Minimizing The Pain of Grief
“The sorrow grows bigger when the sorrow’s denied.”
– Eddie Vedder
Probably the most common defense mechanism in the face of painful life experiences is the denial of sorrow. Outright confrontation with the grief seems overly threatening to the integrity of the psyche and so the unconscious solution is to try to minimize the impact of what has occurred, to pretend like it’s no big deal and that everything is fine. This strategy might be rationalized to Self and others as coming from a place of strength but its true source is fear.
Minimizing the pain of grief is a natural way to try to find relief though. If you put your hand over a fire the pain will become intolerable before long and your instinctive reaction will be to pull your hand away. But unfortunately in the symbolic realm of emotions there’s only one surefire way to find relief from psychic pain and this is having the courage to move through the fire not shy away from it.
When we repress our painful thoughts and feelings they don’t go away they just go underground, where they continue to operate from the shadows. A life strategy meant to lessen the sorrow ends up adding to the sorrow, ends up allowing the sorrow to grow unchecked, and exerts a profoundly negative impact on relationships and functioning.
The route to wellness in the face of painful experiences that cue off grief is radical acceptance towards all those threatening thoughts and feelings, it’s the courageous decision to invite the pain in without censure or judgment rather than keeping it at arm’s length. It’s natural to want to avoid suffering but in the realm of grief the paradox is that lessening suffering in the long run means inviting that suffering in now.