The Potential Emotions of Grieving

I.  Shock/Disbelief: When one first learns of a loss, especially if the loss was sudden and unexpected, there may be a feeling of shock which sets in. When we first hear of the loss, we become keenly aware of our own mortality, or the fact that the loss that occurred (loss of a family member, job, social status, material possessions, etc.) could, at any given moment, also happen to us. This rattles the psyche so much so, that one may become numb, both physically, and or mentally. Just as when the body goes into shock when it is dehydrated, or has experienced some other form of physical trauma, the shock of a loss can cause many of the same symptoms: confusion, a drop in blood pressure, chest pain, clammy skin, or even a complete loss of consciousness. Just as with a physical trauma, an emotional trauma can cause the body to go into shock in a desperate act of self-preservation. It is what is needed at the time one is made first aware of the loss. The body must begin to shut down major organ systems to preserve the heart in an attempt to keep the body, itself, alive. In some extreme cases, such as witnessing an accidental death, murder, or suicide right before our very eyes, shock may literally cause some type of physical trauma requiring hospitalization.

Ego Pattern: preservation

Purpose: The purpose of the shock is to quite literally keep not only the physical body from “dying” but also to preserve the psyche. When one is made so acutely aware of their own mortality, it is almost impossible to comprehend, hence the shock and/or disbelief. The psyche (ego) is commonly so identified with the physical body, that hearing of such a loss so threatens our very existence that it will shut itself down as a defense mechanism to the perceived “threat” to our own life, the idea that we too, will also die one day.  The shock and disbelief may last for days, weeks, or months, as numbness and confusion completely permeate one’s being.

II. Denial: For the Grieving Mind, denial is the most extreme form of pain avoidance. Denial is a dangerous place to be for the grieving mind, as it is a deep form of inner resistance. It could be said that this state of mind is where we hurt ourselves the most, for when we lie to ourselves about the truth, this is a dangerous thing. Whereas shock/disbelief about a loss is a mere reaction to what has just occurred, denial is far worse, as denial is a choice, whether conscious or unconscious. The grieving mind, for fear of what lies beyond the denial, will turn its back on the absolute truth that is before our very eyes. The grieving mind in denial will explain away, make excuses for, and avoid the truth. To the grieving mind, it is our very ego at stake here, and the possibility of accepting the truth of the loss threatens to destroy the (seemingly) very fabric of our being. If one was particularly ego-identified with the “loved one”, denial may express itself in a myriad of possible extreme ways for days, weeks, months, depending on the type of loss that has occurred. For example, a sister who has recently lost her brother to a sudden illness may continuously “look” for her brother in a crowd of people, thinking she has just seen him from behind. A spouse may, after being presented with clear evidence of an affair, attempt to make excuses for what the “evidence” could possibly mean.

Within the grieving mind, acceptance of the truth threatens to completely destroy who we (falsely) believe we are. As we stand at the doorstep of grief, the grieving mind has the power to convince us that there is no door to walk through. The grieving mind, with a heavy ego-attachment to the loved one, is a cunning liar and will do anything to manipulate facts and beliefs about the “loss” to maintain its sense of self. This extreme form of inner resistance does nothing but keep the ego alive. The ideal situation would be to move as swiftly as possible through denial, with the love and support of loved ones to remind us of the truth, of the reality of what is currently present, loss.

Denial may present itself before the actual loss has occurred, as when it is clear that the “end” is near, such as the impending end of a relationship, or at the onset of palliative or hospice care for an individual who is close to dying.

Ego Pattern: preservation

Purpose: The purpose of denial is the preservation of the psyche, the ego. The only thing that denial does is keep the lie alive, the lie that who “we” are is the lost “loved one” and nothing could be further from the truth. If there is a heavy ego-attachment to the “loved one” and the loved one is lost, taken away from us, dies, etc., who are we then? The acceptance of the loss, to the ego, threatens to completely destroy who we think we are. The ego cannot have this, and thus will keep up the lie, the denial of the loss, or denial of the impending loss.

III. Bargaining:  Bargaining is the child of guilt. The Bargaining of the grieving mind is an egoic attempt at avoiding the inevitable: acceptance of the loss. This phase may be particularly prevalent when experiencing one’s first loss, one’s first deep loss, or during an unexpected loss. Somewhere deep in our subconscious, we must believe on some level, that bargaining may actually work, or else it would simply not occur to the grieving mind to make such feeble attempts to bring our “loved one” back, if even for a moment, for a day. In our bargaining, we make promises to never to “x” again, or from now on, always to do “x”. In this way, bargaining is the child of guilt. Through the false egoic belief that we could have done something to prevent the loss, we then bargain with “God”, to do that very thing, and to get it right this time. Then, with the help of “God” and our obedience, our “loved one” will return.

Bargaining is guilt gone mad, guilt taken too far. Bargaining is the grieving mind’s desperate attempt to avoid the impending acceptance of the loss that has yet to come. One may bargain for days, weeks, months, or years before any of the real emotion of the grief begins to set in. Bargaining, while insane, is a critical stage of the grieving mind, as we must go through the process of bargaining and experience its’ failure to then move into the real emotion of the grieving process. In this way, bargaining is the first step toward the real emotion of grief. It is not a given that one will experience bargaining with every loss, or even during any loss throughout a lifetime. As bargaining is a deep form of inner resistance, it may appear in those individuals who have a difficulty accepting what is present in their life, on all levels.

Ego Pattern: Control

Purpose: The purpose of bargaining is to temporarily relieve us of the deep guilt we feel over the loss. This sense of relief is a shallow, fleeting, “quick fix” out of the deep, dark pain we sense awaits us. The grieving mind, however, will do anything, including tricking itself into believing that false promises will bring the loved one back, to escape the darkness of the loss.

For more information about how to develop better strategies to handle the emotions of grieving and one to one Grief Coaching, contact us at [email protected]

IV. Guilt: Spiritual leader Iyanla Vanzant says that people carry guilt for one of three reasons:

  1. You knew better
  2. You caused hurt, harm, or injury
  3. You disappointed someone you loved

“…but truly, guilt is a wasted emotion, it does nothing but serve the ego.” – Iyanla Vanzant. Often when we feel guilt over a loss, it is due to the false belief that we could have done something different/better to prevent the loss. This is simply a lie of the mind. If we truly could have possibly done something different that would have, in fact, prevented the loss, we would have, and thus we would not be facing the loss. The mere presence of the loss in one’s life, however, is proof that it was meant to be, thereby absolving all feelings of guilt. The egoic mind, in all its’ mania, believes itself to be omnipotent, and therefore believes it has the power to prevent such impending losses, and therefore experiences, or rather creates guilt as a result of this perceived “failure” to prevent the loss. This is absolute insanity.

We will never be able to prevent loss, as the impermanence of life teaches this over and over, and yet still, some experience tremendous guilt over the loss. This is merely a trick of the mind to keep us locked in negativity and disconnected from the present moment, which would be complete and absolute acceptance of the loss. Guilt makes us a prisoner in our own mind; it locks us up and throws away the key, telling us we don’t deserve love, life, peace, and happiness. Guilt keeps one stuck in a negative cycle of self-attack, prevents one from moving on, and from returning to joy.

Ego Pattern: Attack (ourselves)

Purpose: Guilt serves no other purpose than to further punish oneself for the loss. It is an egoic created emotion which stems from a deep-rooted false belief system picked up somewhere early in life that tells us: “Your efforts and/or behaviors were not good enough”. When applied to grief, it is the mind which tells us, “Had your efforts been good enough, ‘x’ would still be present in your life.” The ego loves to punish, loves to make us feel “less than” at any turn it gets and will use any opportunity to do this, even during some of the deepest losses of one’s life.

V. Anger: Anger is always a cover-up for deep pain. It is a form of resistance in that before we are ready to admit we are hurt, or in pain, we often express anger. The upside of anger is that there is energy present, as opposed to depression which exists in a state of low, or no energy. The energy of anger can be harnessed and used in a productive way to begin to address the grief and eventually, as a way out of the grieving mind. The very presence of anger itself, in fact, is your very cue that you are ready for action, that you are ready to face the grieving, to walk through it. When seen from this light, the presence of anger should, in fact, be celebrated. Those around you, which are close to you in your grieving process, should use this as an opportunity to ask what you are now ready to do to address the loss. This is a golden opportunity for one to begin their journey out of their grief and back to their life.

As anger comes up during the grieving process, it is merely a reminder that you are ready for a change! Anger is your call to action. To deny the anger is to deny the newfound readiness and willingness to change.

Ego Pattern: attack

Purpose: The purpose of anger is to call us to action, to bring energy to the process of grieving so that we may begin to face the loss, walk through it, and begin the journey back to life.

VI. Depression/Sadness: The grieving process may or may not include the low energy range of emotion from sadness to deep depression/isolation and may occur either before, after, or intermittently between anger, guilt and other emotions. One may first experience depression over the loss, completely tire of the sadness, and then with anger, barrel towards change and acceptance of the loss. Another situation might be such that an individual completely exhausts themselves with anger, then moves into the real emotion of the pain of the loss, ranging from sadness to deep depression. In yet another scenario, one may flip-flop back and forth between anger and depression.  For the grieving mind, depression is a time of very low or no energy. Time may seem to stop or become completely distorted. Days, weeks, months, and in some circumstances, even years may be lost to depression.  To overcome grief, one must go into the darkness fully, and as Eckhart Tolle says, “surrender fully to the pain.”

If sadness or depression are present, we must walk through the pain, as it is the only way out, for transcendence. We must allow ourselves the proper space and time for this process to occur. Be gentle with yourself, this is your time to take care of your soul. In the same way we must be gentle with the body when there is an illness present, so too must we be gentle with our soul during the state of the grieving mind. Surround oneself with people whom are gentle and have a deep understanding of your grieving mind, who will not judge you for where you are at in your process.

For some personality types, it may be a normal response to isolate during this time, as our culture has so little awareness, so little “space” for the grieving mind. If isolation is what you seek, allow yourself the space for this, not accepting social invitations is normal during this period. During the grieving, some may not feel safe being in the presence of others during the grieving mind, as they do not understand, have not yet experienced a deep loss, and so will lack the ability to have true compassion. Trust this instinct and allow your aloneness. When you are ready to move out of seclusion, you will, and when you do, seek out those who can gently help you reconnect with your joy.

Ego Pattern: defense

Purpose: To move us one step closer to acceptance. Depression allows us to feel full, the deep pain of the loss, so that we may then release it through acceptance and return to our true nature, out true selves, our joy once again.

For more information about how to develop better strategies to handle the emotions of grieving and one to one Grief Coaching, contact us at [email protected]

VII. Acceptance:  Acceptance of loss is our return to courage itself. It is our first step, one of many steps, back to our true selves, back to joy. Without accepting the loss, we keep ourselves imprisoned in the grief, in the darkness, and no one can release us from this except ourselves. As Eckhart Tolle says, “the acceptance of suffering is a journey into death. Facing deep pain and allowing it to be, taking your attention into it, is to enter death consciously. When you have died this death, you realize that there is no death, and there is nothing to fear. Only the ego dies. Accepting the pain of your suffering and allowing yourself the space to grieve will give you peace and within that peace, you will find joy once again.”

Why, in the face of all the suffering, would one choose to stay stuck in the potential emotional states of anger/denial/depression of the grieving mind: an unwillingness to face the pain, a negative ego-attachment to the grief itself, or fear of the unknown, the fear of life without “the loss”. On some level, we must feel that accepting the loss would mean a betrayal of the beloved. If one accepts the loss and moves on, does it, in some way, devalue the “loved one”? If the ego had developed a strong identification with the “loved one” and now there is a devaluation of the “loved one”, would this not also mean that who we think “we” are is also diminished? To the ego-identified mind, absolutely! This is, of course, a complete falsehood.

Ego Pattern: dissolution

Purpose: To finally move through the pain, to face the pain head on, and finally, to let go. We must let go before we can ever have hope to move on. Holding onto the loss only prolongs our suffering. When we hold onto a loss, we have all of our energy tied up into the suffering, into the “story” of “our loss”. Accepting the loss frees up our energy, allows us to be at peace with the loss, and rediscover our joy, rediscover our true selves once again. We cannot move forward in life until we have come to a place of true acceptance. We cannot see the new, beautiful opportunities all around us until we have moved fully into acceptance.

VIII. JOY/RELIEF: If the source of the loss, the person/place/thing/job, caused a great deal of hardship, problems, or even chaos in our lives, the emotions of relief/joy may come forward. If the source of the loss was truly a repeated negative experience for the individual they will feel an absolute sense of renewal, newfound energy, and the possibility of a new life moving forward. This newly discovered energy may also be hard won after having walked through many of the negative emotions immediately following the loss. Both are to be celebrated.

IX. MIXED EMOTIONS: It is possible to feel two or more emotions at once, or perhaps even sadness at the beginning of the month/week/day, and acceptance/peace or even a slight increase in mood at the end of the month/week/day. Allowing all the emotions to come forth as they bubble up is important as a way to honor ourselves and the deep love we had/have for the “beloved loss”.



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