Do you find certain emotions surrounding your grief to be unacceptable? This is usually the biggest block to grief. We often think that grief is simply experiencing sadness, but it often encompasses much more than sadness. For instance, people often seal themselves off from anger. Explosive behaviors may be unacceptable in many contexts, but anger is just another emotion. It is not good or bad, it just is. Can you feel love towards someone and anger? Absolutely! Why not?

Sometimes vulnerability is “off-limits” because allowing yourself to feel vulnerable means that you will be hurt, or that you are weak. It is important to validate the emotional part of who you are, but to also invite your rational part to speak up. Will you really be hurt? Does feeling vulnerable really mean that you are a weak person?

Avoiding emotions does not work. If I say, “don’t think about pink elephants,” you are likely thinking about pink elephants. If you tell yourself, “You cannot be frustrated,” you will likely experience frustration. But how can you connect with emotions you would rather avoid?The following are some techniques for coming in contact with these difficult emotions:

  • Make a music mix of songs that remind you of the person you are grieving. Play this mix with someone whom you trust. Share the stories that come up, and more importantly, share the emotions.
  • If you engage in constant movement, stop fidgeting or rocking. Notice what comes up with your thoughts, emotions, and in your body. Sit with it, no matter how uncomfortable it initially is. Notice how it feels emotionally, and in your body.
  • What you would say to a friend who is blocking off an emotion? Say this to yourself, and mean it.
  • Think of a friend who has no issue experiencing this emotion. Picture him/her sitting across from you. Switch chairs and pretend you are him/her. Embrace how it feels in your body to be assured in experiencing such an emotion. As this other person, tell yourself why it is OK to experience these emotions, and in what ways the benefits outweigh the cons. Switch roles back to you, carrying the same bodily feelings with you. Notice if anything has changed for you and why or why not.
  • Seek out therapy. It is hard to compassionately dismantle our own defenses. Why not seek help?

Getting unstuck with grief often means wading into “unacceptable” emotions. It
also helps to do it with others. If you feel resistant to do so, all the more reason to do it. Picture Chinese finger cuffs. The harder you pull away, the tighter the grasp. But when you ease into it, it loses its grip. The same can be said of those “intolerable” emotions.

Published in Bozeman Hospice Newsletter