Dr Gemma Gladstone.
How do you move on with your life after losing someone precious to you?
If there is one word that perfectly encapsulates the feeling after someone close to you dies, that would be bereavement. Merriam-Webster defines the term as “the state or fact of being bereaved or deprived of something or someone.”
And although death is one of the grim realities of life, you might find it hard to accept recent events, regardless of whether the death of the person is sudden or expected (due to a lingering illness or old age).
It doesn’t help that most people do not speak about death and the issues usually associated with it. This leaves the people left behind with a vast chasm between what they know and the questions they need answered.
If you are experiencing grief after the loss of a loved one, a registered therapist offers some helpful tips that you can use at this moment of need.
Grief: A Brief Insight
People feel grief after going through a traumatic experience, the end of a relationship, a significant change in one’s life, and the loss of a loved one.
What is crucial to understand is that grieving is normal and a necessary process that you undergo to cope with the passing of a person who is dear to you. However, it is worthwhile to point out that there are healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with your loss and grief.
People differ in the manner in which they process their grief, as well as in the length of time they experience this state. Some people can move on in a matter of weeks or months, while others may take longer. Factors like individual personality and how one copes with a loss can influence the length of the grieving process.
Five Stages of Grief
It is crucial to understand that there is no set timeline for the grieving process. There is no way to rush things, and you have to embrace the process in order for healing to take place fully.
Although there is no set timeframe for the grieving process, there are five stages of grief that you need to be aware of. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist, is credited for formulating the concept of these five stages. Initially, the idea was developed as the psychiatrist was studying terminally ill patients and their feelings.
The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is normal to experience all of these feelings. However, not everyone goes through all the stages of grief. Some people even have the ability to move on with their lives without going through the five stages.
It is also worthwhile to mention that a person’s response to a loss will differ from another’s.
You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup
As much as you would want to be the bedrock for your family and friends during this time of mourning, you first have to recognize your own grief before you can help others with theirs.
Instead of putting on a straight face and pretending you are strong, embrace your feelings. Trying to bury the emotions you feel can only complicate matters over the long run. This can lead to mental and physical problems.
Find a way to express your feelings. Consider writing a letter to the person that you lost, or collect his or her photos in a new album.
Resume your routines as soon as you can. Maintaining a sense of normalcy in your life will help you better cope with your loss and your emotions.
Take care of yourself, physically and mentally. Get enough rest and sleep, and make sure that you eat right. Resist the urge to turn to alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings.
Be prepared for situations or occasions that may trigger your grief. These include anniversaries, birthday and other special events. Especially when you are celebrating them for the first time after the passing of your loved one.
Processing Grief Together
After the death of a loved one, you will need to rely on the people close to you for some measure of comfort during this time of need.
As you process your grief, there are a few things that you can do to help your family members and friends as they try to cope with their loss.
The most important thing that you can offer to someone is a listening ear. Encourage your loved ones to share their feelings and talk about the grief they are currently experiencing.
However, resist the temptation to offer the promise that things will get better soon, or to rationalise the demise of the loved one that you lost.
As you and your loved ones are trying to rebuild your lives, even the simplest of things can matter and help. Little things like babysitting little children or helping with chores are invaluable to someone who is grieving.
Helping kids cope with the loss of a loved one can be particularly tricky, especially if it is a parent who passed away.
As much as possible, use simple and concrete words to explain the situation. Be direct, honest, and patient in answering their questions.
Children manifest their grief physically. As such, adults must watch out for these manifestations and provide reassurance and comfort to them.
As with adults, kids can benefit immensely from the restoration of routines. Encourage your young ones to go back to their normal activities as soon as possible.
Seeking Professional Help
Grief and clinical depression are two distinct things that may be difficult to distinguish from each other.
The easiest way to distinguish one from the other is to remember that grieving involves a mixture of emotions. There will be days when you may feel low, as well as days when you begin to experience happiness. A person who is experiencing depression does not undergo the rollercoaster of emotions. He or she sinks into the abyss of despair and emptiness.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, make an appointment with a therapist here at Good Mood Clinic. We can help you during this time of need.
We are here for such a short time. We and everything and everyone we love and hold dear is impermanent. When we can really hear the penny drop and know in our heart of hearts that our life as we know it is so transient, so temporary – we can let go and love ourselves more, without concerns of ‘who we are’, or ‘who we should be’.
Each moment passes and fades in an instant and we change with every experience that passes through us – good and bad. Having a deep appreciation of impermanence can open our hearts and pave the way for greater self-compassion, greater self-acceptance and we can allow ourselves to feel the joy in the smallest of moments.
Knowing that we are impermanent can transform the way we value ourselves and those around us. We are more than what we know, how we act, what we do, how much money we have or who we know. We are amazing creations with endless potential for change, healing, growth, connection and love.
One day in the future we will all have to leave it all behind. We will have to let go of it all, everything we have attached to, owned and possessed, everything we have held on to or used to prop ourselves up. All of it, we will need to give up and let go.
So can we do any of that any sooner? What are you holding on to that no longer serves you? What identify, value or belief are you clinging to that takes more away from you than it gives. What are you not doing that you really want to do? What risks are you not taking due to fear or pride? What are you not saying because it’s been so long since you’ve spoken your truth that you have forgotten what it sounds like?
Maybe now is the time.
Feeling down, unmotivated, fearful or depressed? Here is a list of evidence-based (backed by substantial research) suggestions & behaviours to reduce depression and help relieve nervous tension and anxiety:-
- Movement & physical exercise. Exercise and physical movement, whether it be intense or gentle can help us complete the stress response cycle, activate the relaxation response and is a natural anti-depressant.
- Some form of daily mindfulness practice, meditation or applied relaxation strategy is a must for good mental health. Coping with stress and reducing anxiety levels means that you can reduce their role as contributing factors in depression. If you want to deal with low mood, you have to address how you manage stress first.
- Dietary modifications can absolutely help with reducing symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. The reduction of things like sugar (basically anything that tastes sweet in your mouth), alcohol and other toxins also helps with reducing brain fog & improving mental clarity also.
- Don’t underestimate the power of adequate and good quality deep sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene and go to bed earlier. Getting more hours of sleep before the hand strikes midnight is beneficial to your health and mood. Getting up earlier and getting sunlight in the morning is a mood enhancer.
- Trying dealing with denied or avoided emotions (eg, through therapy, keeping a journal, being more authentic when relating with friends and family members for example). Chronic suppressed emotions serve to create a prolonged stress response in the body, which in turn can lower immune function and also increase the risk for depression.
- Avoid ‘avoiding’ – deal with the things you are avoiding, whether they be emotional, relational, social, medical/health or physical. Procrastination creates stress, which increases anxiety and anxious apprehension. When all you do is ‘avoid’, you never allow yourself to learn new ways to deal with situations and master difficulties.
- Make time to schedule in joyful moments, in a deliberate way (not just decluttering – although that is pretty good!) – like meeting a friend for coffee, going to the movies, having a massage, going for a swim in the ocean – whatever provides a positive mood shift, no matter how small.
- Spend more time in nature. I know we hear this one a lot, but it really works. Activate as many of your senses as possible and try to be mindful to all those sensations.
- Make the effort to connect with others in small, incidental ways (eg, chat with the person making your coffee, make eye contact and smile at a fellow shopper walking by) – especially if you’re not inclined to. Small but regular social contact is highly correlated with enhanced mood and is good for stress control.
- Asks for more hugs. Increase your level of physical contact with others if possible….even very small gestures count and have a mutually supportive effect . Physical touch is important for a sense of connection and nurturance. Perhaps get a massage or some foot reflexology. Obtaining comfort through pleasant sensory sensations is important when someone is experiencing depression. Think about getting a pet and if you have already got one make sure you give them plenty of physical contact. It’s beneficial and therapeutic.
- Take time to stop and breathe. Rest, slow down and reduce those expectations of yourself that might be just too high!
- Notice what you have; see, feel and practice the gratitude. Turn you mind towards the things and people that you have in your life that you appreciate. Take pleasure in small things and small achievements.
- Address unhealed or unresolved issues from the past. Time does not heal all wounds – no matter what the popular belief says. Sometimes we need help from a mental health professional to work with us to identify and address old unhelpful patterns of behaviour or old hurts from the past. It is never too late and you are never too old to deal with psychological injuries and unhelpful beliefs. Help is available.
If you notice a significant change and drop in your mood which you can’t seem to shift and if you notice that your ability to enjoy the things you normal enjoy is reduced, you should speak to your doctor and seek help from a mental health professional. Getting psychological therapy can be very helpful in guiding you to address the psychological factors which have contributed to you becoming depressed. There may also be a role for anti-depressant medication. Combining medication with counselling and therapy is often the best approach.
About 1 in 6 new mothers experience some degree of postnatal depression. Postnatal anxiety is just as common, and many woman experience both anxiety and depression simultaneously. Postnatal anxiety and depression can be worrying and isolating experiences for a new mum as she tries to deal with her own feelings and symptoms at the same time as trying to best care for her baby and deal with all the new changes and challenges confronting her.
Postnatal depression is very different from the “baby blues” which up to 70% of women experience after birth. This is a transient mood shift that occurs a few days after giving birth where a new mum can feel down, teary and overwhelmed with her new situation.
Postnatal depression can vary in severity like any mood disorder, and for some it can be a very serious condition that requires prompt and targeted treatment. It typically occurs within the first four weeks after childbirth (although it can come on gradually after this time) and sufferers can experience the following symptoms:
- Low mood
- Feeling overwhelmed and extremely anxious
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Sleep difficulties (not just due to a disrupted sleep cycle due to night feeds etc)
- Appetite disturbance
- Feelings of hopelessness and being unable to cope
- Loss of confidence and low self-esteem (particularly in perceived ability to be a good mother)
- Extreme indecisiveness, this may also manifest as excessive reassurance seeking from other regarding decisions about caring for baby
- Excessive guilt caused by having transient negative feelings towards the new baby. Typical emotions that women describe as distressing are anger, resentment or hostility.
- Problems with mother-baby attachment
- In more serious cases, suicidal thoughts or urges may be present (a very small percentage of woman experience ‘postnatal psychosis’ – which is a very serious condition requiring immediate medical attention and usually an inpatient stay in a mother-baby mental health unit). However recovery is usually excellent, with no ongoing serious complications.
Causal pathways or “risk factors” for Postnatal Depression
Like all mental health conditions, the causes of postnatal depression are multi-faceted. It is useful to differentiate those risk factors that pre-exist before the arrival of your baby and those that arise after your baby is born.
Risk factors that can be present before the birth of your baby might include:
- A genetic vulnerability to mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder
- A previous history of a mood disorder
- Previous history of an anxiety disorder
- Pre-existing psychological vulnerabilities such as perfectionism (having very high standards and expectations of yourself) or dependence (doubting yourself and your ability to handle things on your own).
- In schema terms, having a very high ‘unrelenting standards’ and/or a ‘incompetence/dependence’ schemas can increase your risk
- Stressful family relationships or relationship breakdown
- Social isolation or financial difficulties
- Physiological stressors such as hormonal changes, fatigue and any physical complications
- A previous history of pregnancy or birth-related difficulties such as miscarriages, terminations, stillbirths, premature birth or the death of a child
- Poor social supports
- Protracted fertility difficulties and IVF treatments
Risk factors that can arise once the baby is born can include:
- A traumatic birth experience (e.g., high intervention births, post-birth surgery)
- The new baby having a serious illness or medical condition
- Prolonged feeding difficulties and disappointments
- Ongoing and serious sleep deprivation
If you recognise any of the antenatal risk factors shown above, you can reduce your risk by intervening early. In particular you can address the psychological risk factors and also plan adaptive coping strategies to put in place after your baby has arrived.
Seeking help before your baby is due can reduce the risk of developing postnatal depression as studies have shown that mood and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy increase the risk of developing post-natal depression.
It is also important to remember that a pregnancy and childbirth can trigger a lot of worries and anxieties as well as old wounds from childhood. If you experienced a childhood which was difficult, neglectful or abusive, having a baby is a major life event which may trigger painful memories and feelings from your own childhood. You may experience difficulties with attaching to your own baby or become at greater risk of developing depression. If you are worried about this, getting help before the arrival of your baby is important.
Also, sleep deprivation alone is enough to cause significant mood disturbance in many mothers. People tend to under-rate the degree to which sleep deprivation and interrupted sleep can affect mood.
At this time you are more vulnerable emotionally due to hormonal fluctuations and therefore pre-existing worries and anxieties are likely to flare up. For example, you may find yourself worrying about all the uncertainty around the birth and your transition into motherhood. You may also be concerned about how your parenting is going to be influence by how you yourself were parented.
A frequent concern is “I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents did”. This can also fuel a lot of anxiety and worry. There is also increasing pressure for women to find motherhood and pregnancy an amazing and overwhelmingly positive experience. There are certainly many positive and joyful aspects, but there are also difficult ones as well. You may find that you judge yourself harshly e.g., “I don’t know what is wrong with me, everyone thinks I should be so excited”. By addressing any anxieties and worries before or during your pregnancy you can greatly increase your psychological resilience in preparation for the challenges of motherhood.
Things to remember to help you cope during the early months
- Get support – don’t be afraid to ask for help. Once you know who the good people are that you can rely on, make a plan for how they can best help you get through the first 12 weeks and beyond.
- Reconsider your own expectations. Lower them! and then lower them again! Woman who expect themselves to be perfect and have high standards for themselves (their partner and their baby!) are more likely to get depressed and experience high anxiety. If you are holding, nurturing, caring for and bonding with your baby – you are winning! You don’t have to be anyone’s super-mum and you don’t have to be running around pleasing other people and making afternoon tea for Aunt Martha and her friends. Stop, listen to your baby, listen to your body and follow those instructions, rather than anyone else’s. Don’t beat yourself up for staying in your PJs for most of the day and hanging out with your baby enjoying each other and watching the odd movie. When your baby sleeps, you need to sleep or at least rest. Do the absolute minimum of ‘house-work’. Your baby doesn’t care that the house is messy, they only care that their mummy is taking good care of herself!
- Have faith and believe in yourself. Sure, listen to and use advise if it comes from supportive and reliable people or sources. But it’s also good to tune into and sense what your own intuition is telling you. Also, try to put yourself in your baby’s place when thinking about what they need. For example, don’t get unnecessarily hung up on things like ‘routines’. The first 12 weeks of your baby’s life is also referred to as the ‘fourth trimester’ – and for good reason! It takes your baby that long to even figure out that they are no longer a part of you, so to speak. It is therefore normal and natural (not to mention beneficial) that you are as close physically to your baby as possible and that you get as much skin to skin contact as you can.
- Receive psychological and medical help if needed. If you are struggling to have any positive feelings or if you feel disconnected from your baby, then you probably need professional help as soon as possible. There are safe and effective anti-depressant medications that can be used during this period, so don’t delay in speaking with your doctor or a perinatal psychiatrist for expert guidance. Speaking to a psychologist with experience in postnatal depression as well as recruiting practical support from family and friends will be very helpful.
- Go for walks with your baby. It’s important to keep active and get fresh air and exercise. Plenty of sunlight is good for your mood and exercise is also excellent for managing stress and anxiety.
- Listen to uplifting or fun music and dance at home with your baby. Music helps with mood and fatigue and dancing is a great way to get incidental exercise.
- Refrain from comparing yourself to other new mums. Unfortunately, some new mums are preoccupied with wanting to appear flawless and completely sorted! Perhaps they are overly concerned with and worried about appearing like a ‘failure’. They may appear like everything is running smoothing and that they are having a hassle-free time of things. Do yourself a big favour and just accept that this is all BS! Smile politely and concentrate on your own experiences and your own baby’s development one day at a time. It might be helpful to listen to “Buddhism for Mother’s” as an audio book and remind yourself that this time of your life is both short and precious.
- Remember that any difficult time you are going through now will pass. If you are going through a rough time, know that it will get better. All you can do is get whatever help you can and speak to helpful friends or family and to health professionals when you need extra support. Let yourself receive the help that is offered, rather than expecting yourself to do everything. Everything comes and goes in phases, better times will follow. Remember that any problems you experience now will seem more intense and upsetting due to hormonal stresses, sleep deprivation and the steep learning curve you are facing. While its good to welcome helpful support, its also good to encourage yourself for everything you are dealing with and to spend time with encouraging people.
- Find and connect with like-minded new mums and dads. Make sure you go to your local mother and baby group so that you can at least make initial contact with other new mums. As your baby gets a little older it will be important for you to do more things with other mothers and babys so you can experience a sense of shared community and support. Avoid other mums and dads who you find critical, condescending and who only like to talk about themselves. Spend time with other parents who make you feel good, who want a mutually supportive relationship and who are kind and non-judgemental.
- Try not to delay getting extra help and professional or medical help if you need it. Keeping yourself well is paramount!
- Enjoy your baby!
For more information and support go to: https://www.panda.org.au/
Limit the ‘Noise’
In today’s busy world it’s easy to get caught up in all the distractions. It can be a novel exercise to start to really notice what you are letting into your psyche, your consciousness – and to make an active choice as to whether it’s good for you or not. Are you controlled, at least in part by social media? How many times a day do you check the myriad of notifications your devices throw at you? Do you actually enjoy and value your time spent on Facebook, Instagram or checking emails? Are these behaviours driven by a compulsion to do so or do they actually bring you joy or add value to your life? Asking yourself these questions can get you thinking about what you value and what’s really important to you.
If these checking impulses are contributing to your feelings of stress and overwhelm, then maybe it’s time to set yourself some helpful and thoughtful boundaries. Thinking more about how, when and why you engage in the technological world could be a good place to start. When these wonders of the modern world start to take away more than they add to your life, then you know something’s out of whack and you need to make different decisions about how you spend your precious time.
Seek out the Joy
Did you realise that sometimes you actually have to seek out and schedule in the joy to maintain your mental and physical well-being? Psychologists refer to this as Pleasant Event Scheduling, and it involves deliberating making time for the things you enjoy doing and those that boost positive emotions. Sometimes people have the mindset that doing this is ‘selfish’, ‘indulgent’ or a ‘waste of time’. However, these beliefs often stem from your inner critic and are linked to having unrelenting standards for yourself and others (including a high level of ‘perfectionism’ which gets in the way of allowing yourself relaxation and down-time).
If you are feeling low or if you’re suffering from depression, it’s even more important to deliberately factor in both pleasant events and activities which make you feel good about yourself. Also, a focus on increasing pleasant sensory experiences is important for people with low or depressed mood. Think about your 5 senses and how you can boost feelings of sensory comfort, security and pleasure. Doing these activities mindfully is also important. Examples might include – taking a warm relaxing bath, swimming in the ocean, using heat packs, getting a massage or some reflexology, tasting your favourite foods and drink, using aromatherapy, getting more hugs from friends and family, listening to soothing, joyful or upbeat music.
Prioritise Restoration and Listen to your Body
Life is not a race. There are no prizes given out for reaching a point of ‘burnout’. Do you deliberately make time and room for slowing down? Everyone needs time for emotional and physical restoration and we all need to take refuge on a regular basis. If you don’t listen to your body and give it what it needs, it usually starts screaming at you in the form of headaches, fatigue, stomach upsets and other physical manifestations of chronic stress. Instead of racing through the day and crashing from exhaustion at the end, you could factor in ‘mini breaks’ and brief periods of mindfulness when you stop and notice.
You don’t always have to multi-task. Try doing one thing with full attention rather than 5 things with minimal or scattered attention. You can take your time to practice pauses during the day when you stop, breathe, rest and reflect mindfully on the day and how you are feeling. Checking in with or coming to your ‘senses’ regularly throughout the day, means that you can notice when you need to slow down and take a break. It’s when you don’t even notice what you need, that problems start to arise.
Stop the Comparisons
Comparing yourself to others is often a futile activity which can lead to an extra sense of pressure and stress that you don’t need. It’s a life-trap which can fuel the ‘inner critic’ and make you vulnerable to feeling like an ‘imposter’ and even a failure – especially if you’re rating yourself against your peers on measures of performance and achievement.
It’s often more useful to compare yourself with yourself! This practice encourages you to see the progress or the positive changes you have made over time, which is a more realistic and kinder approach. For example, you may have conquered a particular fear, achieved a life goal, or reached a realistic target that you have set for yourself. Maybe you have come a long way in healing yourself after an abusive or difficult childhood. Make time to congratulate yourself for having moved forward and changed for the better. Focusing on you and your positive and healthy progress, rather than how you measure up against others, is much better for your mental health.
When we compare ourselves with others, it’s usually not a realistic or fair comparison. We can never really know what’s happening with the other person, what motivates them, their personal history or what goes on behind closed doors for them.
Value what you have
Deep down, we all know the value of appreciation and gratitude. It’s easy to forget and get swept away with daily hassles and worries – this is normal. As humans, fortunately and unfortunately we have a very sophisticated brain that is prone to get caught up with too much thinking and anxious rumination (e.g., future forecasting, worrying, ruminating and ‘catastrophizing’ about what is going to happen). We don’t have to blame ourselves for this, this is how our brains have evolved over-time. We are human and therefore we worry and get stressed out!
There are many antidotes to this, but one is to make more room for thoughts which are thankful and appreciative. Our minds tend to naturally focus upon what is missing, what is wrong and what is not there. It’s due to an inbuilt survival mechanism which has gone haywire. We have a ‘fault-finding’ mind which keeps us alert and keeps the threat system of the brain overly activated. When we deliberately think about the things we are happy with, thankful for and working well in our lives, our brains calm down a little (ie, we can down-regulate our anxious nervous system). Thankfulness helps us foster a sense of greater relaxation and therefore positive emotional states are much easier to access.
Try and make room for moments of gratitude and being thankful for the things or life conditions that you have and want and don’t have and don’t want, rather than the life conditions that you want but don’t have.
Don’t punish your child for expressing how they feel.
“Is that your angry face?
I better not see that next time I look at you!”;
“Don’t be angry with me, I won’t have that!”;
“Don’t look so sad, cheer up, it’s not that bad”,
“Stop crying, there’s nothing to be upset about!”
Children have feelings too, don’t punish your child because you’re uncomfortable with negative feelings, because the ramifications (for you and them) are far too significant.
Too often parents punish children simply for having an emotion such as anger (or dismiss and deny their child’s more negative passive emotions such as sadness). They don’t like what the child is expressing or feeling, so they crack down hard on the emotion (but oh boy, is this a mistake that will come back to bite them, particularly if it’s done insidiously).
Discipline your children for their problematic behaviour only and NOT for their emotions (e.g., not for voicing their opinions, being grumpy, having an ‘unpleasant’ emotional outburst, or even stomping their feet and saying “I hate you”). Cracking down with harsh disapproval is an easy, knee-jerk reaction which will only get you in hot water down the track. Of course, if you respond this way routinely, your child will (sadly) learn to hold things back and internalise how they feel. This will ‘look’ like good, compliant behaviour on the surface, but it’s not, it’s simply a coping strategy that they learn in order to please you and avoid your disapproval (Yes, that’s right, parental disapproval is something that the majority of children will do almost anything to avoid).
So when parents ‘shut children down’ by punishing their child’s emotion, they are not actually creating a well-mannered, compliant little person, they are actually creating a shame-ridden and emotionally stifled child (who BTW is more likely to develop future emotional & relational problems). Let’s be straight, this is not permissive or Laissez-faire parenting where anything goes and you encourage primal screaming just because the shop ran out of their favourite ice-cream. This is simply about knowing the difference between being an emotionally dismissive or disapproving parent and one who chooses to help their child work through and cope with their emotional experiences (even with emotions you are uncomfortable with because of your own upbringing).
Emotion Coaching (John & Julie Gottman), is one way to respond to these issues. Emotion coaching is a parenting style which has been proven to greatly assist children is developing emotional regulation skills necessary for successfully navigating the ups and downs of life. The steps in Emotions Coaching will actually get you closer to your child rather than further away (which is right where punishing kids for their emotions will get you). It’s also worth noting here that there is no stock-standard ‘way’ to respond to a child’s misbehaviour. A parent’s response needs to be mindful and intentional, not simply a blanket response – to all misbehaviour, in all settings.
If you punish (i.e., with punitive, dismissing or rejecting behaviours) your child for having or expressing an emotion that you don’t like (especially with any regularity), then your child will develop a strong emotional inhibition schema – as well as other early maladaptive schemas. Such a child will learn that some emotions are ‘unacceptable’ or bad and destructive and they will gradually learn to suppress those emotions, firstly when around you and then later with others.
They will also learn that certain parts of themselves are to be ‘hidden’ and unacceptable to you and other people. All this will lead to poor emotional regulation and the belief that they cannot tolerate strong or difficult emotions (this is a very problematic outcome indeed, as these factors often play a role in adolescent suicidal and self-harming behaviours). These kids will eventually learn to fear their emotions and to respond to difficult emotions with faulty or even dangerous coping strategies. Apart from all this, they will also begin to harbour resentments towards you and they will become more selective in what they reveal to you and share with you.
So, like you (and all of us), kids have bad days and they often have ‘negative’ emotions and express them in ways we don’t like. The way to deal with this is to teach them that emotions (in themselves and in their pure form) are real and acceptable and cannot harm them. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ emotion. All emotions are temporary – they come and go. All emotions also have a function (or purpose) to them and an accompanying ‘action urge’ (a desire to act out a behaviour, whether that be positive or negative). The action of course is different from the actual emotion, it is not part of the emotion. The urge is part of the emotion, but the action (behaviour) comes afterwards. It’s the action or behaviour that we can learn to resist, control and alter (children learn this gradually between the ages of 3 – 7 usually). The actual feelings/emotions themselves, are less in our control.
‘Emotion Coaching’ is definitely the way to go in conjunction with intentional (tailored) responses to misbehaviour and limit setting when necessary. You have to know and understand your child’s unique temperament to appropriately discipline them. This is what’s missing in many parent’s approaches to discipline. Using one, single standard response to misbehaviour is often not the way to go. The interaction between a child’s temperament and a parent’s response is paramount. That’s the tricky part, as it can be a delicate interplay of responses not observable to an onlooker.
When we emotion coach our children, we work with whatever emotion is there, in order to teach important self-awareness and emotion-regulation skills. So called ‘negative’ emotions (e.g., sadness, anger, fear, frustration) are not things to be scared of, shut down or dismissed by parents. Rather, they can be great opportunities to ‘connect’ with your child and help them grow. There are 5 basic steps to emotion coaching (discussed in different blogs). Used appropriately, emotion coaching can bring you emotionally closer to your child and provide the essential building blocks for an on-going enriching relationship with them.
For help with these issues and for training in Emotion Coaching (the Gold Standard in Parenting) contact us to speak with one of our helpful psychologists.
Dr Gemma Gladstone
There is no time-frame, stages or steps to grief. With regards to bereavement, a person does not experience linear or sequential stages (they may of course, but this is rarely the case). The actual experience of grief is a lot more haphazard. Perhaps people intuitively like the idea of stages because it communicates to us an anticipated ‘end stage’.
However, there is no final ‘resolution’ or process one goes through in order to reach an end-point of ‘no grief’. This is a human view that we have tried to impose upon the experience of grief, fueled by the idea that one goes through the process of a painful, unpleasant experience only to come out the other-side having ‘let go’ of the pain.
There is a significant cultural expectation, at least in the West, that people should have a certain amount of time to process their loss (i.e., 3 months, 6 months, one-year?). After which time, it is often expected that a person should have somehow completed a period of ‘mourning’ and their grief should have ‘resolved’.
This idea is generally not helpful for the bereaved person and can leave them feeling confused and critical of their own grief and their ability to heal. At some level, people expect others to ‘get over it’ earlier than people can realistically heal from their loss. As a therapist, I’ve lost count of how many times a client has asked me a variation of these questions: “Is what I am feeling normal?” “Should I be feeling this sad for this long?” “My husband/friend/colleague etc wants to know when I’ll be over it”.
Anyone who has ever lost someone special knows that we don’t just get over it! At times of great stress, like the death of a loved one, we need to be connected to supportive others. We need supportive companionships and some degree of secure social bonds in order to grieve effectively.
But is there a usual course of grief?
Grief triggers an instinctive mourning process. Mourning is the process by which acute grief evolves (over time), as information about the finality and consequences of the death are integrated into the person’s attachment working models and life goals and plans are redefined accordingly.
The process of so called ‘normal grief’ is marked by movement towards acceptance of the loss and a gradual alleviation of the initial ‘symptoms’ of acute grief – as well as the ability for continued engagement in daily life. However, this transition is not linear. It is normal for the emotional pain of grief to be felt sporadically, with some days experienced as deeply sorrowful and painful and other days experienced as calm with an absence of intense negative emotion.
Acute grief gradually transforms into integrated grief (i.e., a grief that we live with and grow around). The grief remains – it never goes away, but we are able to integrate it into our life’s and who we are. We are essentially able to see our lives and live our lives without the lost person being present as they once were. Integrated grief often involves finding a new way to relate to the lost person. It also involves finding new meaning, a new or renewed sense of purpose and new goals for ourselves – over time.
In its true form grief is not an illness and grief in its pure form is not like depression. It can share so called symptoms with depression for example, but it is fundamentally different. The growing around grief model (discussed by Lois Tolkin) is a more realistic way to understand grief and clients often identify significantly with this view of grief – it also helps takes the pressure off.
In this regard, the grief is not necessarily resolved or completed, but it is experienced as qualitatively different. The grief may be still there, but the person is able to function around it. That is, the grief is not front and centre all the time. It tends to come to the surface when activated in some way (e.g., taking about the person in a conversation), but it is no longer experienced as acute grief.
So what is a ‘good outcome’ when it comes to grief?
What are some signs that a person has integrated or accommodated the loss into their lives? The list below includes several features of ‘integrated’ grief.
- The bereaved person gradually becomes more involved in life
- They begin to find renewed meaning in life
- They may develop a renewed sense of purpose
- Their ability to enjoy life again gradually returns
- There may be a strong appreciation for the (lost) person together with an appreciation for one’s own life
- The memories of the loved person become varied & more positive (eg., diverse memories spanning the whole relationship with that person) and not just about the end-of-life period or death-related memories.
- A continued ‘relationship’ with the loved person is maintained (e.g., photographs, community, relationships, included in conversation, prayer, meditation etc). Meaning that a new way of continuing the bond and relating to the deceased person has been established or at least partially established.
Key points to remember when relating to a bereaved person
- We don’t move through neat stages of grief only to come out the other side being “grief-free”. It just doesn’t usually work like that.
- A common assumption is that someone’s period of mourning should be shorter than it is.
- There is a common human tendency to want people to be “all better” – we want them to have ‘resolved’ and achieved ‘closure’ for their grief.
- People have very different grief experiences – we cannot compare or assume someone’s course of grief and mourning.
- Grief is already an isolating experience. Show up for someone who is grieving & always acknowledge their loss. Be present. Have ‘big ears and a small mouth’.
- Offer specific help and support. Bereaved people often experience difficulty in initiating connect with others. Instead of saying “let me know if I can do anything for you”. You could say “will you be free Friday, why don’t I bring over some dinner over?”.
What not to say to someone who is grieving
It is often difficult to know what to say to support bereaved family members, friends, work colleagues or acquaintances. Sometimes people say things to calm or reassure themselves and they unwittingly invalidate & dismiss the person’s loss.
- Avoid unhelpful “At least” Examples: “At least she didn’t suffer”; “at least he died peacefully”; “at least you have other children”; “at least he died doing something he enjoyed”
- Avoid talking about your own grief too soon.
- Avoid comparing their grief to other people’s grief or loss circumstances.
- Avoid encouraging them to ‘get on with their lives” by saying something like “John would not have wanted you to be sad”.
You don’t really have to have something clever or profound to say. A simple “I’m so sorry…” together with your presence and general support is often the best comfort you can provide someone who is grieving.
We often think of grief as the psychological response to loss but it is certainly more like a full-bodied response, especially for the bereaved person (i.e., a person who is experiencing the death of a loved one).
Grief is an inescapable part of life and an important part of the human condition. The amount of ‘pain’ experienced is generally commensurate with the degree of loss and therefore the degree of love and attachment we feel for the person we have lost.
The loss of a loved person is the most obvious form of loss but there are numerous types of losses we can face in our lifetimes: career loss, financial loss, lost outcomes, loss of friendships/relationships, loss of fertility, loss of hope, loss of health/independence, the aging process, loss of ‘a future’, loss of one’s dreams for the future, loss because life didn’t turn out how we had planned!
Grief is so closely tied up with what it is to be a human being living in a changing and imperfect world. There might be many micro-moments of grief throughout life (ie.,disappointments) as well as more distinct and painful grief experiences such as the death of a much loved person.
There are many models of grief and bereavement, different theorists emphasise different ‘tasks’ or ‘phases’ involved in grief work. They all understand grief to involve a painful emotional adjustment which takes time and with no specific time limit. This appears to be universally true, although each person’s grief experience will be unique. Grief is indeed a universal experience but there are very unique aspects to each and every loss.
When someone close to us dies, our entire emotional and social landscape is changed. The way we grieve will be influenced by a myriad of factors. Therefore we cannot compare people as each person’s individual history will influence the course and nature of their grief.
What is Acute Grief?
During the initial weeks and months, the bereaved person may be very preoccupied with the most recent memories of their loved one (eg, remembering them being sick and other ‘death-related’ memories). Over time however, there is usually a gradual return of more distance memories of the person, including both positive and neutral memories. This process tends to occur naturally.
Acute grief is not a disorder or a psychiatric condition, although there may be many ‘symptoms’ which are similar to those with depression or PTSD. The acute phase of grief is the initial intense response to the loss which encompasses an array of internal experiencing and outward behaviours. It is important not to pathologize grief itself as all these responses are normal. The acutely bereaved person can experience: shock, disbelief, emotional numbness, panic, fear, insecurity, confusion, sleep and appetite disturbances, physical pain, sadness, sorrow, intense emotions, longing, disengagement from ongoing life, insistent thoughts of the lost person and many others. Acute grief is generally ‘time limited’ (in that these intense feelings and
experiences naturally subside over-time – they become less intense). Acute grief does tend to come in waves and bursts. It is important not to block or deny your feelings of loss. You need to feel the pain of the loss in order to begin to heal.
What is Integrated Grief?
The process of so called ‘normal grief’ is marked by movement towards acceptance of the loss and a gradual alleviation of the initial ‘symptoms’ of acute grief – as well as the ability for continued engagement in daily life. However, this transition takes time and is not linear. It is normal for the emotional pain of grief to be felt sporadically, with some days experienced as deeply sorrowful and painful and other days experienced as calm with an absence of intense negative emotion.
The acute grief gradually transforms into integrated grief (i.e., a grief that we live with and grow around). The grief remains within us – it never goes away or ‘resolves’ as such, however though its gradual acceptance we being to integrate it into our life’s, who we are and our future.
This means that we are gradually able to see our lives and live our lives without the lost person being in our life as they once were. Integrated grief often involves finding a new way to relate to the lost person and keeping some form of ‘connection’ with your loved one. Many people find a way to continue a special bond with the lost person and this can be very useful and healing. The process of integration also involves finding new meaning, a new or renewed sense of purpose and some new life goals for ourselves.
Mostly, grief is processed in a way whereby the bereaved person moves and changes with the grief and all the life changes that have resulted from the loss (i.e., life after the loss of a loved one). We know that someone is ‘processing’ the loss, if they are generally non-avoidant of the pain (most of the time). The term, “the only way out is through” is a very apt sentiment when it comes to grief. So non-avoidance and allowing oneself to feel all the emotions and pain of the loss is paramount to one’s ability to accept the loss, process the loss and integrate the loss into their life.
What is Complicated Grief?
Recent studies suggest that complicated grief (also referred to as ‘prolonged grief disorder’ and ‘persistent complex bereavement disorder’) affects around 10 – 15 % of bereaved individuals. These people’s grief does not appear to evolve over time and they continue to experience distressing acute grief symptoms for a prolonged period. They will also feel as though they are stuck in their grief and admit to feeling unable to cope with the loss. It is very hard for them to see a future for themselves without the lost person. Simply put, the grief becomes ‘complicated’ or derailed because the person unwittingly blocks the emotional processing necessary to integrate the grief. They do this because the reality of the loss is simply too painful and catastrophic that they cannot allow themselves to fully feel it and acknowledge all its ramifications (eg, secondary losses, changes to life as they know it).
Thoughts, beliefs and behaviours can get in the way and actively block the experience of grief, stopping the person from feeling the pain of the loss and blocking acceptance of their new reality. The lost loved one is still very much the focus of the person’s inner world (unlike inhibited or delayed grief where the person has shut down most of the thoughts and reminders of the deceased person). In complicated grief reactions, the person is thinking and ruminating on their lost loved one and the circumstances around the death. There are usually lots of thoughts and
around “what if…” “if only I…..” “if only they….”. Regret, guilt and self-blame are very common thought processes. There may often be a sense of having ‘failed’ the lost person – especially if the loved one is a child.
These complex cognitions and beliefs and the person’s preoccupation with them, keep the person from actually doing the work of emotionally processing the loss. These complex thought processes, inhibit the necessary emotional processing.
Common components of complicated grief:
Thoughts and ruminations are often related to: care-giver self-blame and guilt
Unhelpful Behaviours: either distinct ongoing avoidance of reminders or constant over-engagement with reminders
Emotion dysregulation: Over or under-engagement with emotional material/emotions; not taking respite from painful emotions (not allowing oneself to experience positive emotions)
Inadequate restoration processes: lack of sleep; nutrition; exercise; positive emotions
Lack of emotional/social support or contact with active egregious influences (eg, family disputes)
There may also be a co-occurring psychological disorder (eg, depression or PTSD), that needs treatment
Therapy can and does help!
Treatment for complicated grief can include experiential interventions like chair-work and imaginal dialogues. These methods have proved to be highly successful at helping people resolved painful emotions and beliefs tied up with the loss.
Don’t hesitate to seek therapy to help you deal with the trauma of the death of a loved one.
There is also no time limit for grief. It is common for people to suffer from loss feelings and sometimes complications years and decades after the loss of a loved person.
Whether you are experiencing complicated grief or not, therapy can assist you to
integrate your loss and work through and heal from the intense emotional pain of
grief. It is never too late to seek help for any kind of loss.
Why Schema Therapy Can Help You …..
Most people can benefit from Schema Therapy because we all have some degree of difficulty in our life which is linked to a schema. Everyone has schemas. Have you ever wondered why your emotional buttons get pushed, or why you seem to push other people’s buttons? Have you met people that really trigger a powerful emotional response in you? The answer is tied up in understanding your schemas, what they are, where they came from, and what or who triggers them. So gaining some insight around your schemas at an intellectual level firstly is helpful so you can have a framework for understanding your issues or problems. An experienced schema therapist will help you formulate your issues in a different way. Quite frankly, it is often the case that schema therapy is able to conceptualise your issues in new meaningful ways which differ significantly from previous therapies you might have tried. Schema therapy offers many people new hope when they have been previously told that they are beyond help or somehow ‘treatment-resistant’.
When schemas and/or modes are very strong and go unchecked or unchanged for a long time they become factors which play a very real role in the cause of emotional/psychological health problems like depression. By modifying your schemas, you can greatly reduce your vulnerability to future depression, clinical anxiety and other psychological issues. In particular, schema therapy is very useful for anyone with recurrent or long-standing mental health or psychological difficulties. Things like, multiple episodes or recurrent depression; depression which is difficult to shift; reoccurring negative events or persistent low self-esteem. It’s also very helpful for people with problematic romantic or family relationships and for people whose own personality styles tends to interfere with their well-being, relationships and general functioning.
Good examples of problems which are driven by schemas include: being a ‘self-sacrificer’ who can’t say “no” and becoming depressed or ill as a result; being attracted to ‘unavailable’ partners over and over again; expecting or anticipating that others will have control over you and carrying a lot of anger internally; expecting yourself to be perfect and not feeling good enough; feeling inferior to others; feeling inadequate and not able to stand on your own two feet; expecting loved ones to leave or disappoint you; being unable to trust other people; having volatile or difficult relationships or avoiding romantic relationships all together .
If you have noticed any type of recurring and unhelpful ‘pattern’ in your life, in relation to your mental health, work relationships or friendships, romantic relationships, stressful family dynamics or decisions you have made, then schema therapy is probably the best therapy for you! If you suffer from recurrent episodes of depression or if you have been told that you have ‘treatment resistant’ depression, then schema therapy is likely to help you in a way that other treatments have been unable to. If you have been told that you have Bipolar II disorder, problems with emotional regulation, urges to self-harm, or issues of addiction, then a dedicated attempt at schema therapy is likely to really help you.
You don’t have to have a serious mental health issue to benefit from Schema Therapy. It might be that you are curious about learning more about your personality and understanding why you do the things you do. Do you find it hard to ask for what you need? Are you the one always giving to others or do you guilty when you decide to take care of yourself? Have you noticed that you seem to be surrounded by Narcissistic people – at work, in your family of origin or in your friendships? Are you having trouble finding a healthy romantic relationship? Do you tend to have relationships with the same type of person? Do you tend to attract emotionally unavailable partners when all you are wanting is a secure relationship with a loving partner? Why does it seem so hard? Schema Therapy can often provide the answers you’ve been looking.