Today’s guest post is from Kristie West, a grief specialist who focuses on helping those who have lost parents.  The advice Kristie gives in this post is helpful for anyone who is experiencing the bereavement of a loved one.

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How to move beyond grief when you’ve lost your mum or dad and why it’s NOT about emotion

Huh?!

I know what you’re thinking, “How on earth can you say that, Kristie?!  Do you have any idea how I am feeling? It’s all about emotion!”  Well if you’ve read me before you know I don’t throw out weird-sounding statements without explaining what I mean. So here goes…

I get asked all the time about where emotions fit into my work – am I encouraging them, suppressing them, ignoring them, allowing them to be released?

Every time I am asked this my brain blows a big raspberry at me, my mouth opens and out come some words that fit together, and the person I’ve been speaking to walks away thinking they know my position on emotions….even though they can’t possibly…..because even I am not sure what I said.  And I am left feeling like a lemon.

But there is hope -I’ve finally figured out what the issue is.  It’s because when I am asked about how emotions fit into my work my brain frowns and asks, in a confused way, “what does it have to do with emotion?”

So…where does emotion fit in then?

It isn’t about expressing or suppressing your emotion.  You do need to let it out – yes. Cry, scream, write, move your body, have massages, whatever works for you – all that emotion gets stored and your body doesn’t want to hold it.  So expressing your emotion is great, don’t hold it in, but simply expressing your emotion is not how you heal completely.

We’ve all spent plenty of time expressing a great deal of emotion over a great many things…enough to know that, while useful, it doesn’t take the problem away.  The emotion is not the problem.  The emotion is just a symptom.

Hold up a second….

Now let’s just stop for a second.  Grief and all the emotions involved can seem beyond comprehension or rationalisation when you are in that space and it can be very tough to be objective about something so big and overwhelming, so to make sense of this let’s step away from grief for a second and use an easier example.

We often berate modern medicine for treating the symptom instead of the problem.  Your doctor might give you paracetamol for headaches without trying to find out why you are getting them, or they might throw anti-depressants at you without once asking you to examine what thoughts you are thinking when you are depressed and do something about those.  Treating the symptom helps alleviate your symptom.  But the real source of your pain hasn’t been touched so the symptoms will keep coming in some way or will come back.

This morning I went to my chiropractor as my neck is hurting me.  The pain isn’t the actual problem (though yes, it is what I am immediately experiencing as difficult and what is alerting me to a problem).  The real problem is the source of the pain and that is why I go to my chiropractor.  I don’t just start bunging on arnica cream hoping that will fix the problem for good. I do use the arnica (because having a sore neck feels horrid) but I know there is something causing this pain…and that is the thing that I need to work out.

How does this apply to grief?

Your grief is the same.  Expressing your emotion is wise….but it won’t totally heal you.  Because the source of your pain (and the source of your emotion) is your experience and understanding of the loss of your mum or dad. And that is what you have to change to move beyond your grief.  Because you can let out all the emotion you like, scream it out, exercise it out, write it out, tap it out….but doing this won’t change yourexperience or perception of your loss. And as long as the source isn’t touched you could potentially be dealing with a bottomless cup of emotion.  Yes it feels better to get your emotion out today. But what happens tomorrow?  Or next week? Or in 10 years time when you talk about the loss? More emotion. More ‘symptoms’…….because the source, the root, the cause of your pain, is still exactly where you left it.

A new way of thinking

I know this is totally different to probably everything you’ve heard or read.  If it’s healing you want, then just working with your emotions – no matter what you do to them – won’t provide that.  You need to go much deeper.  Because here is the thing with your emotions: when you go deeper than them, when you get underneath them, and change your experience and understanding of what has happened in your life….then the emotions change.  And this is where true healing happens.

Are you ready for a new way of thinking?

It can seem an impossible journey to reach a different understanding and perspective of your loss. But it starts with the first step…and though deceptively simple, that step is profound and powerful.

The first step is to ask yourself whether you are prepared to try a different way of looking at your loss. And to be able to answer ‘yes’.

If a new perspective is possible….are you willing to look?

If a new perspective can move you beyond your pain….are you willing to look?

If a new perspective can allow you to talk about, remember, and love your mum or dad without it hurting you….are you willing to look?

If a new perspective allows you to feel closer to them than you imagined was possible… are you willing to look?

And don’t stop asking until your answer is yes.  Because that is the first step in an incredible journey….and your journey cannot start until you take that first step. And this journey will change your experience, your life and your connection to your mum or dad for good.

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Kristie West is a grief specialist. Her experience with the death of six family members (including her father) in a four month time span and her personal journey through those devastating months provide her with a unique position to speak about this tender subject with objectivity and sensitivity.

Head on over to her website and sign up to receive her free e-book, “The Seven Biggest Myths about Grief”.

You can also stalk her on twitter and like her on facebook.

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