Self, Heartbreak

To Grieve Or Not To Grieve?

Pinkee here~ Once that final decision has been made to cut the cord of a relationship, whether it was mainly your idea or the other person’s, you will have feelings that need to be felt and expressed.  You do have a choice.  You can choose to grieve or not.

Basically there are two types of not grieving.  The first type may look like grieving, but it’s really not. It’s drama.  I’ll give you an extreme example of this type of non-grieving.  When I used to work with homeless people, there was an elderly man at the shelter I visited.  He used to drink all day every day.  At times he would break down and tell me that he HAD to drink because he’d lost his dear wife of many years.  She had died.  He would cry at these times, so it looked a bit like grieving.  But it wasn’t.  It was getting drunk, thus avoiding having to ever face his grief.  What’s the difference between real grieving and what he was doing?  Drama.  He was feeling so sorry for himself that rather than actually feeling his pure feelings and allowing them to pass, he just perpetuated them by adding that drop of drama into the mix. This kind of “grieving” takes on a life of its own.  You’ve probably seen these types. They cry about losses that happened up to fifty years ago.  This type of suffering can go on indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of one’s life.  Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?
The second  type of non-grieving is probably very familiar to you.  It’s when you break up with your loved one, call a friend or two, say some unflattering thing about your ex, and suggest you go out drinking, after which you may or may not have a one night stand. This one night stand may or may not turn into another relationship.  But either way, you will eventually get into one, seeming to skip over your grief.  The key word is “seeming”.

What would happen should you choose not to grieve?   (Grief is grief, by the way.  I write abo ut relationships generally but all that I’m saying applies to your dead cat, mother, or the fact that you got fired from your job.)  Usually one of two things.

The first is that you become depressed, perhaps even without knowing it, at least at first.  You see, those feelings, that sadness, anger, and fear that most people feel at the end of a relationship? They don’t just disappear.  They are part of your five core feelings.  (The other two are joy and sexual feelings.  Some researchers say disgust is a separate feeling, but I say that can fall into the fear category.)  So here’s the deal: if you shut off the negative feelings, you shut off all your feelings. It’s a package deal.  I have a lot of personal and professional experience with depression.  Believe me when I tell you that depression is not “feeling sad” as some people believe it is.  Depression is not feeling.  And that’s as close as possible, in my opinion, to being dead.  It’s choosing not to participate in life because you don’t like part of it.

The other thing that sometimes happens when people attempt to skip over their grief is that the feelings of anger, sadness, and fear do what I call “come out sideways”. This may look like you crying a lot at a movie that you normally wouldn’t shed a tear over.  It may also look like you being irritable with others in your life- your co-workers, children, or new partner- out of proportion to the situation.  Or suddenly developing panic attacks when you’ve never had them before.  Get it? The feelings come out one way or the other, just not appearing to be directly related to the loss. 

I know I’m painting a very unpleasant picture of non-grieving.  I’m not exaggerating.  All of these things really can and do happen.  But the reason I’m describing them in excruciating detail is, I want to influence you to make the other choice.  I know we’ve all been socialized NOT to grieve.  Think of a typical wake or funeral in our country.  The family has the ceremony, whatever it is, and then many times follows it up with a gathering that involves food and drink.  Everyone walks around saying things like: “Don’t cry.  Be happy.  So-and-so wouldn’t want you to be sad.”  Well if so-and-so really cared about you at all, he or she would tell you that in order for you to be happy, you will first have to feel your sadness, anger, and fear about the loss!

If you have decided to try it differently this time and take my advice, stay tuned for next week when I start to explain how healthy grieving can be done.  A few hints: it doesn’t have to take forever, and it probably won’t be as bad as you imagine it to be!