Don’t you guys just love taking road trips with little kids? Without kids, who would make you stop to go to the bathroom every hour? Who would loudly argue just two feet behind your head as you drive? Who would eat sticky snacks and get french fries lodged in between your seats? I’m telling you, you haven’t road tripped until you’ve road tripped with a child.
One universal truth about kids and road trips is that they have absolutely no concept of time and zero appreciation for how long it takes to reach their destination. At around hour one they begin asking things like “How much loooooonger?” and “Are we there yet?”. As depicted in the graph below, the number of times a child asks a question like “When are we going to get theeeeere?” doubles with every hour spent in the car. This pattern continues until the child finally falls asleep, at which point they (mostly) stop asking.
On longer trips, parents know their tiny passengers are going to start asking these questions early and often. It’s annoying as all heck, but it’s also expected and understood. Kids only see the end point of a journey and they can’t conceptualize the miles and miles one has to trek to get there.
If grief we’re a road trip, it would be one with a backseat full of children saying ‘are you theeerrrre yet?’, ‘are you close?’, ‘this is taking too looooong!’. A pretty consistent truth about grief is that people will subtly and not-so-subtly pressure you to ‘feel better’ well before you’re ready. You yourself may wonder whether you’re doing grief right, so other people’s opinions can cause you to question yourself and prevent you from asking for the patience and understanding you need. If you feel like you’re being pressured to move on well before you’re ready, we recommend thinking through the situation in the following way.
1. Ask: “What are my personal attitudes about grief?”
Explicit attitudes are attitudes that one holds consciously and can be readily described. These are the attitudes you might believe are socially acceptable, preferable, true, or correct. As someone experiencing grief, your explicit attitudes might include thoughts like…
“Grief is emotionally and physically exhausting, grief takes time, grieving people should be patient with themselves”
On the other hand, implicit attitudes are attitudes that lie just below the surface of consciousness and are expressed in more subtle and automatic responses. These attitudes are learned through past experiences and they hold within them biases, beliefs, and judgments one has learned through observing and interacting with the world. To some extent, implicit attitudes about grief will likely reflect familial attitudes and norms, the attitudes of those around you on a day-to-day basis, and the norms and expectations of society on a whole. They might include thoughts like…
“I am wallowing, I should be coping better, I should pick myself up, I should be stronger, I should be back to normal by now, my loss isn’t important”
It is important to evaluate how you truly feel about how you’re coping with grief before taking the thoughts of others into consideration. And by truly, I mean you need to take stock of your negative personal evaluations and how you internalize the pressures of others. At the end of the day, how you believe you are coping will mediate how you respond to the pressure of others. If you feel conflicted about how well and how fast you should be coping, you are more likely to respond to the pressures of others with shame and self-doubt.
2. Remember, there is no right way to grieve
Grief is really confusing. It’s one of those experiences you don’t fully understand until you’ve experienced it. Though many people think they know what it’s like from personal but peripheral death experiences and overdramatized television and movie vignettes. Once in a while, you may need to remind yourself that there is no right way to grieve. This reality may be frustrating for perfectionists and people who don’t like ambiguity, but it’s just true. There are no timelines, there are a million different ways to cope, and grief is different for everyone. If you believe this, then you will be more tolerant of variability and better insulated against the judgments of other people.
3. Communicate and be honest
If a person is making you feel pressured to move on, it might serve you well to communicate with them about how they made you feel. As someone who turns the television channel over even fictional confrontation, I understand it sometimes feels easier to keep your mouth shut. However, if you don’t speak up you can’t expect the situation to change.
You don’t need to have a long and drawn out confrontation, you can simply tell the person they are making you feel bad and that it isn’t helpful. If it doesn’t stop, at least you will know you tried. Bonus, it can also be incredibly empowering to stick up for yourself and to insist that people respect your needs.
How do you handle the pressure to get over grief? Let us know in the comments below.
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