that it is our losses that shape us, and losing somebody we love is one of the most traumatic experiences we have in life.
Often people ask me what they can do in order to feel better, or to get rid of the feelings of sadness and loss. With most problems in life there is something we can DO, but with grief all we can do is to try not to block out the sad feelings and to let ourselves feel it. This may not sound like much, but it can really help to spend time talking about your loved one with people that you trust, and let yourself feel the upset.
People push their feelings away, often because of the fear that their feelings will overwhelm them, and they won't be able to cope. These are understandable fears when someone is faced with a big loss because it does feel overwhelming, and it can be hard to imagine how life will ever be the same again.
Be careful not to use alcohol or medications to block out feelings, because the feelings will still be inside you waiting to be dealt with at some time in the future. In blocking the feelings you also block the return to the belief that life is worth living.
Some people will try to avoid that pain by keeping themselves very busy or burying themselves in work. While this kind of distraction may be helpful in the short term, the feelings still need to be felt at some stage. Other people might avoid their own feelings because they have a sense of needing to be strong for others, or feeling that there is no-one who can support them.
It is normal to feel quite depressed after someone has died, and this can persist for a time. It is hard to set a timetable for how long this lasts, as grief is different for everyone.
What might feel helpful for one person can not feel so useful to someone else.
Issues such as sorting out possessions and managing the practicalities vary enormously, and with this you need to follow your gut instinct about when feels right.
Contrary to what we might think, coping with a loss when we had mixed feelings about someone is much harder than if the relationship was more straight forward. As a society we have some problem in admitting to negative feelings about someone once they have died, but this can be very important in the grieving process.
Of course it is also much harder if there hasn’t been a chance to say good bye, or if the relationship recently had been different to how you would have hoped.
When to seek professional help
If you are struggling after a major loss or bereavement it can be hard to know if it is normal, and that it just takes time and a lot of support, or if you really need to seek professional help.
Bereavement is always difficult, but some people return to their normal life, experiencing uncomplicated bereavement, while others struggle more.
While popular ideas about bereavement suggest there are stages to bereavement, in reality it is less ordered, and less predictable. It's a bumpy ride with feelings changing from one day to the next.
A major loss always brings back feelings from past losses. It has a cumulative effect. Such unresolved grief may add to the way that you feel in the present.
It is time to seek help if you feel you are not managing with your daily life, if memories are haunting or distressing you, or if you find yourself pre-occupied with unwanted thoughts.
Less obvious ways that grieving may show itself are anger and irritability. If you find yourself being more irritable than is normal, having a shorter fuse, falling out with family, or distancing yourself from people, it may be a sign that there are some feelings to work through about loss. Often feelings of loss are masked by angry feelings.
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