It’s been said that time heals all things, including grief and loss. Time does help immensely with overcoming wounds, but that time needs to be used in tandem with wisdom to ensure that you get the most out of it.
Given enough time, a broken bone will heal; but unless it’s been set properly, that bone might not heal properly and work as it did before. It’s the same with grief and loss – time does not heal us and restore us unless we do some work alongside it.
Many things in life can cause us to grieve. Most often, we grieve because of the loss of loved ones. The death of a loved one, whether a spouse, friend, sibling, parent, or child, is one source of grief.
When a cherished relationship such as a marriage ends in divorce, or if a friendship ends due to conflict, that too can be a cause of grief. We are also brought to grief if a long-cherished hope or dream is brought to naught, and even when a significant lifestyle change such as getting older means realities such as loss of mobility and independence.
When these things happen, there may be a temptation either to simply give up or to just carry on as though nothing happened. People avoid sharing their feelings of grief and dealing with them for several reasons.
They may feel that they shouldn’t fall apart or let their tears show because they want to make those around them feel better. They want to show them that they are coping and strong, all the while burying their feelings and ignoring their pain.
When you don’t process your grief, your ability to relate to other people and forge new relationships is affected; the effects of the loss linger and will often show up in your life in surprising and unpleasant ways. Each person’s grief is unique, and there isn’t a set of clearly defined steps you can take to deal with grief.
Though there are many elements in common, each person walks their path through grief. There also isn’t a time limit for mourning. Many people never quite get over their loss; instead, they simply learn how to cope with it in daily life.
Even though each experience of grief is unique, you must work through your pain little by little. You have to face the pain and work through it, addressing your feelings. You may do this by talking with someone about it or journaling about it. The important thing is that one should work through the pain, even if that’s in small doses.
If a person doesn’t work through his or her pain and instead tries to avoid it or stay distracted by keeping busy or finding other unhealthy outlets for dealing with grief, those distractions may work for a little while.
But over time these techniques prove highly ineffective, and they lead to more relational and emotional pain. That is why it’s important to work through the pain of grief and loss, and also why it’s important to recognize the signs of not dealing with your grief.
Seven signs that you’re not coping well
1. Withdrawal from relationships
When we’re hurting, one reaction we have is to withdraw from our relationships with others. We withdraw and begin to avoid the people in our lives because maybe it feels awkward to be with them, especially if they ask how we’re doing.
Sometimes, people don’t know how to be around someone who’s grieving. You may not want them to be around when you’re feeling down and you don’t want to be cheered up. You may withdraw from your prayer group or stop going to church. Withdrawing from people may point to an unwillingness to face the loss and its implications.
2. Compulsive behaviors
There are healthy ways of dealing with emotional pain, and there are ways that are unhealthy. Sometimes, instead of dealing with the loss, it may be easier to settle into unhealthy behaviors.
Some of these may include turning to food for comfort, leading to overeating, but it can also look like controlling your appetite and undereating instead of eating as usual. To be sure, grieving can affect your appetite because the loss of a loved one is a stressful life experience.
When a person is grieving, that affects normal functioning, including experiencing an inability to focus and a lack of interest in activities that they previously enjoyed. Grief is often accompanied by stress responses such as changes in appetite, sleep problems, fatigue, muscle tension, digestive issues, and headaches.
With time, however, normal functioning is restored, but it is important to take care of oneself during this time by listening to your body and giving it what it needs. Other compulsive behaviors include excessive spending through retail therapy, substance abuse, bingeing on social media or binging Netflix, and engaging in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex with strangers to distract from the pain of loss.
3. Persistent sleep disturbances
When our bodies are stressed, they act uncharacteristically. Immediately after a loss, it’s common to have difficulty with sleeping. Each person will respond to grief differently, so there isn’t a set time in which one’s sleep patterns should return to normal. But if your sleep problems persist, that may be a sign that you haven’t dealt with the grief and loss.
Sometimes, people will distract themselves from their grief by spending a lot more time working, exercising, or helping others. These things help them avoid sitting still long enough to think about what’s happened.
If one’s response to loss is to act as though everything is fine, that may signal to avoid dealing with grief. This is especially the case for those that feel they need to stay strong for others, and they wind up not addressing their feelings.
5. Being irritable, distracted, and abrupt with others
Being irritable may look like having more drama and conflict in your relationships than before. A parent may find themselves being inexplicably short with their child, or one spouse may snap at his or her partner for a small issue. These conflicts are either a distraction from the pain or a warped expression of that pain.
6. Not moving on
Though grief is an individual journey, there are some signs that a person may be stuck in their grieving process. Some people try to preserve everything as it was because changing things may mean you might forget them or that you didn’t care about them.
A shrine to someone who has died can function as a memorial, but it can also become an anchor that keeps you mired in your grief and a place of pain. Other people may be reluctant to move on and are afraid of forming new relationships for fear of being hurt again. Not being able to move on may be a sign of not dealing with grief and loss.
Just as we share our feelings of joy with others, we also ought to be willing to share feelings of pain with the people in our lives. Sometimes, it may seem like the best thing to do is to avoid the pain altogether. This can happen through withdrawal from relationships.
It can also manifest as a refusal to talk about the loss, or avoiding certain music or places that you enjoyed together so that you don’t bring up any painful memories. You may even struggle to talk with God about what you’re feeling.
It’s important to deal appropriately with grief and loss. After a loss, it’s normal to not be able to function normally, to lose one’s appetite, and to struggle with sleep and enjoyment of certain activities. Without self-care and the appropriate support to address grief, that lack of functioning can develop into more serious mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.
Dealing with Grief and Loss
Grief doesn’t just go away. Even when you’re intentional about dealing with your pain and working through it diligently, the healing process takes time. Healing doesn’t mean you stop hurting or that you don’t miss the person anymore. True healing means that you can function in your everyday activities and that you’re able to get back to the stuff of everyday life while carrying the growth and experience from your loss.
Dealing effectively with loss requires that you face the pain of loss, even if it’s a little bit at a time. The pain of loss often comes in waves. Sometimes you’re in the shallows and you can handle it, but at other times the pain gets overwhelming, and you can’t breathe. Take it one day at a time, leaning in to deal with the grief rather than avoiding it altogether or numbing yourself from the pain.
Taking things a bit at a time can help you not feel overwhelmed. If you need to work through some old papers or other personal items belonging to your loved one, you don’t have to do it all at once. Set a time limit for what you need to do, then you can take a break from it and return to it another time.
One helpful avenue to pursue is finding the help of a Christian counselor who will journey with you through your grief. Your counselor can teach you a variety of coping skills, including helping you build your support network so that you’re not facing your grief alone. He or she can also help you to sit in the emotions and unpack them.
Sometimes we just need a safe space to talk through our heartbreak, to ugly cry, and to vent our feelings of frustration. At Simi Valley Christian Counseling, your counselor is trained and equipped to cultivate a non-judgmental space for you to process what you’ve been through.
He or she can help you face these emotions, even in small doses, and continue functioning in daily life. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, reach out to a counselor at Simi Valley Christian Counseling today and make an appointment to start processing that grief in a safe, encouraging environment.
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