Identify your experiences, your obstacles, and your responses to them.
Story: Edy Nathan
There is a link between the currents of your grief and the unexplored experiences directly related to your loss and trauma. They both live within you. In order to create a sense of mastery, you must understand how intangible the mourning process is. When you believe you know it, more is uncovered and revealed to you, and it seems what you thought you knew about your grief is often just the tip of the iceberg. The emotions and behaviors you identified as aspects of your grief and trauma continue to manifest in your daily life while new information filters in.
There are specific tools designed to help you understand and sort out the complex layers of this process, in order to identify what can aid you in healing. When you embrace what you learn, the tools can be fine-tuned to specifically address your needs.
A first step in recognizing what you’re up against is to identify and name an obstacle that gets in the way of your exploration. Some common obstacles include avoidance, anger, ambivalence, anxiety, and resistance. In the following example, we’ll use anxiety as an obstacle so you cansee how this tool works:
What experiences and emotions get in the way of identifying your anxiety? If your heart races, you feel sweaty, and your brain shuts down, this reactivity creates a sensorial experience that is overpowering and uncomfortable. This potent reaction may seem to your brain that it’s protecting you, when actually the reaction stops you from facing the intensity of the loss or trauma. This is anxiety. Anxiety is now an identified obstacle.
What does the obstacle suppress?
Example of what anxiety suppresses: The ability to tackle the pain. Understand and gauge a range of emotions. On a scale from 1 to 10, what is the level of anxiety you feel, and what level of anxiety is manageable enough to do the work needed to move ahead? Usually a manageable number is between 1 and 4.
Measure self-understanding What do you understand about the anxiety? To help with this understanding, think about the following questions. When is it activated? Are you in a certain place, with a specific person, or reliving a particular experience?
How would you prefer to react to the anxiety? Can you imagine what a different picture of anxiety in moderation would look like? Focus on that picture. Imagine yourself in it. What’s different about the Self in that picture versus when you are engulfed by anxiety?
Define who or what in your life may cause your anxiety to rise. With whom are you less anxious?
A basic tool for working through any of these questions in the obstacle-identifying exercise is to write a journal that documents your grief journey and details the emotional peaks and valleys you’re experiencing as part of reclaiming the Self.
Writing can shift what you’re carrying within you and gives that material a place to live, while at the same time offering an opportunity to challenge the mind’s mourning rhetoric. When an internal discourse exists within you, it either keeps you quiet about how you feel or limits how much you interact with it. When you write it down and make it concrete, you have the opportunity to review, reject, or accept what you’re thinking, feeling, expressing, or experiencing.
When in the full throes of grief, you’re writing an inner script. The story you tell yourself may have created a habit or custom you’re attached to, which fosters a sense of security.
The script, which can also be called a narrative or internal dialogue, changes as your grief changes, and that change is often a sign of positive movement and growth. Throughout this process you will encounter ups and downs.
When the internal dialogue shifts, at times the shift will make it seem as though you are going deeper into the grief, rather than coming out of its grip. Going deeper, and sometimes feeling worse, are part of healing.
Acknowledging there is a transformation in how you interact with your active grief can be cause for a dilemma, because you may be thrilled about the change but terrified to leave what is familiar.
Finding a place within you that is balanced means you’re no longer sitting in the muck of the grief, and is often accompanied by a sense of relief.
About the writer
Edy Nathan is an experienced grief therapist and author. She also is a hypnotherapist, certified EMDR practitioner, and sex therapist with degrees from New York University and Fordham University.