What Can I Do About Painful Grief Emotions?

What can we do with grief, its emotional turmoil and pain that hits hard after the death of a loved one?  Here are some important questions all mourners must ask themselves:

  • Can We Escape the Emotions of Grief? 
    We can suppress, deny, stifle, avoid and run from our thoughts and emotions during grief.  Those responses are only temporary escapes though from the emotions that are the natural result of the impact of loss on our lives.  Grief and its emotions can help us to turn inward at a time when reflection and review help us to cope with major change in our life and relationships.Research shows that sadness can cause test subjects to do better on memory tests.  Isn’t it interesting that when we need memories most one of the emotions of grief, being sad and introspective, helps us maintain a healthy relationship with the one who has died.  Could it be that the other “troublesome emotions” of grief could help us process our loss and its impact on our life?Death has changed us forever and the expression of grief emotions over the loss of a valuable person will take place—with or without our permission.  Feelings or thoughts denied or avoided will find expression in our lives sooner or later.  Acknowledging and using our thoughts and grief emotions to process what has taken place will relieve the stress of grief, move us toward healing and help us to put our loss in context.
  • Can We Control the Emotions of Grief?  
    How can we not feel sad, depressed, angry and feel the many other grief emotions concerning the loss of our valued loved one?  Grief emotions can motivate us to live in a way that honors and celebrates the lives of our lost loved one.Many of us fear losing control if we allow ourselves to express the emotions of grief.  The truth though is that expressing these emotions in constructive ways releases us to do the work of grief.Many of us also fear the discomfort of expressing emotions.  The truth is that expressing grief emotions in constructive ways brings relief and helps us heal.  Many of us fear being embarrassed in front of others by honestly expressing our emotions.  The truth is that expressing your grief emotions in constructive ways to others gives them an opportunity to minister, support and comfort us.
  • Do We Have to Become Slaves to the Emotions of Grief? 
    We can’t control our emotions, but at the same time, our emotions do not have to control our behavior.  We have a choice as to how we respond.  The key is to express emotions in ways that are beneficial to us and to those who are trying to help us through grief.  We have many thoughts and emotions in our lives, but we chose our behavior in response to those thoughts and emotions.Our choices of behavior can be healthy or unhealthy, appropriate or inappropriate, constructive or destructive.  The very real and human emotions we respond to are not good or bad themselves, they just are.
  • When Do Emotions Keep Me From Healing?
    When thoughts or emotions preoccupy us so much that we are distracted from the work of grief, we become stuck in our grief.  These obsessions with emotions and thoughts (including details of our loss, our unfinished business or unreconciled differences with the loved one) keep us from progressing in grief.  Guilt, anger and resentment result – causing us to focus on other things than the grief work that can help us heal.
  •  What Can I Do With the Emotions of Grief That Keep Me From Healing?Each emotion during grief can be evaluated.  We need to ask ourselves why we feel what we do.  Where do these emotions come from?  Often these emotions are the result of beliefs or expectations we have of life, of others and ourselves.These beliefs or expectations can be realistic or unrealistic, logical or illogical.  Unrealistic expectations or illogical beliefs (such as “My life must always be pleasurable.” Or  “My relationships must always be perfect.”  Or “Other people should always treat me fairly.”) only set us up for failure.  These unrealistic expectations and illogical beliefs keep us from moving through life and through grief in a healthy way.The expectations or beliefs behind an emotion or thought need to be evaluated and tossed if they do not have truth in them or they are destructive.  Then those old expectations and beliefs need to bereplaced with more logical, realistic beliefs.  Once these unrealistic expectations or illogical beliefs are tossed, the destructive emotions and behavior that come with them can disappear.  It is our choice on how we react to our troubling grief emotions

    Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Christianbook.com.

    The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on Amazon.com.

    Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX  http://grief-works.org.

    FOR INFORMATION ON SCHEDULING COUNSELING SERVICES WITH LARRY BARBER  https://taylorcounselinggroup.com/larry-barber .


6 Comments Add yours

  1. D' Marie says:

    It seems that your work is centered around grieving losses due to death. Do you also work with people grieving losses due to divorce? What do you suggest for them given that there is grief experienced there as well?

  2. D' Marie says:

    How can we best be supportive of friends experiencing grief due to a divorce?

    1. Great questions. To some degree your provide to those divorced or divorcing the same support you give someone during any loss. Be present, listen, dont judge and dont give any unsolicited advice. Be there but dont hover or try to manage their grief. Dont try to take their pain away. The pain and emotions expressed brings healing from emotional wounds. Make sure they know you hear and understand what they share. Make sure that they know you are available for them for support, encouragement, and addiitonal help. Make sure that the children involved are not overlooked. They need reassurances of security and a feeling of being involved in normal activities.

  3. Karen Capps says:

    What book should I get ? My son committed suicide ( long battle with drugs ) and grief consumes me…I was not a good mother to him early in his life ( i was a kid myself ) and he had a way of manipulating me and throwing that in my face..he was mostly estranged from us..and we raised his son which he didnt have contact with ( much ) my thoughts are consumed, I dont have insurance so I need a GOOD book to help. Thx so much

    1. I am saddened to hear about the tragic loss of your son. If you are interested in learning more about suicide grief , I would suggest a book written by Dr Alan D Wolfelt Understanding Your Suicide Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart (Understanding Your Grief) https://www.amazon.com/dp/1879651580/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_KRApzb07BTMCV.

      Suicide grief is very complex. So I would suggest in addition to the reading to seek out a grief counselor who works on a sliding fee scale making it less costly for you. Counseling really helps. Blessings.

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