Existential Psychology

Helping People Move Through Grief

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Grief is triggered by the irrevocable loss of something important to us. The mistake many of us make when helping people move through grief is to try to downplay that importance, to basically say “It’s not so bad,” while focusing in on the positives of the newly changed life situation instead.

It’s a well-intentioned strategy, to try to mitigate the negatives while maximizing the positives, but it’s a harmful strategy that actually hinders rather than helps the grief process because it denies people permission to feel the way they’re feeling without censure or judgment.

Grief is supposed to be painful, it’s supposed to be sad, it’s supposed to cue off a lot of unpleasant feelings. Part of helping people move through grief is vocally recognizing that fact and just being there with them, letting them know they’re not going through it all alone.

When the storm is raging sometimes just having someone in the boat with us is all we need to persevere. They don’t need to change the storm, they can’t change the storm. But they can offer solidarity and hope, they can act as a powerful bulwark until the storm eventually subsides.

We’re not saying there is anything wrong with trying to help people who are grieving look at the bright side of things, with trying to help them remember that life is precious and that they retain the ability to suck the nectar out of it. But this bright side thinking should always be tempered with the remembrance that the dark side needs to be accepted and processed not downplayed.