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Why Exciting Transitions Can Also Cause Sadness

The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as the conflicting feelings caused by the end or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. Conflicting feelings may include feeling sadness, anger, and relief at the same time, or any variation of emotion.

When I first read this definition of grief, it resonated with several changes I have experienced throughout in my life.  I will never forget the day I graduated with my degree; I walked onto the stage and embraced what was one of the proudest moments if my life. Although I felt proud and happy, I could not ignore my feelings of sadness and grief.  I thought to myself, “What is wrong with me, that I am feeling sad on one of the best days in my life!?” I realized in that moment that I was saying goodbye to the “student life” that I had lived for five years and the lifestyle that came with it.

There are many milestones and special moments we may experience throughout our lives that may bring about several emotions at one time. Please know that this I completely normal and natural and that there is nothing wrong with you.

Some common experiences that often create conflicting feelings within us, include:

Having a baby: Having a baby is one of the most beautiful experiences in life and it also brings about a massive lifestyle change. Many women and men express feeling a loss of freedom, loss of independence, loss of identity, loss of connection in their marriage, and a general loss of lifestyle. Some parents also choose to stay home with their child, experiencing a loss of job or career. It is important to acknowledge that this significant life transition naturally creates a number of emotions within us, and that it is important that we process and share these emotions with trusted others.

Retirement: At 21 my bank called me and wanted to set up an appointment to open up an RRSP. I remember thinking, “That is crazy, I am only 21, and I am not thinking about retirement yet!” During our early and middle adulthood we spend our years working and saving for retirement. Many of us fantasize about what it will be like one day when we can spend all of our free time travelling and pursuing our passions and hobbies. What we aren’t generally prepared for with retirement, is the loss of purpose, loss of meaning, loss of identity, and loss of finances that many often experience. Again, this is completely normal and natural. Any time we experience a change in a familiar pattern of behavior (ie. Having a routine; going to work every day), we grieve. So it’s no question why several people who retire end up going back to their job, get a bridge job, or begin volunteering to restore their sense of purpose and meaning again.

Dietary changes: In today’s society we hear more and more about specialty diets such as Vegan, Paleo, Gluten- Free, Dairy Free etc. For some, making dietary changes can be a rewarding and exciting time because you are taking the steps to live a healthier life for your body. I know when I decided to be vegetarian I was so happy with how my body felt and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Unfortunately, these changes can also make us feel isolated, alone, and afraid of being judged by others. It is normal to feel alone and frustrated when you do not have as many options for eating out, or you go to someone’s house for family dinner and they haven’t considered your dietary needs. Any major change we experience can bring about new challenges in our lives, so it is important to address these with a trusted friend or family member and to know that your feelings are valid and normal.

Starting a business: Starting a new business can bring about several emotions within us; some of which we may not even anticipate, including excitement, fear, and overwhelm. You may be pursuing your greatest dream, but don’t realize the significant amount of time, commitment, and money it takes to start and grow a successful business. The loss of time, loss of comfort, and loss of security leaving a corporate or 9-5 job can be very stressful and overwhelming. This leap into business and entrepreneurship although very rewarding is also very challenging. These feelings are normal and natural given the circumstances and should be shared with a trusted individual or mentor.

These are just a few examples of some of the happiest and most exciting times in our lives that can also create feelings of grief.

If you are struggling to work through your conflicting feelings caused by any major change or transition in your life, we are equipped with the emotional and intellectual tools to support you in moving forward successfully.

Contact our office at 780-288-8011 for your free telephone consultation and to book an appointment. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for more information about our services and specialties.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: Nevada Corporate Filing Solutions (http://registerednevadaagents.com/Start_Ups.php) 

Supporting Teens Through Loss

One of life’s inevitable experiences is loss. What happens when a teen experiences the death of a parent, grand-parent, sibling, or friend? Or their parents divorce? Or their dog dies? Or they fail a class or get cut from the volleyball team?

It is incredibly important for teens to know where to reach out for help and what the correct information on grief is.

Whether you are a teen yourself, a parent, a teacher, or anybody works with teens, here are some valuable questions for teens to consider when they are grieving a loss.

1. Who is your support system? When we grieve it is natural to reach out to others who are supportive and caring. We want to feel heard and to know that we are not alone. Consider one or two people in your life, whom you trust and would feel comfortable sharing your feelings with.

2. What does “being strong” really mean? In today’s society, social media, movies, and advertising communicates to us that we need to “toughen up” through difficult times and that sad feelings are not acceptable. When we act “strong”, we avoid and push the pain away. Being strong really means feeling our feelings and telling the truth about how we feel. It is normal to feel sadness and conflicting feelings after a loss and we shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about that.

3. What are some ways you can practice self-compassion? It is so important to be gentle with yourself and let go of any expectations about how you think you should be feeling. Self-compassion extends to self-care behaviours like going for a massage, attending a yoga class, exercising, going for a walk, and watching your favourite show. Find something that nourishes your spirit.

4. Are there really “stages of grief”? You can read about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ 5 Stages of Death and Dying online and in current textbooks. These stages were intended for people who were diagnosed with a terminal illness, not for the grieving. Sadly, over the years, these stages were applied to the emotions experienced after loss. Every relationship is unique; thus, every grieving person is unique. There are no clear guidelines or set of stages that a grieving person will go through. Whatever you feel after a loss is completely normal and natural.

5. Is there a right way to grieve? How we feel at the time of a loss is normal and natural. There is no right way or wrong to grieve. Every person grieves in their unique way. If anybody tells you how you should be feeling, simply ignore them. Trust the process and feel any feelings you have at any given time.

6. Are some losses worse than others? Absolutely not! There are no typical losses or typical reactions to loss. Since every relationship is unique, every grieving person is unique. Whether you experienced the death of your dog and your friend experienced the death of their grand-parent, no loss is greater or worse than the other. You may actually have similar emotions, even though the loss was very different. Just as you could experience parallel losses but have very different emotions. We simply cannot compare losses or our reactions to loss.

7. Is avoidance healthy for healing? STERBS is an abbreviation for short-term energy relieving behaviours. These are avoidance behaviours that we use in an attempt to heal our pain. STERBS only give us a temporary sense of relief and don’t offer long-term relief from the pain caused by our loss. These include, food, alcohol, social media, shopping, isolation, and many more. If misused (or abused), we can develop some very unhealthy habits in our lives. It is so important to be aware of the behaviours you are using as an escape from your feelings. Consider more self-care behaviours and sharing your feelings with someone you trust.

There are several forms of loss that teens may experience. It is important to understand the correct information and tools surrounding grief in order to take healthy action, move forward, and find healing in life. Healing from grief is much like baking a cake. If you bake a cake with the wrong ingredients, the end result will be messy, unfinished, and may leave you feeling frustrated and discouraged. The same may result if we don’t address our grief with the correct tools. With the right “ingredients” for healing, you can recover from the pain and regain your sense of well-being and happiness.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: shutterstock

The Powerful Impact of Teaching Children How to Deal With Grief

They say that it takes a village to raise a child. Parents, extended family members, family friends, neighbours, caregivers, teachers, and many others, influence a child’s overall social, emotional, and psychological growth.

As a community, it is our responsibility to teach our children effective life skills that will benefit them over their lifetime. When it comes to the inevitable losses that a child will experience, it too is our responsibility to teach them how to effectively heal and move forward.

Sadly, we haven’t been taught how to deal with loss when it happens. As adults we struggle with our own emotional reactions to loss and so naturally, we struggle with addressing the painful emotions of our children. Very often we end up teaching our children the information we were taught. We may repeat things like, “Don’t feel bad, you’ll make new friends”, or “Don’t cry, everything will be okay”, or “It’s okay, we will get you a new [dog, cat, bike]”.

Every child has the capacity and natural ability to work through their grief, regardless of their genetics, gender, and ethnic, cultural, or religious background. We are all born with a natural tendency to feel and express our emotions when we have them.

According to The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative, lifelong skills and emotional health is a result of more than just genetic make-up. Early childhood intervention, education, and experiences, all shape the brain pathways and architecture and how well a child manages stress and any life challenges they may face.

The more equipped we are to deal with our painful emotions, the more equipped we will feel to teach our children these very tools. Teaching our children how to identify emotions, acknowledge emotions, and express emotions has a significant impact on their emotional intelligence over time. It teaches them how to recognize and address their emotions in a healthy and healing manner, rather than avoid, deny, or push down the feelings using substances or distractions. Additionally, it creates safe and trusting relationships, so that when they do experience a loss, they will feel courageous enough to share their experience with us.

The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative also explains that creating a safe, trustworthy relationship with our children peer will boost positive neurological connections and will decrease their risk of participating in harmful behaviors and choices.

Here are some effective strategies we can teach our children that grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind.

1. Monkey See, Monkey Do. I am sure most of us can recall accidentally saying a “bad word” in front of a child and having them repeat the word back to you. We instantly regret what we have said and hope it is not repeated again. On a positive note, what children “see” as sadness, will most likely be what they “do”. Showing your children that sadness is normal and natural is best shown through real life examples. As an adult, if you have feelings of sadness, it is okay for children to see this experience you are going through. Children are also curious and may ask you “what’s wrong?”. It is also very healthy to explain in an appropriate manner, what is causing your sadness. This demonstrates to our children that sadness is a normal human experience. If you make the decision to push sadness to the side, it teaches your child that whenever someone feels sad, they should stop feeling that way, and brush it off.

2. Avoid Saying “Don’t Feel Bad” or “Don’t Cry”. Let’s say it was Billy’s first time at the dentist. He tells his mom that he is scared and does not want to go. Mom then tells Billy he needs to go to the dentist in order to have healthy teeth. Billy agrees, but becomes scared of the unfamiliar environment and starts to cry in the operatory. Mom then tells him, “Don’t cry, everyone can hear you”. Billy learns very quickly that his sad feelings cannot be expressed or shared with others. Additionally, it is unintentionally communicated that his feelings are now a burden to others. An alternative comment to help Bill could be, “I know this is a scary time, and I am here for you.” or “It is okay that you are feeling scared, I will help you through this.” As adults, it is important that we acknowledge how our children are feeling and validate their emotional vulnerability.

3. Importance of Emotional Availability. It is okay as an adult, not to have the answers to everything. Thankfully, when it comes to loss we do not need to intellectualize or have “the right answers” in order to heal hearts. Being emotionally available to the child, means listening to them like a “heart with ears,” and with no judgment, analysis or criticism. Sometimes, the most effective way of helping children through loss is not all the “smart” comments you can say, but rather being emotionally present and listening with your heart. When we are emotionally available, it teaches the child that they have a safe place to express how they are feeling. If you don’t know what to say, it is okay to say that to them, and then offer them a hug. As adults, we can appreciate how painful it feels when our family or friends say things that may be intellectually true, but don’t appeal to our broken heart. It is the same thing for our children.

If while reading this article you became aware of one or more losses that have impacted your life and you are struggling to move forward, we have the tools to help you move beyond the pain. Contact us today for your free telephone consultation or to book an appointment.

 

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Reference: http://www.albertafamilywellness.org/what-we-know/the-brain-story

Photo credit: shutterstock

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