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We talk a lot here at WYG about different grief theories. We do our best to break them down in a way that makes sense, doesn’t put anyone to sleep, and (just maybe) helps you gain some new insights into your own grief experience. Recently we were interviewed for an ebook and the author asked us what our personal grief philosophy is. We were both quick to give him the same answer, which is that we don’t have a singular ‘grief philosophy’. This may seem confusing, considering we are mental health professionals who work in the field of grief and loss, have experienced our own personal losses, and spend our free time blogging about grief. If anyone would have a ‘grief philosophy’ you would think it’d be us, right? But we both feel that grief is so unique and dynamic that trying to pin it down into any one model or theory feels really dangerous.
That being said, there are some observations about grief styles we do think are pretty darn helpful. Are they the holy grail of grief theory? Absolutely not. Are they universal? Nope. But they frame a lot of our thinking about grief and the inspiration for our blog. Waiting with baited breath for us to share? Wait no more. We shared some of these ideas in a telesummit that went live today (and will be available for 48 hours, you can find it here) and thought it may be helpful to give a recap here.
In our observations of ourselves and the hundreds of people we have known and supported over the years, we have come to recognize and appreciate that all of us have predispositions toward the rational, the creative, or the emotional sides of our minds. Though we all certainly have a bit of each of these within us, we often lean toward one style over another. Just taking a moment to think about all three you may quickly be able to identify which is most dominate for you.
Whether we are especially rational, emotional, or creative is important to consider, because this can impact both how we grieve, as well as the tools and coping strategies that are most helpful for us. Additionally, understanding our predispositions can help recognize how grief is impacting us. Though we may be most comfortable with one style, grief can push us to another. Someone who is normally creative may no longer feel able to create; someone who is rational may suddenly feel overwhelmed by emotions; someone emotional may suddenly not feel the emotions they expect. The changes in our dispositions while we grieve can be overwhelming and distressing.
So, what’s your grieving style?
At its core, grief taps into our emotional selves – our emotions can spiral into total overdrive, they can fluctuate from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Some people are already more comfortable within this emotional realm. Grief can make you feel crazy, which is totally normal, but can be incredibly distressing, even to those comfortable with their emotions. We can feel anxiety and guilt. We feel deep sadness and overwhelming emptiness. Though most of us hide these tough emotions, there is great value in sharing our emotional side while we grieve. When these emotions overwhelm us, our inclination can be to avoid them, thinking avoidance will remove our pain. We don’t like when our emotional side begins to take over everything, so we may run from it or feel embarrassed by it. Experiencing, processing, and expressing emotions helps us to incorporate them in a meaningful and healthy way. Additionally, becoming comfortable with these difficult emotions can help us better understand ourselves, and can help us be more sympathetic toward others. Should we find our emotions spiraling, it can be helpful to manage our emotions by tapping into our rational and creative selves. Examples of this may be writing about emotions, or learning about the complexity of grief to better understand the emotions we experience. But while we grieve there is great benefit to embracing the emotional self, to help us feel the difficult emotions rather than avoid them.
You may think if you don’t create, your aren’t creative. But in reality, creativity can mean connecting with and appreciating the creative expression of others. There are many of us who, when dealing with any extreme emotions, are inclined to make or appreciate art. This creativity is often a way to express the emotions we are feeling – creating something unique or beautiful from our internal world. There are countless ways we express our creative selves, from photography to journaling, art therapy, scrapbooking, and music. The emotions of grief are difficult to understand and share, so these creative outlets can make it easier to face difficult emotions in non-traditional ways. When talking isn’t working for you in your grief, for whatever reason, finding a creative outlet can be a different and positive way to manage the emotions of grief.
For some people, rationality is their go-to style. Knowing, understanding, and learning brings security and comfort. The intensity of grief emotions can be hard for those who lean toward the rational, as the emotions of grief can make it hard to maintain rationality. People who relate to this grief style may seek to understand their grief by learning the different grief models and theories. These individuals may find comfort in the practicalities that need to be handled when grieving, as it gives some order and stability. Using rational tools can help with the necessary things that so many grievers struggle with – sorting belongings, preparing for anniversaries and special days, and supporting kids who are grieving.
Putting It All Together
By understanding your grief style you are better equipped to choose the coping mechanisms that will work best for you. Although, it is important to keep in mind that, as grievers and as individuals, we have leanings towards each of these realms so you may find yourself tapping into new or different areas at varying times in your life.
Finally, just as we may lean more toward one realm than another, the same goes for those around us. Remember this when you find yourself struggling to relate to someone whose grief style clashes with your own. You may find when you put your different grief styles into perspective that you have greater understanding and compassion for their unique struggles.
Do any of these grief styles resonate with you? Is there a grief tool that fits in one of these styles that has worked well for you? Leave a comment to let us know! And subscribe to get our posts right to your inbox!