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Health & Wellness Articles  ›  Emotional Health

Good Grief

Turn Bad Times into Good Opportunities

-- By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
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The pain and emotional turmoil that comes with the loss of someone or something important to us makes grieving one of the most difficult—and important—things any human experiences in life. And not just for the obvious reasons.

Yes, learning how to cope with significant loss and the feelings it generates is crucial to getting through the difficult times, but that’s only part of the story. The ways in which we cope with losses shape other important dimensions of our lives, like how much meaning and satisfaction we will find, and what kind of chronic problems we'll contend with. But whenever we try to avoid feelings we don’t want to have, we diminish our capacity to experience the feelings that make life worth living. And we set ourselves up for the kind of problems that come with using other things—like food and eating—to avoid the feelings we don’t want to have.

Learning how to properly grieve is one crucial way to learn how to open up more fully to all of your feelings, and therefore, to all the good experiences that life has to offer us.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Letting yourself feel the painful or threatening feelings of grieving is difficult enough, even when you know how to handle them. And most people just don’t get many opportunities to practice using it. In fact, we get just the opposite—lots of pressure to “get over” what hurts us without letting our feelings cause trouble for us or anyone else.

In this article you’ll find some general information about the grieving process, along with some practical ways to work on turning the bad events into real opportunities for emotional growth and development.

The Elements of Grieving
Grieving is not really about handling losses at all—the fact that it helps us do that is just a welcome bonus. Grieving is about handling ourselves when we are facing difficult situations. Each stage of the grieving process involves things you need to do to provide yourself with the same open, compassionate, and supportive response you’d like to provide to others when something bad happens to them. Difficulties arise only when we somehow get stuck in one stage of the process.

Experts who study the grieving process have identified at least five major elements, commonly referred to as stages:
  • Denial or numbness. This can take many forms, ranging from actual disbelief to emotional shutdown, which make it appear as if you're not affected at all. Both are basic self-defense measures, designed to protect you from experiencing the full intensity of the loss all at once. Periods of denial and numbness may alternate with periods during which you acknowledge what happened, its implications, and the feelings that come with it.
     
  • Anger. At some point, everyone who experiences a loss is likely to get angry about it, even if it doesn't “make sense.” People who experience the death or disability of a loved one, for example, may get intensely angry at that person for abandoning them, or causing them pain and difficulty. Some may get angry with themselves for “allowing” something bad to happen, even when they had no control over it. This often helps you avoid being overwhelmed by debilitating feelings like helplessness and powerlessness.
     
  • Bargaining. This can also take many forms, including preoccupation with thoughts about what could have prevented the loss from happening, things that now will never be accomplished, or what can be done to minimize the consequences of the loss. All this thinking can keep powerful feelings at arm’s length when needed, and may also help draw lessons from the situation.
     
  • Depression. As the reality of the loss and its implications sets in, people may experience all the symptoms of depression. They may be unable to meet their normal day-to-day responsibilities, and may withdraw from normal social interactions. This temporary withdrawal of energy from external affairs may be necessary to have the time and opportunity to reorganize your emotional life to match your new reality.
     
  • Acceptance. At some point, you will be able to integrate what has happened, and all the feelings and reactions attached to it, into your “life-story,” allowing it to take its appropriate place alongside other significant experiences. This does not usually mean that you're “done” with this loss, and can move on as if it never happened. It simply means that it no longer dominates the mental and emotional landscape so much. Continued ›
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • BENNY21C
    I canít thank you enough Email: ekakaspelltemple@
    yahoo.com for all that you have done for me. About a year ago I my partner had a misunderstanding that lead to break up, we had both made BIG mistakes in our relationship. He ended up moving away from me to pursue a new life. I knew in my heart that he would be the only one to make me happy. I was relieved when I found your site and what you had to offer. I requested 3 to 4 day casting of the reunite us love spell and within 4days Denny company had relocated him back to our hometown where I still lived. We immediately reconnected and move in with each other i am so happy that i found you and i was all patient to following your order thank you Dr Ekaka. If you are in need of help i will advice you to contact him - 3/25/2014 3:06:30 AM
  • its been 15 months, since i lost a friend in my life, not from death, but they just chose to go away from me. and i am still grieving that loss.
    mostly i feel because i never got closure.
    i feel betrayed and abandoned and blamed.
    i have good days, alot more good than i did before, but sometimes it just pops back into my mind and i start asking all those questions again.
    why.
    and wondering if i will ever know. - 3/5/2014 6:41:30 PM
  • Thanks, I needed that. - 12/20/2013 2:08:22 AM
  • My companion of 13 years died Monday morning. I appreciate having this article to read. - 9/5/2013 1:48:19 AM
  • PAZWANCH
    My partner of 13 years passed away 01-27-13 unexpectedly. While he has been receiving treatments for cancer, the positive medical report he received in October 2012 did not suggest any additional problems. I am struggling with his passing and while our house was my haven the first several months, I now do not like to be there at all. In addition, I am eating massive quantities of food with no end in sight and I am just burying my feelings and numbing out. I feel as if it is definitely getting worse for me instead of better. - 8/30/2013 4:46:26 PM
  • BAMAJAM
    This is a wonderful article by Dean Anderson---- Under the heading, Depression, it is stated that this is temporary in cases. There can be serious conditions of depression that do not go away. AND this can be tragic indeed for ALL family members. When it is stated that there is no "wrong" way to grieve, I disagree. The wrong way is to embrace depression for decades and longer--- even forever. I dislike the word, "closure" following the loss of a loved one--because closure never happens when love was (is) intense. However, when severe depression grips a life, it can mean the end of joy...the end of any quality to living. Without healing, the illness of depression following a death--- affects family members, especially children. There was an important comment on this subject that deserves emphasis and I will quote it again.
    "I feel like going through the loss made me absent in others' lives, and I am now rethinking it."
    --- My dear sister is forever "absent" in our family due to the illness of depression that sucked all joy from her life when her husband died. Her children grew up in a sad, dysfunctional home. Depression for her is not temporary, but chronic.--- and her family suffers the consequences. This is the wrong way to grieve.
    Please--- I hope others can be helped by my experience. Seek professional help to restore joy to life. - 7/3/2013 4:54:12 PM
  • I really appreciated the fact that you put the line in about sometimes NOT being done with a loss. That CERTAINLY is the case in my life - I really miss 2 former employers (one loss through redundancy, on through a hasty resignation). Sadly there isn't a lot I can do about the former, I have tried to reapply at the latter without success in spite of leaving on good terms. - 7/2/2013 7:33:04 PM
  • Thank you, Dr. Anderson, for a timely, much needed article. Everything you say fits in with my experiences, including what you say about the person I'm losing along with the pounds. - 7/2/2013 4:12:46 PM
  • Okay...Don't cry....

    This article is very helpful. I'm only 22(23 next month). And one of the things I fear about is losing my Mother. She's in her late 50s and battling numerous health problems. And I've tried countless times to help her, but at the same time, my Mom is taking baby steps to a healthier life and so am I. I do realize that we as humans are not going to be here forever. My Mom is the only thing I have. I don't have any other family I can contact, I have no friends. It's just my Mom and I. Most of out family memebers have passed away. I have a brother, but I don't know how to contact him. He is struggling his own self. And I know that if I lose my Mother, I will not have anywhere to go. Right now, I've put my college classes on hold for now, until next August. I've been taking care of my Mother and I love her very very much, but I just don't know what to do if she were taken from me. My Mom and I are taking baby steps into becoming healthier overall. I want to become healthier, I want my Mom to become healthier and I want her to see me have a life as well, get married one day and have children so that she can have grandchildren. I admire anyone who has a big family or just family members that have close family and friends they can always have in their lifetime.

    I want SparkPeople and it's members to know, that I care about this community so much and we are all in this together WE ARE FAMILY! My heart goes out to those who have lost close family and friends. I LOVE YOU ALL! Think Positive Guys! This was an article I needed to read! God Bless! - 7/2/2013 2:31:47 PM
  • The five stages of grief aren't used much anymore by psychologists and mental health experts. They have been proven to be ineffective in describing grief. Glenn - 7/2/2013 2:06:15 AM
  • 4WIDGET
    Thanks for the article , it was most helpful - 6/30/2013 7:03:08 PM
  • 4WIDGET
    I lost my sister to cancer a little over four months ago, this by far is the worst time of my life. I understand what everyone has said. I didn't want her to suffer and she was, so I thought if I felt that way her passing would not be so difficult .. But it is. I miss my sister. I know she wouldn't want me walking around sad and crying and I do try my best. I guess it's all the " first time " experiences . She was my best friend and the best big sister anyone could ever have. I do speak to someone , she said I'm experiencing " grieve triggers " and I need to stop feeling like " I can get over it" I see her every time I look in the mirror. She was my twin born 5 mins before me. I feel like half a person, we came here together. I will cherish her memory and push forward. - 6/30/2013 4:28:38 PM
  • I just want to know when I will be able to stop crying over my Daddy's death. He was 93, in pain and suffering but yet I can't stop crying over losing him and it's been over a month since he's been gone. - 6/7/2013 9:03:36 AM
  • I was looking for a support group when I found this article. My son passed away the 24th of May in a traffic accident. I've lost other family members in the past but it's very different to lose a child. Thank you for the article.
    ~Dianna - 6/3/2013 9:19:44 AM
  • I happened on this article accidently, but I am currently grieving the loss of my sweet little dog. Sometimes I feel guilty for the grief - after all she was a dog... but she was my little fur-baby, and after almost 12 years together, her loss was heart breaking. I am sending this to my DH to read as well, as he is every bit as heart broken as I am. Thanks for the guidance and support - 2/8/2013 1:10:10 PM