We now know that people can feel a huge range of feelings when grieving. This can include everything, not just sadness, longing and fear, but also numbness, regret, satisfaction, relief, irritation, anger and every other emotion that exists. Some of them can be surprising. All of them are normal. It is normal to primarily feel just one or two feelings and it is just as normal to feel a large mix. It is normal to feel deeply sad most of the time and it is normal not to. It is normal to feel one feeling for a while, move on to another, and then return to the first one. There is no right way to feel in grief because your feelings will be a reflection or who you are, the circumstances of the death, your life circumstances, who your loved one was, and your relationship with your loved one. These things are so individual that any feeling may arise in response to a death.
Your emotions are physical sensations on the inside of your body. They are caused by chemicals and are interpreted by your brain. Your emotions start with an input, such as seeing something, hearing words or thinking a thought. You react, your brain tells your endocrine system which combination of hormones to release, these cause physical sensations in your body, and a part of your nervous system picks up the sensations and sends them to a different part of your brain to be interpreted. That’s all feelings are. They can’t hurt you and will dissipate if they are not retriggered by another input. Of course, when we grieve they are retriggered over and over by the thought of our loved one being gone.
How can we best support ourselves when experiencing the emotions of grief? The healthiest way is to be with our feelings with self-compassion or the compassion of others. Allowing the sensations while being held by a larger container of empathy helps us process emotions. Pushing them aside causes them to come out sideways, as in depression or rage, or makes us do things to numb them, such as using alcohol or distraction. Experiencing our feelings and knowing that they are normal and we can survive them allows us to integrate them. Research shows that most people who grieve eventually find their way back to the level of happiness they enjoyed prior to experiencing their loss. The way back is through. Allow and accept all feelings as a normal and necessary part of the process.
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