Grief is experienced differently by everyone. Thanks to TV most people have heard of the 5 Stages of Grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. While there is some debate now whether or not Kubler-Ross’s “stages” are all experienced by every person in mourning and whether or not these stages always occur linearly, they do showcase the variety of ways in which people respond to loss. Grief can look like sadness, anger, anxiety, heightened productivity, or numbness, just to name a few.
At http://www.therapyinphiladelphia.com , we liken moving through grief to walking up a spiral staircase. Both are cyclical. When you walk up a spiral staircase you pass through the same latitudinal point multiple times as you travel upwards. Grief is the same – as you process your loss, you’ll pass through the same point repeatedly, at different depths, and with varying amounts of time between re-visits. You may spend a lot of time working through anger with a deceased loved one and put it behind you, only to find yourself experiencing that same anger again 10 years later, triggered by a memory or an anniversary or even a smell. This is normal. A sudden upsurge of grief months or years after a loss is not a sign of backwards movement, and is often a signal that you’ve been making good progress in other areas of your life. As we take on new challenges and achieve personal growth, important losses in our lives may resurface as we work to integrate them into our changing sense of self.
In fact, these sudden resurfacings of grief so normal that therapists have an acronym for them – STUGs, or Sudden Temporary Upsurges in Grief.
A STUG can feel scary, as if all the time and hard work you’ve done to heal have been undone. But the key word in this acronym is temporary. STUGs come on suddenly, but don’t last forever. Typically they pass in a few days or weeks. If this is not the case, consider seeking treatment. Call 267-324-9564 to make an appointment with a grief therapist to better understand your triggers for grief and develop tools for coping.
What does all this mean for a person fresh from a loss and just starting to process their grief? It means – be patient. Be patient with yourself if your grief looks different than what you think it “should” be. Be patient with yourself if your grief lasts longer or shorter than you think is “normal.” We all cope with loss differently. Below is a short list of common coping methods. See if you recognize any in your behaviors:
Anger: feeling irritated, frustrated or outraged by people who caused your loss or people who are trying to support you, or yourself.
Sublimation: re-directing feelings into productive activities like house-cleaning or work or funeral organizing.
Compartmentalization: separating feelings out so you only have to deal with them one at a time, or at a later date – i.e. focusing on a deceased person’s good qualities and choosing to ignore the ways they hurt you in the past.
Suppression: Actively working to “push away” or suppress bad feelings – i.e. “I’ll deal with that later.”
Altruism: Redirecting feelings into helping others – i.e. starting a charity to support survivors of the disease that killed your sibling.
Humor: making jokes to distract from or process difficult feelings. Some people call this “gallows humor.”
Projection: Placing difficult feelings onto someone else. For example – if you are feeling angry at your dead parent, blaming a sibling for showing or feeling that anger.
Reaction Formation: Cancelling out a difficult feeling by acting out its opposite – i.e. if you are feeling really sad, having a smile on at all times and acting “chipper.”
Denial: Refusing to acknowledge difficult feelings.
Avoidance: Staying away from people or situations that might ask you to talk about or otherwise acknowledge difficult feelings.
Dissociation: An unconscious response where we “space out” or even “black out” when hard feelings are coming on.
Being able to describe how you handle unpleasant feelings like grief can help you and your therapist dive into work. It can also help you to zero in on coping strategies. If you notice you’ve been actively suppressing feelings – refusing to acknowledge or discuss them – and have been feeling increasingly upset over the past few months, maybe it’s time to try a different coping tactic. If you’d like help examining the healthy and unhealthy ways you’ve been processing your grief, call 215-570-8614 today to make an appointment with a therapist.
What Causes Grief?
As a culture, we seem to “get” that loss is hard and therapy can make a big difference in the length of time it takes us to heal. Something less commonly understood is that grief can stem from many different kinds of losses, not just the death of a loved one. At its most simple form, loss is an (often but not always) unwanted change to a person’s day-to-day life or expectations of the future. Therefore, loss can stem from a wide variety of experiences. These include, but are not limited to:
- Divorce or the end of a relationship
- Experiencing repeated acts of prejudice or racism
- Change in health or body function (amputation of body parts, progression of degenerative diseases, etc.)
- Loss of a pet
- Loss of job/career change
- End of family relationship/ cut offs
- Stopped use of previous coping mechanism (drinking, smoking, binge eating, etc.)
Every person deserves social recognition and support of whatever kind of loss they face. If you recognize yourself in any of the experiences listed above, take a moment to acknowledge the reality and weight of your loss, and call 267-324-9564 today to make an appointment with a grief therapist.
Center for Growth