Psychology Articles

Grief and Gratitude

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If you’ve recently lost someone close to you you’re experiencing a lot of states of mind but gratitude ain’t one of ‘em. What are some of the states of mind you are experiencing? Some common states are guilt, deep sadness, anger, despair, shock, numbness, symptoms of PTSD, disbelief, relief, bafflement, impotence, curiosity, hopelessness, fear, isolation, awkwardness, feeling lost, and many others.

Most of these states of mind are extremely painful to bear. That’s why the foundational idea to understand about grieving is that you have to give yourself permission to fully experience everything that comes up within you without censure or judgment. As humans we tend to move towards that which is pleasurable and away from that which is painful, and when it comes to the horrible, heartbreaking, tragic, seemingly unbearable thoughts and feelings that arrive in the wake of grief, it makes sense that most of us do whatever we can to avoid confronting these thoughts and feelings.

But that which is repressed, through drugs, alcohol, shopping, risk taking, promiscuity, denial, projection, or any of our other avoidance strategies, doesn’t go away but instead gets buried, where it continues to exert a powerful influence over us. Only it exerts this influence from the shadows instead of in the light of day. We never have the chance to move through it since we never clearly confront it.

So the first and most important stage of healing is not to fight these painful feelings but instead surrender to them. Many of us worry that if we allow ourselves to fully inhabit these painful states of mind we’ll be swept away by them, like a ship carried away by strong currents to be smashed upon the uncaring rocks. But the truth is that we can handle it. Thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings. They don’t hold any special power over our behavior unless we allow them to, so as long as we are firm in our intention to be mindful participants in our powerful emotional states we can weather the storm. Remember that the most fine, beautiful light comes out after the storm.

As the days and weeks go by, if you allow yourself to feel everything you’re feeling without censure or judgment you can begin to transform all of those burdensome, painful thoughts and feelings into something beautiful and productive. Cultivating gratitude is the key.

But in order to feel grateful we need something to be grateful for. One way to jumpstart this process is to start making a mental list of all the gifts your loved one has ever given you. These gifts might be financial stability, emotional support, a spiritual compass, a different lens for seeing the world, feelings of safety and security, or anything and everything else you can think of that applies.

You see, as you begin to move towards gratitude and away from all of those painful feelings that you’ve already let yourself experience fully you come to realize that as long as you remain mindful of the gifts bequeathed to you and grateful for them your loved one hasn’t gone anywhere at all but is walking right there beside you as your life journey continues.

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