Today’s post is brought to you by none other than the one and only Nick Frye, LCPC. Nick is a licensed Clinical Professional Counselor specializing in addictions, disordered eating, motivation, and health behavior change. We like his style and are always happy when he agrees to share his expertise with our audience. If you like his style too, be sure to check out his first guest post with us, Self-Care in Grief: The Myth of Keeping Busy. Take it away Nick…
I recently saw a life insurance commercial in which a woman walks up to what I am assuming is her neighbor and inquires about how she is doing since her Mom died. The grieving woman said, “Things have been tough but I’m doing fine.” Immediately my mind shouted “Are you sure? Because your Mom just died!” After I cooled my jets, I got to thinking about how we have been trained in our society to avoid, suppress, bury or flat out lie about our feelings in an attempt to not “burden others” with our troubles. As the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox said in her work Solitude “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone”.
This is something that I have absolutely been trained to do.
As a therapist, I am regularly talking to people about noticing or being aware of their thoughts and feelings asking them questions like “So, what’s your mind telling you right now?” and “Can you notice what you’re feeling right now?” This way they can connect with the here-and-now and have the opportunity to process their emotions in the moment. This skill of present moment awareness, aka mindfulness, is something that everyone can learn how to do and is really about telling the truth about what you are thinking and feeling so you can attend to these experiences.
This is a skill that I am currently learning how to do.
I have struggled my entire life to contact the present-moment and experience my thoughts and feelings truthfully burdened by the nagging and unhelpful thought that “I should be able to solve my problems on my own.” Oh boy… “Thanks for that interesting thought mind! I find it to be so helpful!” he said dripping with sarcasm. This has nowhere been truer than in my struggles with grief and loss throughout my life. From my parents’ divorce to my friend’s death in college to the recent suicide of my wife’s dear friend; I have consistently put on the façade of “I’m fine.”
This is not something I wish to do anymore.
I have been learning a cognitive skill that I want to share with you all today that has been tremendously helpful for me in becoming more truthful with my feelings and has helped me to move forward and grow by not trying to get rid of, hide or change what I am thinking and feeling but instead to notice, accept and then express my feelings honestly. It goes like this:
Be present. Open up. Do what matters.
Being present and in-the-moment is the process of simply noticing our thoughts and feelings rather than being all caught up and entangled in them or trying to hide them or bury them deep down. Something I like to do is ‘name the story’ that I’m telling myself as a way of acknowledging my thoughts and feelings without getting lost in them or pushing them away. For me, I will be feeling sad and overwhelmed and then the thought comes “I should be able to solve my problems on my own.” Then I say to myself “Hey! There’s that old ‘Lone Ranger’ story!” This allows me to notice what my mind is telling me and notice what I am thinking so that I can be present with it but not allow it to push me around.
Opening up is the process of allowing our thoughts and feelings to be as they are, making room for them, and letting them come and go as they naturally do. Something I like to do here is to have compassion for myself when experiencing feelings of grief and telling myself not to reach out for help. For me, again when I’m feeling sad and overwhelmed, and then here comes that ‘Lone Ranger’ story I try and hold these thoughts and feelings as if they’re a crying baby or a whimpering puppy. Just allowing my feelings to be there, loosening up and holding them gently. I don’t like these thoughts and feelings but I open up and make room for them.
Doing what matters is the process of taking action to move towards a rich, full, and meaningful life. This doesn’t mean ‘getting over’ our grief or ‘moving past it’ but instead it means living with our grief and not allowing ourselves to stay stuck and struggling. It’s not about feeling good, it’s about feeling alive. Something I like to do here is to connect with my personal value of being open and honest then decide how I can take action towards that value. For me, this might be just telling my wife that I am feeling sad and overwhelmed. Because I take action towards something that is meaningful and significant to me (i.e. being open and honest) then I move myself towards a more full and honest experience. This also helps to deepen my relationship with my wife, another important value of mine.
I’ve still got a ways to go myself in this whole ‘being honest about my thoughts and feelings’ thing, after all that “I’m fine” façade is a hard habit to break but if I continue to notice, accept and express the truth about how I am feeling then I think I will be okay. I just need to be present, open up and do what matters.
Here at ‘What’s Your Grief,’ we talk about a range of ways to understand and deal with grief. Subscribe to the blog to receive posts via e-mail.