I was four years old. I had just experienced bullying for the first time. I was shocked, confused, sad, and angry.
I was grieving.
I had other disappointments before that, and I’ve had many since. More bullying, conflicts, failures, break-ups, rejections, estrangements, losses, and deaths. Each time, I experienced that heavy assault of shock, sadness, confusion, and anger.
In some cases, the hurt went deeper, and bored its way into my heart. These deeper wounds came with added upset, anxiety, fear, and even depression.
When we hear the word “grief,” most of us think of death. Grief, however, is the response of our hearts to any loss. Though everywhere, grief it’s one of those things we would rather not talk about.
When something isn’t talked about, a stigma often becomes attached to it. When it comes to grief, myths abound.
Here are five common myths about grief.
When we view grief as something to be conquered, we’ve labeled it an enemy. Like some unwelcome villain, it lurks in the shadows to attack us and steal our happiness.
In reality, grief is a natural response to any real or perceived loss of any kind. Our expectations are shattered. Life has surprised us. We’re hurt and wounded.
Rather than something to be overcome, grief is to be experienced and processed. We don’t conquer it, but move through it to heal and grow.
We associate grief with pain. No one wants it. Everyone flees from it. If we’re in it, we want out of it as quickly as possible.
Painful things happen in life. If we don’t feel that pain, we become callous, bitter, and depressed. Avoiding grief sets us up for a world of frustration and dysfunction.
Grief is actually positive. It declares that we have hearts.
We have this idea that grief should be brief. A few days. Perhaps a few weeks if the loss is especially close or painful.
The truth is that grief has no timetable. Grieving isn’t a task to check off a to-do list. It’s a dynamic, somewhat unpredictable process.
Intense feelings surface. We’re thrust onto an emotional roller-coaster full of startling twists, climbs, and falls. This ride isn’t over in 90 seconds either. It can go on, and on.
Most of us are grieving on some level. We’re constantly dealing with the results of what has happened to us. Grief is far from quick, and it’s never easy.
If we must grieve, we naturally want to standardize the process. We want a recipe – a checklist for what to do in what order. We want to measure our progress so that when the last box is checked we can breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Done with that!”
We’re not robots. Each loss is unique. Circumstances, relationships, and hearts are all one-of-a-kind. Every grief process is an individual adventure.
Though there is no right way to grieve, there are healthy ways. We learn, heal, adjust, and grow when we take our hearts seriously, practice good self-care, and stay connected to people who are helpful to us. If we instead choose to ignore and stuff our grief, it will leak out in ways we’ll most likely regret.
Grief will be expressed, one way or another.
We tend to confuse strong with stoic. Strength has become synonymous with hard and impenetrable.
We’re not made of steel. Our hearts are not bulletproof. Strength doesn’t come from evading reality and ignoring emotions. We grow stronger as we face obstacles with the courageous resolve to do the grief work necessary to heal and grow.
Strong people are authentic. They pursue integrity. They choose relational honesty over hiding. They grieve from the heart in healthy ways.
Grief is natural and universal. Far from being negative, grieving is the way we heal. It takes time and effort. Grieving in healthy ways takes courage and internal strength.
Life is full of loss because it is also full of love. We love, and so we grieve.
If you’re grieving, please take your heart seriously.
Look inside and process the losses well.
Get around people who are helpful to you.
Limit your exposure to critics and fixers.
Be patient with yourself.