“Killing Grief”

by Dennis Bradford

in emotional well-being

‘Killing grief’ may denote either (i) grief that kills or (ii) ending grief itself.  Let’s use ‘bereavement’ to refer to losing or becoming separated from someone or something of value, and ‘grief’ to refer to the reaction to bereavement.

Bereavement is normal.  Anyone who lives long enough will experience bereavement multiple times.  It’s impossible to avoid.  Let’s think a little about grief, which we ourselves create and control.

Particularly in childhood, attachments are normal and valuable.  According to the psychologists who advocate attachment theory, it’s best if children develop a “secure” attachment style that leads to normally high self esteem and to thinking that life’s problems are manageable.  Without an optimistic belief that obstacles can be overcome and positive attitudes about others, responding well to the inevitable stress and traumas that life brings becomes exceedingly difficult.

Since attachments always end, bereavement is normal.  Furthermore, since most of us are not sages, occasional grief, too, is normal.

In its early stages, even normal grief can involve anger, feelings of unreality, withdrawal, emotional deadening, nightmares, sleep disorders, appetite difficulties, shortness of breath, dry mouth, repetitive motions to avoid pain, and hallucinatory experiences.

Normal grief can become prolonged or complicated grief, which can worsen a year or two after the bereavement.  Prolonged grief can last for years.  Someone who experiences it can become identified with it, in other words, make it part of his or her self identity.

In “Killing Emotions”, which is chapter VI of his book Every Man a King, Orison Swett Marden writes, “Nursing grief month after month, or year after year, as so many do, is a crime against oneself, and against all others with whom one comes in contact. . . Such mourning is only self-pity, a form of selfishness.”

He’s right that, without making the self-centered evaluation “This bereavement is bad for me,” there would be no emotion of grief.  What is critical emotionally is learning how to detach from the grief.

In my How To Survive College Emotionally, which is available from Amazon.com, I describe three effective techniques anyone can use for dealing with any troubling emotion, namely, a breathing practice, fitness exercise, and meditation (such as zazen).  Mastering a spiritual practice such as zazen always works for minimizing negative emotions—and it requires no drug therapy or expensive counseling.

Does grief kill?  Notice that, although too simplistic, the five stages of the grief cycle (namely, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) posited by Kubler-Ross include anger, which has certainly been a contributing cause to many murders and suicides.

The more interesting question to ask yourself, though, is “How can I kill grief?”  How can I deal well with bereavement when it occurs?

Unless you master an effective spiritual practice such as zazen, my answer is that you may not be able to.

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