On grieving, loss and finding your feelings
"Don't feel bad"
"Feelings aren't facts"
"You're better off without that lying cheating a**hole"
"There are plenty of fish in the sea"
"He’s in a better place"
"Go to your room and come out when you're ready to talk"
Do you recognize any of these phrases?
Translation: "F**k your feelings."
Ultimately our culture doesn’t really know how to handle feelings – our own or someone else’s. We intellectualize them, offer quick replacement options, or tell people to have their feelings somewhere else…
Think about it for a minute — when was the last time you really spent some time with feelings, your own, or someone else’s, without ultimately getting that nagging urge to "fix it." Even if you’re someone who has been gifted with the ability or trained (as I have been) to be able to just sit with someone and their feelings, how long before you start to get antsy? I’d wager it’s not long, and it’s not your fault, it’s the way we have been trained as a society, for decades at least, centuries likely.
We learn to stuff our feelings. We learn to replace them – with food, alcohol, thoughts, shopping, dating, sex, obsessive exercise, drama, psychopharmaceuticals…
We learn to "think through" our problems. We assume that "time heals" (because we’ve been told that it does) and we wait for that to happen. You might feel better temporarily... until we start to snap at our kids, or grimace at the cashier, or have unexplainable medical conditions…
Lately I've been having a lot of feelings, about a lot of things: my relationship, my son, my business, my home, my ex-husband...you name it, for months, even years, I've been "having" a lot of feelings, but here’s the kicker: I’ve only just begun to actually feel them. Turns out, I’m grieving.
A dear coach-friend of mine who runs a grief recovery coaching business put it to me this way: “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” (The Grief Recovery Handbook, John W. James and Russell Friedman p.3) Whoa. That’s it? That’s the definition of grief? Well, in that case, I’m grieving all over the damn place!!
Here are some examples:
- My relationship has completely transformed in the last 3 months, from something that was intensely beautiful, but dipped into an unhealthy realm all too often, into something peaceful, beautiful, fun and everything I’ve ever dreamed of. But the "change in a familiar pattern of behavior" thing is really turning me inside out, because guess what? "Dipping into the unhealthy realm" is all I’ve ever known in any relationship I’ve ever had. While it may seem that I’d be thrilled to leave that behind (and believe me, I am) there is also something to grieve in it for me too. There's that "conflicting feelings" thing.
- My ex-husband is moving out of the house we bought together and into a new house with his girlfriend and their collective three children. I don’t want to be married to him anymore; I ended our marriage. And I’m having a lot of feelings of sadness and loss come up around his move and his new life, even though intellectually I know I don’t want it for myself. Conflicting feelings.
- My son is growing up. I’m so proud of him and all that he is becoming, learning and doing. He learned to ride a bike last week. I taught him short division and he went in and proudly taught it to his entire 3rd grade class. He got another stripe on his jiu-jitsu belt. And he refuses to hug me in public anymore and is starting to become much more attached to his father than to me (whereas the first 6 or 7 years were all about mommy). Conflicting feelings – loss and pride.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Identifying feelings has never been easy for me. I used to say I was a “head on legs.” I couldn’t identify that middle part of me; I felt nothing and yet I felt everything. Numbness and confusion. About 15 years ago I saw a therapist who had to give me a list of feelings on an piece of paper so that I could begin to identify what feelings actually were. You see, she would ask me how I was feeling and I'd say, "I think..." and she'd stop me and say, "No, how do you feel?" and I'd carefully say, "I feel good," and she'd patiently say, "Good’ is not a feeling; check the list." And so it would go.
What I’m learning right now is to simply be with my own feelings of loss and sadness…and to grieve. I’m learning to be with the conflicting feelings, not try to discredit them by intellectualizing them, diminishing them, rationalizing them. I’m really learning to just be with them. It’s downright exhausting but I also know that as I grieve I also heal. If it means I spend more of my life crying so be it. At least I’m filling in that middle part of me.
In the comments below, let me know three ways you tend to avoid or stuff your feelings and what would be possible if you could face them head-on.
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Kate is the owner of Kate Anthony's Guide to Rockin' Single Motherhood and is a coach, speaker and international best-selling author who has had articles published in The Huffington Post, MSN Living and YourTango.com. She is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), trained and certified by the world-renowned Coaches Training Institute (CTI). She is also trained in Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching by The Center for Right Relationship. She is an accredited member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of the ICF’s Los Angeles Chapter.
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