Embracing our emotions in the face of loss

As we grow older, it is inevitable for us to face many losses in our lives.  For instances, we may go through grief for divorce, loss of our loved ones through death, being fired in our job, miscarriage, or chronic illness.  When we are going through grief, it is normal and natural for us to experience different emotions, such as sadness, anger, anxiety, helplessness or guilt.  If the loss is overwhelming for us, our emotional reactions to it may be intense and we may think we are about to go crazy, or it is abnormal for us to experience these.  Sometimes, some people may hide or suppress their emotions in relation to their grief and try very hard to present a positive outlook in their mood state.  Many people think that having negative mood means weak or sick.  They have a negative bias on pain and sufferings when one is going through a grief process. 

For example, a client of mine tended to suppress her negative emotions when she was going through loss of her job due to sudden closure of her company.  She forced herself to go to the gym every day and engage in job search vigorously.  This may not be a bad attitude in the superficial level.  However, she also did not allow herself to cry or express any worries when she met her friends for a catch up.  Her friends felt that she had been covering up her depressive mood and only presenting herself as positive in front of them.  As a result, her depressive mood exacerbated gradually, and she needed to consult a psychiatrist for medical treatment for her depression.

According to J. William Worden in his book “Grief counselling and grief therapy”, normalizing and experiencing pain and negative emotions in the grief process of loss is very important for recovery.  In his task model of grieving, experiencing the pain of grief is the second step of the grief process, after acknowledging the reality of the loss.  Sometimes, when someone suppressed their negative emotions in relation to their loss, they may experience some unexplained physical symptoms, such as pain in their body.  In therapy, it is only when their negative emotions are being explored and expressed, their pain in their body will be subside as a result.  In fact, without proper processing the negative emotions in our grief, it is impossible for us to fully adjust to the world without the deceased or thing that we lost.

Another client of mine write a 20-page letter to herself and her ex-boyfriend after a sudden and painful separation.  In the letter, my client expressed frankly her suppressed negative emotions towards the loss and her ex-boyfriend.  It is only when she could express her sadness, anger and disappointment in this long letter, she could also write about the positive memories in the relationship and be thankful to her ex-boyfriend’s companionship in the past one year.  In fact, therapeutic writing is one of the techniques that is useful for people who are undergoing a grief process.  In the writing process, people have the opportunity to get in touch with their suppressed emotions that they tried to avoid expressing in front of others, even to their psychotherapist.

In the private space of personal writing, we can identify and express our feelings related to the loss without worrying others’ negative judgment or being overwhelmed.  We may also be more detached from our negative emotions by writing them out and separate these emotions with the loss.  In this way, we could perceive the loss in a new perspective and better accept the reality of our loss.  We also have the control to decide which part of the writing we would share with others or psychotherapist and which part we chose to keep to ourselves.  It is also an important task that we can give ourselves some space to focus on the grieving process without forcing ourselves to achieve a lot before processing our negative emotions.

Let us embrace our emotions in the face of our loss as these emotions have their functions for us to learn and grow by processing them.

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