Writing the story of your grief

I have always loved stories. As a child I read more stories than I can remember. And when I learned to write I wrote my own. When I had no pen and paper I made them up in my head. There are stories that have been with me all my life. Stories that have become old friends. I bring them out every so often and visit them.


As human beings we love stories.

We tell ourselves stories about who we are. Stories about the people in our lives. Stories about the people we love.


The closest I have come to seeing stories depart is when losing a loved one.

How do you write a story that ends? Particularly when it is someone you love?

How do you allow an ending to that story when it is all so unreal and raw?


When my mother died, I discovered that not only were the stories about her now out of place, but so were the stories about me.

So much of who we, you and me, are is tied up in the stories our parents tell about us.

What happens when the story teller dies?

How do you fashion a new story?


When a parent dies the story you need to fashion is very much about who you are. Because your parents wrote the original story.

Now you have to write your own.

How do you do that when you are caught up in the unreal confusion and jumble of thoughts and emotions that is grief?

If the person who has died is your partner, sibling, or close friend then their story included you. How do you write the story when the hero of the story is gone?

How do you do that through the confusion and tumultuous emotions?

When the person is your child you have written most of the story. How does that story end when your child is no more?

It is likely you don’t know how to conclude this story. Nor for that matter do you want to.


I am reminded of the great epic stories of my childhood. The ones set in the past with great heroes and great adventures. The stories and their outcome were so important. Reading the story was a time of joy and sorrow. There was light and there was darkness. And there was always another day, more light, more darkness, light again and so on. One thing I always loved about these heroes was their determination to complete their journey. They were invested in what they were doing. So they persevered.

Maybe your grief is like some epic saga, a journey that traverses light and dark and comes eventually to a place where life seems calmer for a while.

Maybe your grief is something to endure. You may be so fed up with people talking about journeys.


Whatever you feel. You are here. Now. You are at the start of the rest of your life.

That start may be the first step in the journey of life, or it may be just a decision you are making to do something to cope with this place you are in.

Will you come with me?

You may call it a journey or just an exploration.

I am inviting you to leave your thoughts and the rationalisations of your thinking mind and come into the rockier, deeper truth of your heart.

It may be a scary place, but it is the place to start from if you ever want to get to a place where life is more bearable.

I am going to call this exploration a story.


The hero of the story is you.

You start this story at the point of leaving. You are here, wherever that is, and life is drawing you inexorably on.

Where are you?


I am going to use the metaphor of a forest on a mountain range full of steep slopes, rocky crags and cliffs that fall away forever. There are wild mountain rivers, autumn, winter, spring and summer. You will journey long and hard but at the other side of the mountain range there are meadows where the sun shines longer than on the mountain range. Where the weather is kinder and there are bridges when you meet the placid rivers.

What are you going to write about where you are?


Are you at the edge of the forest with the glow of the life you had with your loved one still providing some light to show you the path?

Are you deep in the forest struggling to clamber up a steep slope?

Are you in the early stages of the forest in autumn with the leaves, a multitude of colours, being flung around you by a bitter wind?


That is your task for today. To start your story. It doesn’t have to be a classic piece of literature. It is your story and that makes it beautiful.

You may choose to draw a picture of where you are, or make a collage.

Just tell the story of your loss and where you are at now, using the metaphor of the forest.

If you can’t think of how to start the story then try starting with:

“This is my story about …”

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief and its story, 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

Stop Gaslighting Yourself

It seems everyone is speaking about gaslighting.

First as a form of abuse

Then as a way to shut down victims.

Gaslighting is a common way to control people.

It is used every time you are told you are being too sensitive, or needy. Then there is the classic one “you are overreacting”. Or you are asking too much.


If this is the way you were treated as a child then you learn to be this way.

If you have been treated like this for a long period as an adult you can also learn to be this way.

You learn to gaslight yourself.


Today I want to remind you to just stop.

To stop and pay attention to the pain inside.

To stop and pay attention to the way you are speaking to yourself.

I want you to stop gaslighting yourself.


Stop and tell yourself these 4 things:

  1. You are not being too sensitive. It is more likely you don’t feel seen, heard or validated.
  2. You are not being too needy. It is more likely that you have genuine, valid needs that aren’t currently being met.
  3. You are not overreacting. It is more than likely this is a wound, a trigger or something that is deeply hurtful
  4. You are not asking too much. It is more than likely you are seeking love, consideration and respect. These are reasonable expectations in any relationship.

When Anger is Positive

We live in a society where anger is discouraged. Where anger is perceived as being bad. Where children are taught how to suppress their anger. Where anger in the form of “rage” incidents is become worryingly common.

There is a focus on controlling and preventing anger. But doing that is not always helpful.


Anger is seen as maladaptive but it is actually a perfectly normal reaction to things that happen.

There is a need for the attitudes towards anger to change.

There is a need for freedom to express anger.


Anger can be used constructively and is more likely to be used that way when it is free to be expressed. It can be channelled into calling for action and positive change.

What if, instead of labelling people as dysregulated and focusing on trying to control and repress anger we actually allow people the freedom to express their anger in a helpful way.


A child learns how to react to anger. How a child learns to react to anger depends on the adults in the child’s life and what they can teach the child. Adults who cannot process anger in a healthy way are not going to be able to teach a child to express anger healthily.

In the case of abuse, there is usually no adult available who can help the child by comforting them and teaching them how to regulate their emotions.

When bad things happen to children the result is often a feeling of shame. The child is often blamed for the bad things or takes on the blame themselves. Shame leads to anger directed at yourself. A child berating themselves for getting angry “again” is common and very unhelpful. Shames means you are less than others, somehow defective. This is a major impediment to seeking help because to acknowledge how bad a person you are is a dangerous thing for your fragile sense of self.


Research has shown that trauma in childhood causes the development of psychological defence behaviours that allow the child to survive. The problem is that in adulthood those defence behaviours that allowed you to survive become a problem.

It is natural to be angry when someone harms you. It is natural to be angry at unfair treatment, being ignored, having hurtful things said about you, being physically abused, sexually abused and so on.

Anger is a natural response to your boundaries being violated.

Anger is a natural response to losing something that is important and that matters to you. That can occur when something is taken away from you and also when your sense of self, self confidence or self esteem is taken away too.


Anger provides the energy you need to defend your boundaries, to express your feelings and to be assertive. Anger can also protect you from the feelings that underly it such as fear or sadness.

It is usual to be taught that anger is bad or unsafe.

If you were raised in an angry household with physical or verbal expressions of anger, you would have seen that anger is unsafe and leads to bad things happening.


But you may have been raised in a household where emotions were kept under tight control and any sign of emotion, especially anger, was considered bad.

Anger suppression impacts on you as an adult in different ways.

Unexpressed anger remains in the body. It leads to the body being held tight to control any expressions of anger. This can be seen in muscle tension. This is a common way for anger to be repressed. It is also associated with constipation, headaches and high blood pressure.


If you hold anger in your body as tension and are not able to express that anger it becomes chronic. Not only will that anger be held as muscle tension, it will also lead to negative thoughts and blocked feelings. This will have a negative impact on your well being both psychologically and physically.

The end result is anxiety which can also be expressed as depression and phobias.


Another negative result of suppressing anger occurs when you are unable to express it. If you believe that to express anger is to be bad then you will often avoid any form of confrontation or problem resolution. This will lead to a loss of ability to make change in your life. To a loss of agency. If you can’t stop constant boundary violations from other people you can only become resigned to it. This feeds low self esteem and hopelessness. Boundary violations can come from your partner, children, family, coworkers, employers, friends as well as strangers.

It can be difficult to express anger. I see people who have a right to be angry being viewed as dangerous or out of control when they express that anger. Even when it is expressed in a calm, assertive way people can view it as scary.

So what are your sources of anger? How do you express your anger? In our society with its repression of anger there are different ways to express anger.


There are times when the subtle, quiet anger is appropriate. This is useful when you are working to correct a wrong or dealing with a difficult other party. For example: you may be angry at a government plan to build a road through a unique woodland and join a protest group to initiate protests against this plan. Or you may be angry at an insurance company that is refusing to pay out on a legitimate claim and your anger keeps you going as you calmly and assertively fight them.

You may also need to defer anger when your child is crying, or someone has just run into your car and you need to get their details. That anger still needs to be expressed somehow later.


It is important to express anger physically. You just have to learn how to do that without causing harm to others or yourself.

Many people will go for a walk, a run, or some other form of exercise. When you allow yourself to express your anger in this way you can learn to feel it in your body. You can learn the signs that you are getting angry. You can learn how to release the anger in a healthy way and be confident you know how to do that so you do not fear it any longer.

It can also be helpful when you are on your own to say words that express what you are feeling inside. That may be “no”, “stop”. Other people find it helpful to use swear words.

Other people find it very relieving to throw things as in a game. A good example is darts. The old joke of the hated boss’s picture on a dartboard is a great example of this! Whacking a ball against a wall can be a good release too.


In my therapy room I use bean bags and will encourage you to throw them hard at the floor. I also encourage vocalising the anger. These are safe ways in a safe space to express unresolved anger.

Once you learn healthy ways to express your anger you can identify when you are holding anger in your body. It can be a surprise to become aware of the sensations of anger in your body. This is really helpful for you to recognise when you are holding anger without being aware of becoming angry. This is a great way for you to process and address things, take appropriate action and process the anger in your body.


In life bad things happen and anger is associated with them. We think and are taught that we can just push things down and not deal with them. Yet that anger still carries energy around it. That energy is not going anywhere. It needs to be released in a helpful way or it will stay in the body, usually as a form of muscle tension and a strong trigger to anything that is similar to it.

Once you learn to let go of anger and process the events around that anger you can feel more in control with new situations that arise. You can learn to express your anger constructively and feel more confident that you can do that. This will reduce the amount of anger you take on board.

You can also learn that anger is not something to be frightened of but instead is a powerful tool of change in your life.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with expressing anger, 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

Finding the Gold in Dark Places

There is a metaphor about dark places and the gold you find there.

It is true. Mines are where precious metals and stones are found.

Mines are also dark places. They are dangerous. There is the risk of flooding, cave-ins, getting lost in the dark, falling down a shaft, being overcome by poisonous gases.

But for all the dangers there is also treasure to be found. Gold, diamonds, opals, metals like tin and copper, coal. All these treasures have a value that make working in those dark places worth it.

For the multitudes who came to Australia during the Gold Rush of the 1850s, gold was the prize they searched for in those dark places.


You can find yourself in a dark place. There is no light, no easy way to find your way out, the risk of flooding emotions, being buried under overwhelming feelings and helplessness, fear and other emotions so powerful you can barely breathe.


It is so easy to panic. To run screaming through the darkness. To run into walls, fall over obstructions you cannot see and find yourself falling deeper into those hidden shafts.

Maybe for a while you do panic.


Eventually you may find yourself lying on the floor of this dark place. You may be feeling terrified, too terrified to move anymore. You may be totally exhausted, unable to do anything, unable to get up or even think.

There may come a time when you realise no one is coming to help you. You can stay and die in this mine, or you can calmly evaluate your situation and find a way out.


So you get up and sit against a wall.


As you sit, thinking of what to do, you may notice something glowing in the darkness. As you look closer you may see the gold there. It may be a few small specks, or it may be a huge nugget.

Whatever it is, there is enough value in this gold to benefit you.

This gold is your way out of this dark place.

So you take it and leave your dark place.


You may have to clamber up piles of rocks, balance precariously along narrow bridges, cling to the wall as you edge your way along shallow ledges.

Eventually you will see the light and emerge into the day with its brightness, and sunshine, and warmth.


As you embrace this wonderful world of light and safety, you may notice the gold you found.

This is the gold that empowered you and allowed you to find your way out of the darkness.

This is the gold that has changed you.

This is the gold that has enhanced your life here and now. The gold that you will take with you into the rest of your life. The gold that has allowed you to grow.

That gold you found in the dark place is precious. It has enhanced your life. It has made the your that faces the future richer than the you that was lost in that dark place.


It is important to remember you would never have found the gold without being in that dark place. You would never have found the gold without the panic that left you running terrified into the dark. You would never have found the gold if you hadn’t stopped and waited. If you hadn’t allowed time to calm down and wait.

You may not enjoy being in the dark places. They are scary and damp and dangerous. But they are also places where you can learn beneficial things. Places where you can grow.

If you allow yourself time, you can emerge from the dark place with new treasures that will benefit you in your life.


One important thing to remember that is different from being on your own in a mine is that in life people can walk beside you. If you allow them to.

If you can’t find someone who can walk beside you and not get lost themselves then counselling is really beneficial for you. I can walk beside you. I can give you the space to sit and wait. I can help you find that gold and walk beside you as you take your gold into the open air. Then I can help you learn how to use that gold in your life.

Are you willing to get out of the mine?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with getting out of the mine, 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

We Need To Stop Rushing And Respect The Time Healing Takes

There was an advertisement I remember seeing when I was younger. It was about people rushing to work in wet weather and looking sick. The jingle ran the slogan “soldier on” and showed the people taking some cold and flu tablet and continuing on with normal activities.

That is what we have been taught for years. To not stop. To soldier on.


15 years ago I was living in Europe. I got pneumonia. I couldn’t “soldier on” because I was too sick to get out of bed, let alone consider going anywhere.

After I recovered, one of my European friends told me to rest for 3 weeks. She was surprised that it had never occurred to me to rest for 3 weeks. That was what you did in Europe. It was generally accepted pneumonia took that long to recover from. In fact it was generally accepted all illnesses took time to recover from.


The incident with the pneumonia made me think about our society and how we rush to be over things. We even feel guilty taking extra time to rest until we are fully better, instead rushing to get back into things as soon as we feel just a little better.

This not only applies to our physical health. It also applies to our mental health; to the traumas and losses we experience.

We apply the same “soldier on” mentality to grief. There is no allowance made for the time it takes to process and recover from a loss event.


I read an article lately in which the writer described the recovery time as rehabilitation. Rehabilitation’s Latin roots mean to stand, make or be firm again. This means recovery is about being able to stand again.

That is the aim of counselling. To be able to stand firm again.

When you have a physical injury, you usually seek medical help. When you are struggling with grief you may seek mental health help and you may feel you are failing because you aren’t “over it” yet.


If you are recovering from a physical injury, there is an understanding that recovery takes time and effort.

There needs to be an awareness that a mental injury, like grief, requires time and effort to recover and be able to stand firm again.


It is important to remember that physical injury recovery does not necessarily involve a complete return to past normal. What happens instead is a return to a new normal.

This is the same process with grief. How can you lose someone you love and not be changed by that? The recovery process in grief involves a return to a new normal.

Recovery is often an improvement in the current circumstances rather than a return to past normal.


With a physical illness, the rehabilitation regime encourages people to push gently at the limits of what they are able to do. This prevents the person being trapped in a shrinking range of movement. What happens when those limits are tested is that the person expands their range of movement.

How do you test the limits of grief? What can you do to gently push at the limits of what you are able to do?


Recovering from grief is a tricky balance. Initially you need to allow yourself time to just be. To allow yourself to catch up with the pace of events.

You need to sit with what has happened. You need to allow yourself the space to absorb the reality of what has happened.

You also need to allow yourself time to cry, experience a range of emotions, push back against what has happened, wonder how you will ever be able to stand firm again.


If you picture grief as an injury, this is the healing time. It is the time when your grief is “in plaster” and the broken pieces are knitted together.

Notice that broken bones heal because the bone heals itself. The plaster is merely there to hold the bone together in a good position to allow it to heal.

Allowing yourself time to just be is like the plaster around a broken bone. You do the healing, the time to just be gives you support to heal.


Hildegard of Bingen, a famous healer of the middle ages, described healing as greening. She believed that to be healed is to be reinvigorated by the same force that gives life to everything, from trees to human beings.

Gavin Frances, a GP who specialises in recovery, describes healing as being like growing a plant. We need the right nutrients, environment and attitude and to be left in peace.

That last phrase is really important. To Be Left In Peace.


At some stage the plaster comes off.

You are now in active recovery time. The time when you undergo rehabilitation.

This is the time of testing limits, of increasing your range of movement.

This is the time when you slowly increase your range of activity. When you step out in the world again.


The medical model approach to mental health is an extension of the physical health model. It works on the assumption that all treatments should be measurable and reproducible. This leads to one size fits all models for treating mental health issues. It even pathologises grief!

The medical model doesn’t work well with all physical illnesses. It overlooks the fact that human beings are individuals so one size fits all does not work. It also overlooks the part our emotions play in healing.

If the medical model doesn’t work with all physical illnesses why do we think it will work with mental health challenges? Why do we think overlooking emotions is going to lead to healing?


It is always important to acknowledge your suffering. And, if you come to see me, I will also acknowledge your suffering. Because you need the validation of others recognising that you are suffering.

Just as with a physical injury, sometimes you need outside help to assist with healing. For a physical injury it might be a physiotherapist.

If grief gets overwhelming a grief trained counsellor is important to see.

It is important to give yourself the opportunity to express all those jumbled emotions around grief. To express the

• “what ifs”,

• the “if onlys”,

• the “I should haves”,

• the guilt at what you did or didn’t do,

• the harsh judgements of your behaviour,

• the anger at yourself, your loved one, the world.

• The utter desolation at losing this important person from your life.

It is important to allow yourself to be human. To allow yourself time to gently try your limits. To accept that recovery is about being able to stand again, not returning to what once was.

Then we can see your grief as “possibilitation”. This is the opportunity to work towards the best possible version of your life.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief recovery and learning to stand firm again, 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