10 things you can do right now to help with grief

We humans love to be doing. Fortunately for us, some form of doing is often what will help us during difficult times.

So many people walk into my consulting room asking for something to do to help with their grief. After exploring what they normally do to cope with life’s ups and downs we arrive at a suggested activity they love doing. In future sessions we review how that action helped. Today I am writing a blog on the ten things people tell me help most with their grief.

  1. Take a Walk

Life is often referred to as a “journey”. That may seem annoying at times, but it is true that we are constantly moving forward through time from birth to death.

Grief is part of that moving forward through time. So the grief “journey” is one of movement, both symbolically and physically. Many people in the early stages of grief will report a need to keep moving and I have observed many people over the years who paced backwards and forwards and sat and fidgeted constantly. This is a normal body reaction to the trauma of grief. The movement actually helps you to regulate your feelings.

Emotional movement is also part of that moving forward in grief. In the early days it seems to be a constant moving from devastation one moment, disbelief and numbness the next and then a need to just get on with the practical aspects of life. It is like being on a see-saw with emotions constantly moving.

Taking a walk is a really helpful thing both from a physical, symbolic and emotional perspective.

So take that walk. As you walk think about the loved one you have lost. Cry if you need to (sunglasses are handy if you don’t want people to notice). Look around you. Notice the structures, the trees and plants, the birds, the insects, the sky. Touch surfaces. Smell the air. Feel the breeze on your cheek. All these things help to satisfy your need to move as well as give your space to be in the present moment.

If you can walk every day, even for a short time. You may want to walk alone or walk with another person.

  1. Note what you do in a positive way

As your grief consumes you and you attempt to complete all the many tasks that confront you after the death of a loved one, it can seem that you have not achieved anything in a day. The truth is, you achieve far more than you realise.

At the end of the day, before you go to sleep, write down three things you did today. You are allowed to say you got out of bed. That of itself is an achievement. Note those things and feel good at being able to do them.

As time goes on you will notice what you achieve in a day will get bigger. That is great too, but never put down the simple actions you complete in those early days. Keeping these things written down is a great way to see how you have progressed over time. Wonderful encouragement for those days when you feel overwhelmed by your grief.

  1. Engage in the world around you

There are many ways to engage in the world around you. It may be something as simple as reading your local newsletter, or watching the news on television. Hard as it is to see the world continuing it is helpful in the long term to remember there is a world out there. It might not feel like it in the early days of your grief, but later on it will help you to reconnect to life.

Try doing these activities for as long as you can cope up to 30 minutes a day.

  1. Send Love to the one you love.

Yes, the person you love is dead, but your love for them is not and they died still loving you. So tell your loved one you love them. It may be what you do last thing at night, or first thing in the morning. You may say it when you come home from work. One person told me they would say “I love you so much and am sending you all my love.” Another person told me they would tell their loved one they were “sending them love and surrounding them with love”. They repeat these words throughout the day, especially when they were feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of their loss. They found switching that overwhelm to expressions of love helped them cope.

For those who were frightened they would forget their loved one, this practice was a great way for them to demonstrate they were not and would not forget them.

  1. Distract Yourself

Much as you may want to, life goes on after the one you love is dead. And part of life going on is that you have to do the mundane things of life. These are often referred to as the “tasks of living”. Your grief is a combination of experiencing the loss of your loved one and engaging in the tasks of living.

There are also times when you are overwhelmed with feeling that grief. When you just want a break from it. At those times many people distract themselves from their grief. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the one you lost, it just means your brain needs space to rest and recuperate. So if you want to watch a movie, or a television series, or read a book, or engage in an activity that takes your mind off them for a while then do it. You will come back to being okay to be with your grief once you have had the rest you need.

  1. Share Your Story with others

It can be hard to do this because not everyone is willing to listen, but see if you can find those friends who will be willing to listen. If you can’t find friends then a support group can be helpful. Sometimes people tell me the support group does not allow them to completely share because they need to be mindful of others in the group. At those times you can speak to a counsellor about your grief.

Let people hear about your pain. Let them know you just want them to listen and not try to solve their problem. Your story needs to be heard. Having your pain witnessed by at least one other person is crucial to your loss journey.

  1. Find and Acknowledge the things in your life that are continuing

After the loss of your love one it can seem that everything has stopped, but there will always be things in your life that are not stopped by your loved one’s death. This continuing thing may be your job, or the continued growth of your children. Even such basic things as your hair and fingernails growing are proof that things continue. Another thing many people realise continues is their love for the person they lost. The biggest revelation often comes when a person will tell me they realised their life is continuing! These are things you can acknowledge as proof that life goes one and can help you to ground yourself in the continuation of your life when so much seems to have ended.

  1. Do Something Nice for Yourself

It is important to remember to stop and give yourself a treat every so often. It might be something as simple as ordering a take away meal. It might involve a walk on the beach. You may go and get your hair styled, or visit the beautician. Maybe you will go to see a favourite game. Maybe you will go out with special friends.

Whatever you decide to do, do not neglect your own self care during this difficult time.

  1. Think of three things you wanted to do in your life before your loved one died

These things may have had nothing to do with your loved one. They may be your own bucket list items, or they may be something you planned to do together. Write a list of those things, at least three. The things don’t have to be hard. It may be that you had planned to go on a particular walk, or visit a particular place. You may have dreamed of taking up Salsa Dancing.

These things help to remind you that life goes on and that you can honour your loved one with the things you do as your life progresses. In all your grief do not forget about you. When you first lose someone you love, your loss can feel so overwhelming you forget about yourself for a while. You can also wonder who you are without that person to help define you. Now is the time to remember who you are and do that things that allow you to be you. Reminding yourself of the plans and wishes you had is a really good way to reconnect with yourself and honour the one you loved.

  1. Do Something for Someone Else

Most of the people who do this one have been bereaved for a long time. In the first year or so of your grief it is a struggle to just get through and having the ability or capacity to do something for someone else is just not there. And that is absolutely okay.

Doing something for someone else may be as simple as holding the door open for another person, helping a woman with a pram up some stairs, saying hello to an elderly neighbour who can’t get out much, giving a donation to a charity. You may find you are able to reach other to someone else who is struggling with life. This is the part of your grief where you find you are able to commit to the world again.

My clients tell me these 10 things are really helpful. They feel like they are doing something when they often feel so weighed down with grief and unable to do anything. Being able to do these simple things feels like they are able to at least do something. In a place of such disempowerment, doing something feels empowering.

They also feel they are able to honour their loved one by doing these things.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

10 ways childhood trauma affects you.

There is a lot of talk about the impacts of childhood trauma, the triggers, impact on emotional regulation and hyper and hypo arousal. I have recently talked about the impact on your ability to set boundaries.

Today I am going to talk about ten ways childhood trauma impacts you that you may not realise is caused by this.

A lot of what I am talking about is described as a loss and I use this term with a qualification. If you experience trauma in adulthood you will lose many of these things, however as a traumatized child you never get to develop these things. Much of therapy is about getting to know who you are and learning these things. So the loss you experience is often a loss of potential rather than losing something you already have.

  1. Loss of safety.

When you are a child and bad things happen to you regularly you come to think that is normal. You learn that the world is a place where anything can happen to you. The world is not a safe place and you are not safe. How do you know that is not the way things should be?

  1. Loss of danger cues.

When you are a child the person who trusts you hurts you physically and emotionally, even sexually. When that happens, how can you know that those things are not okay to be done to you? How do you know that it is not okay for another person to abuse you, or hit you, or take what belongs to you? Think of the adult who was treated like that all the time. There is an incident in her life where someone physically attacks her. She thinks she has done something wrong and is ashamed to tell people about it, expecting them to chastise her for doing something wrong. But when she tentatively tells another person she is surprised that the other person is horrified she was treated that way and considers the attacker to be in the wrong. This is the loss of danger cues.

  1. Loss of trust.

If you are abused by a parent, relative, sibling, a trusted adult, how do you learn to trust? How can you know it is possible to trust when those that you should be able to trust are not trustworthy?

  1. Shame.

When you are abused as a child it is normal for you to think you are the bad person for being abused. Think of the child who thinks she is a terrible person because she is always getting into trouble and bad people get into trouble. She decides to work really hard to be good. Her measure of being good is that she will not get yelled at. She tries really hard all day, then her father gets home and he yells abuse at her, telling her how defective she is. She is crushed. She thought she was being so good, instead she was all wrong. Then she goes to school and gets a wrong answer in her homework and she is filled with shame for being so defective. And she grows up and continues to be crushed by everything she does wrong, all proof of how defective and shameful she is.

  1. Loss of intimacy.

When a child’s sexual boundaries are violated by another person, particularly if it remains hidden, sexual relationships can either become something to avoid as being shameful or something done to get approval. When a child is groomed by a perpetrator, they can learn that sexual abuse is a way to get the attention they crave. Then the child’s trauma is exacerbated by being labelled “promiscuous”. Note this is most likely to happen to a girl, not a boy. Our society allows only boys to have multiple sexual partners.

  1. Dissociation.

When a child is overwhelmed by the horror of their situation and the emotions they are feeling but unable to control, they often cope by disconnecting their consciousness from what is happening to them. Once this becomes an effective strategy for coping with overwhelming emotions, especially fear, then the child/adult will dissociate when feeling overwhelmed. Dissociation comes in many forms, from just “not being there” to the other end of the scale where a person develops different “identities” of dissociation.

  1. Loss of physical connection to your body.

It is really confusing being a child and being aware of your own feelings. Then an adult tells you that you are not to feel that way. You are being silly to feel frightened, or being weak, or you shouldn’t be angry at this person and so on. Small wonder that the majority of people in our society are not aware of their own feelings. Most children are taught not to listen to their feelings.

Add on to that the unpleasant sensations associated with physical or sexual abuse and you have many reasons not to feel what your body is physically or emotionally feeling.

Losing that physical connection makes it very hard for you to identify unsafe situations, or understand what you are feeling. Your body will develop aches and pains that have come about because of normal sensations in your body associated with your feelings. But these feelings are denied so the aches and pains can build up. It is considered a lot of chronic pain is caused by unresolved feelings.

Reconnecting to your body can be very scary and difficult and therapies that are known to aid trauma recovery, such a yoga and meditation, can be very difficult because of the unregulated feelings that are released. Any activities to reconnect to the body must be carefully handled by experienced trauma therapists.

  1. Loss of sense of self.

Your sense of self is the core of your spirituality. Spirituality is first and foremost your connection to your self, to “Who am I”. Trauma, whether in childhood or adulthood causes deep spiritual wounding.

As a child your parents are the ones who teach you about your emotions, how to regulate them and help you discover who you are. A lot of that is done by reflecting back to you who you are. What if your parent feeds back to you that you are useless, or unloved, or unwanted? That is not who you really are. That can leave you with a sense that you are a fake or somehow unacceptable.

  1. Loss of self worth.

You have survived a traumatic childhood. If we judge your learning by modern standards you have earned a PhD in survival. So congratulate yourself on the amazing job you did surviving childhood.

Your parents were there to teach you your value and you can see it in their eyes when they look at you with love, in the positive interest they show in what you are talking about and doing, in their words of support and encouragement and in the many ways they physically support you.

But what if the looks they gave your were of hatred and contempt, and the interest they showed in what you were doing was to put down, punish or ridicule, and there were only words of dismissal and put downs, and you were ridiculed rather than being supported and encouraged?

You may swing between feeling special or dirty and bad. Part of your PhD has been learning to build yourself up as a defense against the overwhelming feeling of being the outsider who is unworthy of love In your imaginary world you are special and loved, whereas in the real world that you have to keep returning to, you are dirty and bad and worth nothing.

  1. Reenactment

The final effect of trauma is the efforts you make to repair the fractured and dysfunctional relationships of your family of origin. You unconsciously recreate the same dynamics in your adult relationships with the hoped for result of everything turning out better this time. You may unconsciously choose a partner who is abusive in the hope that you can somehow fix the relationship of your childhood. Sadly all that happens is that you are abused again and your trauma just gets worse.

You may also find yourself in a relationship that seems good but you unconsciously sabotage it because you are expecting abuse in every relationship. You may find yourself hyper alert for “evidence” of the other person’s betrayal of you and see abuse where there is none.

The truth is you cannot heal the past in the present. You need to work on your past to heal it, not try to fix it with current relationships.

These ten impacts of trauma are often overlooked in therapy. But attending to them is vital if you are to recover from your trauma and discover “Who Am I?”

The trauma of childhood is complex and you need to see someone who is qualified to treat trauma. I have extensively trained in trauma recovery and treatment and follow the Blue Knot Foundation Guidelines in working with trauma clients.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your childhood trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe, please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

The importance of boundaries and why setting them is so essential to a plentiful life

When speaking of Trauma there is a lot of information about the stress response, triggers, PTSD and the pain of the trauma. There is an increasing amount of information about Dissociation and the impacts that has on functioning.

But one thing that impacts on most people with childhood trauma histories is the difficulty setting boundaries.

Trauma at any time, but especially in childhood, is very disempowering. Whereas an adult exposed to trauma can remember a time when they had the right to say now, the child exposed to trauma learns they have no right to say no.

The child with a trauma past is powerless against bigger and stronger adults who can choose whether they live or not. Children in those situations learn templates for relationships that are based on the child having no power, no ability to choose, to consent or withdraw consent. Until they can receive treatment and start to heal and learn new ways of being, the child will enact relational templates taught to them by their abusers. They will feel unable to choose when to say yes or no and will compulsively care for the other in the relationship while chronically neglecting their own needs. They will believe other people matter, where they do not.

They will not value themselves. They will believe they are a burden. They will feel guilty about spending money on themselves or putting their needs first. They will feel shame if they don’t play second fiddle to everyone else.

A major part of healing from childhood trauma is learning where you end and other people start. Learning what is your area of control. Learning what you are responsible for and what other people are responsible for. Learning how to make healthy decisions that serve you. Learning where to set your boundaries.

Often it is the difficulty setting boundaries that causes the breakdown in coping that brings people to therapy.

This is the difficulty. You can learn to set boundaries, but you need to do this work alongside treatment for your trauma. It is important you choose a someone with experience and training in trauma therapy. It doesn’t mean you will focus on your past trauma. What it does mean is that this will be taken into account when helping you learn to set boundaries. You work on your trauma only where it is important and impacting on your life and only when you are okay to do that.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with learning to set boundaries and work on any trauma you wish to work on, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Losing your partner

The person you love so much is gone. The will has been found and is with the solicitors. The death certificate has been attended. The funeral has been arranged and is over. The host of people rushing around to support you have gone back to their homes and their lives. Your children have also gone back to their lives. Even the well-meaning people telling you you’ll get over it are gone.

Now there is just you. In an empty home. The person you love is not there. You may be blessed enough to have pets to help fill the emptiness. But they can’t replace the one you loved.

The people who have been through similar experiences, the professionals you see, all will tell you it takes time. And it does. But the time in between losing the one you love and being able to cope with each day is a lot of time.

You may cling to the familiar, or leave the home you shared.

You may seek out help or you may struggle through on your own.

There is no right or wrong. Each person grieves differently. Even if several people are grieving one person, they will all experience that grief differently. Grief is as individual as the relationship you had with that person.

People often get concerned by the comments of well-meaning people:

• You should be better by now

• It takes 2 years

• You aren’t going through the stages (and in their book you should)

• You should be out and about mixing with people

The comments go on. Few of them helpful.

Here is the truth:

• There is no right or wrong in grief

• Yes, it is possible to get stuck in the grief journey and yes if that happens you do need to see a counsellor

• You will grieve differently to other people

• There are no “stages” to grief

• Grief doesn’t just turn off, like a switch. It is a lifelong experience.

• You will find that people don’t want to hear about your pain, so you will learn to bottle it up.

It is hardest to grieve for someone when the people around you didn’t know that person. You have no one to share the memories of that person with. That is hard.

One thing that is helpful is if you can find good friends who are prepared to support and listen to you. If you can’t find good friends to support you, you may find it helpful to see a counsellor who is experienced in grief. I often see people who just need help getting through that initial period. They find it helpful to understand what is happening and to be able to talk openly about what is happening and start to make sense of it. Other people come to see me after more time has elapsed.

If you are wondering whether your grief has gone on too long, it is generally considered that if you have been bereaved for 6-12 months and are not making steady (but gradual) progress towards feeling more able to live your life and making sense of what is happening then you may be experiencing prolonged grief and would benefit from seeing a counsellor.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz