Feeling Pressure to Grow from Grief

General / General : Litsa


If you’ve internalized values like personal growth, productivity, and self-improvement as your measures of self-worth, that doesn’t suddenly disappear after a loss. Though your world has been shattered, that little voice in the back of your head may still be sending the same messages you’ve told yourself for years. Suddenly the suffering, layered on existing values of constant personal development and unrelenting forward motion, leaves some people seeing grief as an obstacle and “overcoming it” as a self-improvement project. It sends you on a conscious (or unconscious) quest to grow from grief.

It can show up in your brain rushing to thoughts like, ‘I just need to stay positive and make something from this”. Or “I’ll use this experience to help others”. These thoughts are often the extension of the subtle (and not so subtle) messages that are everywhere around us.

Don’t believe me? While in the middle of writing this article, I received a box in the mail from our new email provider. They’d sent us a free thank you gift for signing up with them. What was included?:

That’s right . . . free gifts reminding me to “create every day” and “teach everything I know”. From our email provider. It’s no wonder our automatic thoughts leave us feeling like we need to transform our experience in order for it to be ‘valuable’ or meaningful.

Don’t get me wrong, those thoughts don’t always feel like pressure in a bad way. In fact, they are so common that sometimes they just feel like a given. And sometimes those thoughts feel good – really good. They can feel like a way to gain control when control has been lost. Seeking to grow from grief can keep you distracted by keeping you in motion.

So what’s the problem?

What can be missed is recognizing grief as a handbrake for the motion of life. It is an important and natural evolutionary force telling you to let yourself be, to sit, to grieve, to mourn. This leap to meaning can be an attempt to bypass the reality of loss.

Social media often doesn’t help – quickly you’re noticing all those coaches promising to help you “transform” your grief. You see people who’ve created scholarship funds and annual fundraisers and golf tournaments in memory of their loved ones. Though you appreciate what they’re doing, it leaves you feeling like a failure that you haven’t done the same. Your pride for managing to work, raise kids, and take care of a house all while grieving suddenly seems small when measured against others who are in motion, creating accounts and podcasts and memoirs. This comparison reinforces those internalized ideas that grief is something meant to be overcome as it propels you forward to grow or create.

The other side of sadness

But there are real benefits to the natural process of grieving slowly and gently. We know from research that being sad improves the accuracy of our memory and recall. There is some thought that the yearning after a death, when we’re present with it, helps with the process of “relocating“ our loved into our lasting memory.

Losing someone is an acute stress event for our bodies and can take a toll on the immune system. Slowing down while grieving may help the brain and body rest and heal. It also reduces judgment biases and makes people better able to read other people (weird, I know). In studies, they have found that people who are sad are also more attentive and generous towards other people.

This isn’t to say that finding meaning can’t be an important part of grief. It can. This isn’t to dismiss seeking gratitude (we’re big believers in the value of gratitude in grief). This absolutely doesn’t diminish the value of post-traumatic growth when it happens. We’re constantly in awe of the growth that can come from such devastating loss (we’ve written lots about growth here).

This is simply a reminder that maybe (just maybe) your job was never to grow from grief or to rush to “overcome” it.

Some people will find meaning and growth eventually (often much, much later than they expect). And some people won’t grow. They will discover their own resilience, which is no small feat. It looks like going through devastation, being present with pain, and still finding the strength to move forward. This happens one day at a time – paying bills, making dinner, appreciating sunsets, and hugging those who are still here.

Neither is the right or wrong way to grieve. If there is any time in life that it is okay to give yourself permission to ease off the gas, now is the time. It isn’t your job to create every day or teach everything you know or to force meaning if that isn’t where you are. Because sometimes that which doesn’t kill isn’t meant to make you stronger. Sometimes it’s simply meant to make you closer to your past, more connected in the present, and kind and gentle with yourself in your future.

Let’s be grief friends.

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21 Comments on "Feeling Pressure to Grow from Grief"

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  1. Alba  April 16, 2022 at 9:47 am Reply

    Thank you, thank you for this post. I have felt guilt for not being out there sharing my loss and helping others. Thank you for the reminder that it is ok to take time, to be sad, and to discover what’s next.

  2. Anne  March 16, 2022 at 4:23 am Reply

    Thank you for writing this about feeling pressurised to grow from grief. I soldiered on back at work and after 10months I’ve just hit an overwhelming wall of loss and change. Well written articles like this/ these are an absolute lifeline.

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  3. Vicky  March 15, 2022 at 1:48 am Reply

    Wow! Just wow. I’m a therapist who had my first grief experience at age 14 when my only sibling, my 20-year-old died after a fall and head injury. I didn’t get the kind of support I needed then (going on 46 years), and I know that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing, but it took 23 years for me to get to that place. I also lost both of my grandmothers within 14 months of my brother’s death. My dad died 20 years ago and my mom in January ‘21. I can’t seem to find the energy to do all the projects I have stacked up while listening to so many clients going through similar experiences, thinking I SHOULD be able to do so. This article put my thoughts into words.

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  4. N'Keya  March 13, 2022 at 7:31 pm Reply

    This article came right at a time I needed. I am 11 months from the death of my beloved mom. I’ve been gutted and felt so lonely. I’ve read many articles and listened to podcasts of others experience with grief I started to think how will i grow? What will I do to overcome this? Recently I told myself I don’t have to have any expectations like I can really take it a day at a time and trust one that that I will be okay, for now I just need to fall. Thank you for publishing this, its so important!

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  5. Diana  March 13, 2022 at 3:26 pm Reply

    After 31/2 years of the loss of my husband my relatives seem to think I should be “moving on”. They say I should do more and get out and be interested in clubs and hobbies. I am grieving in my own way, doing what I can handle. Seeing a therapist, taking antidepressants and once a month going to a grief support group. Thank you so much for this article. I finally feel it is okay to grieve my own way and take as long as I need to.

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  6. Ronnie  March 11, 2022 at 3:43 pm Reply

    I did exactly that, the drive to work at the hospital and be where my husband died was strong. I needed to confront the grief and help other patients. I did a healthcare course, got the job there and also threw myself into volunteering and fundraising for cancer research. I wanted to turn this tragedy into something meaningful and it was a ‘growth project’ as you point out.
    A year on at the hospital and personally it has served its time, I feel exhausted. I feel the sadness more than ever. My health has been affected and I’ve left the job and having a total break to sit with myself, surrender to the pain, be kind and love myself. Thank you for your insights that totally align to my experience.

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  7. Jan  March 11, 2022 at 11:13 am Reply

    Thank you for the excellent article and especially all of the thoughtful comments from others. I am 3.5 months in from the loss of my significant other. My grief has eased slightly from the constant, almost primal level of deep pain and sadness to an even deeper grief that is however slightly more manageable, if that makes sense. As if the grief has settled in as a part of my “new” life. On a certain level I honestly still cannot comprehend that my sweetheart is gone. I don’t know that I ever will. But logically of course I know he is and that the challenge for me now is to live the rest of my life here with joy and purpose. I feel like that is going to take a really long time. That’s for the permission to take as much time as I need. Love to all.

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  8. Mark Brisbane  March 11, 2022 at 3:46 am Reply

    I lost my wife to suicide 18 months ago. This article makes a lot of sense right now.

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  9. Trish  March 11, 2022 at 3:31 am Reply

    Thank you. Your words are so very pertinent, and throw a spotlight on how I have been responding to my huge loss. A pendulum between expectations (of growth), and guilt – for not meeting them. But now to read your words of validation for just getting through the basics of each day, and to see this as a huge feat in itself, to see this as enough, releases all pressure that I have put upon myself for the need to be doing so much more. I think grief can upturn our perspective, so that it sometimes needs someone else’s words to show us that what we are experiencing is ‘normal’, is okay, is more than okay. Your words have made a difference and I thank you for them. And I can see that many others feel the same. And this too is comforting.

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  10. Lesley Ford  March 11, 2022 at 12:52 am Reply

    Thank you so much for this article. After losing my daughter six months ago I was starting to feel like a failure because all I am managing to do is get through each day doing the necessary basics and supporting my other daughter, husband and grandchildren. This is the hardest, most agonisingly painful thing I have ever experienced. This deep level of grief has affected me physically as well as mentally. I’m so grateful for your weekly posts, they are keeping me sane so thank you again.

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  11. Kitty  March 10, 2022 at 11:34 pm Reply

    THANK you for this. I am actually one of those (um) making a podcast … about caring for my dad … and care-giving overall – and just as we launched – he died. So I’m going forward and I deeply care about this stuff – like, it’s changed my life. But I’m tired, foggy, and some days feel like I’m wading through molasses. I’m a creative in professional life anyway – so the instinct is there, to read, understand, let it settle. It’s just like my thoughts wander off halfway through thinking them and then I want a nap. Nothing feels very appealing. And I thought I’d been sad enough already while But sad has its own map.

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  12. John Bigelow  March 10, 2022 at 10:16 pm Reply

    The woman I love left this life 4 years ago. Through the hospice organization I found a group to help me cope. We met in a church. The leader was doing good helping others, yet it was plain she was still grieving a loved one from twenty years ago like it was yesterday. Even at the time I knew something was off here. Society and culture program us to achieve as you say. That may not be the best advice the first few months to years. Better to lean into the grief, experience it fully, and then when ready, begin to work to let it go. You may become stuck however if you do not do something eventually. GriefShare groups have 6 goals of grief. But for the first little while, never let anyone or anything thing tell you how to grieve. You are unique and so is your experience of grief. I am not selling anything, instead I am in awe, here is something amazing: Julie’s story 3 months after losing her 19 year old son. [link redacted per site guidelines]

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    • Jeri  April 8, 2022 at 9:02 am Reply

      If I remain “stuck” for the rest of my life, so be it. Perhaps that is the choice I will make.

  13. Cathy McCashin  March 10, 2022 at 8:56 pm Reply

    My experience through grief with the loss of my 40-year marriage 18 months ago is exactly as you say. I do find toxic positivity around me and people who want to say just help others or Love More and you’ll feel better. But what I’ve really needed, and I’m thankful for my therapist who’s been there for me in all the right ways, is just time to move through the loss, release the pain, feel awful, deal with the trauma from my childhood that comes up as a result of this loss and to be sat with in all of the pain and confusion and sense of being lost, the doubt that I will ever get through it, all of it. Now I am beginning to have rumblings inside of a new paradigm, new understandings about what it means to live alone, new understandings about how I can continue to have a meaningful life in spite of the loss of companionship and to some extent income. Just new rumblings just beginning. This would have never happened if I had forced positivity, resisted the gallons and gallons of tears, shoved down the terrible heartache and fear. Slowly it’s happening and I am moving through grief and beginning to have hope that I will in fact survive. I wish for a world that held grief much more closely and easily, it’s lonely when you’re grieving after the first few weeks when people do surround you with care and support. Our society has not taught people how to hang in with their own grief or the grief of others and to understand. Even my dear and treasured friends have difficulty with this but I recognize it as a cultural phenomenon for people who have not done deep work which is most people I guess and I accept. That doesn’t stop me wishing for a world that could sit with me when I’m suffering from grief as I have been this last 18 months and will be most likely at some times for some time to come as I rebuild my life.

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  14. Linda Antonioli  March 10, 2022 at 7:58 pm Reply

    You nailed it. Thank you. This article should be sent to all new widows. I became a recluse when my husband of 33 years passed away in Nov. 2020, after a 5-week battle with cancer. I didn’t want to disappoint people that saw me as “strong and resilient.” I was now weak and broken. Time for a time out is essential for me and my survival. 💔

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  15. patricia  March 10, 2022 at 7:41 pm Reply

    This article put my feeling into words so perfectly. For two years since my sons death I have been thinking I need to do something to honor him and find meaning in my deep loss. All I do is simply try to live each day with kindness and compassion for others in his memory despite my sadness . I often feel an emptiness in my heart that I try to fill a little bit by trying to find the beauty that remains in this world and helping others when I can. Some days it is easier to find the light than others . Greg’s Mom

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  16. Ray adamik  March 10, 2022 at 7:15 pm Reply

    I’ve never thought that the grief I’m experiencing is anything I should learn from. To me it’s just something that IS. It’s very different from all other things I’ve experienced in life so it kind of has no relation to anything else. Can’t speak for everyone of course but for me I
    Just want to go on living with this “thing” a part of my life because it has to be, not because I want it to be. From time to time I let it overwhelm me but what do they say: “this too shall pass.” And it does though I know it’s coming back. Lately I don’t want to philosophize about it or overthink it because that seems to lead nowhere. So without sounding trite I just go with the flow. It doesn’t help me to do that but it doesn’t hurt me either. But one thing to ask: do we get “tired” of our grief? We get tired of so many other things I would expect so.

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    • Shannon Daberkow  March 16, 2022 at 2:53 am Reply

      My daughter was murdered over a month ago and I’m still in shock. I know she’s not here, I was at hospital when she passed away. She never regained consciousness. He’s in jail and I have so much anger towards him. What they forget to tell you is that you have to “clean up” their home! Going through their belongings and trying to decide in overwhelming grief what to do with her materialistic things. Like dishes, clothes, makeup, furniture the list is endless. Oh, if you’re a parent but not an excuter of the estate, you cannot pick up the mail from United States Postal Service, even if you have a death certificate. She has 2 boys ages 4 and 3, he’s fighting for custody! He shot their mother 4 times and he thinks it’s ok to have custody given to his wife! Their is really no time to grieve! There are so many court dates coming up that he’s going to be a part of, that the anxiety will be extreme. It’s hard to sleep knowing that court is right around the corner. These boys are in therapy weekly. Other family members are in therapy because of the severity of this. I haven’t had time for therapy or found tramatic grief stuff to help me. If there is anything, I don’t remember because it was said to me at visitation or funeral. I have fibromyalgia and was in a flare and my guardian angels were carrying me. My mother was in the hospital for her funeral and I couldn’t visit her, I needed to be at church. Where I live is 3 hrs away from where my daughter lived. So I’m staying with my only living child, my son. I’m worried about him. So many nights I have cried in anger at what he’s caused. How many lives he’s shaken. The communities have come together and have done so many things to raise money for the boys. My daughter lived in 4 towns and all of them have done something for her and her boys. She was engaged to be married. This gentleman is heartbroken and was with me all the way to the end of her life! They were going to move in together and now he’s lost. I understand that lost feeling. My daughter called 911 and said who shot her. I don’t want to hear her last words! That murderer is on camera shooting her, leaving work and going back to work like nothing happened! I’m trying to get out of bed daily down here, back home I’d think why? Here the boys are, my other gkids, and my mom. I’m trying to remember to eat daily. I’m just trying

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  17. Tori  March 10, 2022 at 6:28 pm Reply

    Thank you for these words. I needed to read this today. Going through grief and loss atm and always feel like I need to be productive, achieving and ‘doing’. I know slowing down brings the challenge of confronting inner narratives of my self worth in relation to ‘ACHIEVING”. My energy has shifted in my journey with grief. My capacity is less in the working world.
    Grief has summoned me to surrender to the tears that come from out of nowhere. To learn to honour and respect my body’s wisdom of going SLOW. Hard I know in our busy obsessed world.
    Busy seems to equate to being someone of worth !!!!!!
    I am challenged to listen to the whispers and invitation to dance the slow dance with our beloved Grief.
    X Thankyou for your timely words.

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  18. Penny  March 10, 2022 at 6:26 pm Reply

    Being the kind of person who likes to see problems dealt with and to move on from them makes the grieving ups and downs a problem that simply can’t be solved. Learning to find a place for the loss of my daughter in my life that I can physically and mentally cope with is a daily challenge but within those challenges I make sure that her place in my heart always comes first. This article is very helpful with that for me.

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  19. Steven Schoenecker  March 10, 2022 at 6:21 pm Reply

    I so agree with this article.

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