Read an Excerpt
The Grief Recovery Handbook, 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition
Grief: A Neglected and Misunderstood Process
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind. Therefore, the feelings you are having are also normal and natural for you. The problem is that we have all been socialized to believe that these feelings are abnormal and unnatural.
While grief is normal and natural, and clearly the most powerful of all emotions, it is also the most neglected and misunderstood experience, often by both the grievers and those around them.
Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a -familiar pattern of behavior. What do we mean by conflicting feelings? Let us explain by example. When someone you love dies after suffering a long illness, you may feel a sense of relief that your loved one's suffering is over. That is a positive feeling, even though it is associated with a death. At the same time, you may realize that you can no longer see or touch that person. This may be very painful for you. These conflicting feelings, relief and pain, are totally normal in response to death.
What about divorce? Are there conflicting feelings too? Yes. You may feel a genuine sense of freedom now that the battles are over. That is a positive feeling. At the same time, you may be afraid that you will never "find someone as beautiful/as good a provider." These conflicting feelings, freedom and fear, are also natural responses to loss.
All relationships have aspects of familiarity whether they are romantic, social, familial, or business. What other losses cause similarconflicting feelings? While death and divorce are obvious, many other loss experiences have been identified that can produce grief. Among them are:
Death of a pet
Death of a former spouse
End of addictions
Major health changes
Financial changes-positive or negative
Often these common life experiences are not seen as grieving events. We grieve for the loss of all relationships we deem significant - which are thus also emotional.
If the major loss events in your life have not been associated with death, do not put this book down.
After twenty years of working with grievers, we have identified several other losses, including loss of trust, loss of safety, and loss of control of one's body (physical or sexual abuse). Society still does not recognize these losses as grief issues.
Loss-of-trust events are experienced by almost everyone and can have a major, lifelong negative impact. You may have experienced a loss of trust in a parent, a loss of trust in God, or a loss of trust in any other relationship. Is loss of trust a grief issue? The answer is yes. And the problem of dealing with the grief it causes remains the same. Grief is normal and natural, but we have been ill prepared to deal with it. Grief is about a broken heart, not a broken brain. All efforts to heal the heart with the head fail because the head is the wrong tool for the job. It's like trying to paint with a hammer-it only makes a mess.
Almost all intellectual comments are preceded by the phrase, "Don't feel bad." In 1977, when John's infant son died, a well-meaning friend said, "Don't feel bad-you can have other children." The intellectually accurate statement that John had the physical capability to have other children was not only irrelevant, it was unintentionally abusive, because it belittled his natural and normal emotions. John felt bad, his heart was broken.
When Russell and his first wife divorced, he was devastated. A friend said, "Don't feel bad-you'll do better next time." Most of the comments that grievers hear following a loss, while intellectually accurate, are emotionally barren. As a direct result of these conflicting ideas, a griever often feels confused and frustrated, feelings that lead to emotional isolation.
Since most of us have been socialized to attempt to resolve all issues with our intellect, grief remains a huge problem.This intellectual focus has even led to academic articles that suggest gender is an issue in grief. We recognize that males and females are socialized differently, but our experience indicates that males and females are similarly limited when it comes to dealing with sad, painful, and negative feelings. Feelings themselves are without gender. There is no such thing as girl sad or boy sad, girl happy or boy happy.
We are not saying that intellect is totally useless in regard to grief In fairness, you are reading a book, which is an intellectual activity. The book will ask you to understand concepts and to take actions, so clearly there is a degree of intellect involved.
Grief and Recovery
For many, seeing this book's title is the first time they have ever seen the terms "grief' and "recovery" used together. Religious and spiritual leaders have pointed out for centuries that we should look at loss as an opportunity for personal spiritual development. Yet in modern life, moving through intense emotional pain has become such a misunderstood process that most of us have very little idea of how to respond to loss.
What do we mean by recovery? Recovery means feeling better. Recovery means claiming your circumstances instead of your circumstances claiming you and your happiness. Recovery is finding new meaning for living, without the fear of being hurt again. Recovery is being able to enjoy fond memories without having them precipitate painful feelings of regret or remorse. Recovery is acknowledging that it is perfectly all right to feel sad from time to time and to talk about those feelings no matter how those around you react. Recovery is being able to forgive others when they say or do things that you know are based on their lack of knowledge about grief. Recovery is one day realizing that your ability to talk about the loss you've experienced is indeed normal and healthy...The Grief Recovery Handbook, 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition. Copyright © by John W. James. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.