I Just Want to Vent. Why do people want to give me advice?

I think we have all been there. I certainly have. You just want to vent about something and all you get back is advice. It leads you to feel that you haven’t been heard and makes you feel worse.

Maybe you have found yourself in a position of giving someone advice when they didn’t want it. It is easy to do.

Unfortunately we live in a society where we are encouraged to give advice and not listen.

So how do you change that?

How do you ensure you don’t fall for the giving advice trap?

How do you ensure you will be allowed to vent without getting unwanted advice?

  1. If someone is venting to you listen. If you feel you have a helpful opinion or advice to give then ask if it is okay to share it. If they say no then don’t give the advice. Just listen.

When you listen, pay attention to what they are saying. Don’t try to construct some response you think will be helpful. While you are constructing that response you are not listening.

Just listen. Let them know you are listening. Acknowledge how difficult/ frustrating/ upsetting what they are describing is/was.

  1. If you want to vent to someone, ask them first if they are in a position to listen. If they say no, then don’t vent to them. This ensures you don’t dump all your stress and emotions onto another person who may not be in the right space to hear you.

When you need to talk to someone it can be hard if you can’t find anyone to vent to but keep trying. There will be someone who will listen. Remember it is also hard if you are not in the space to listen if someone vents to you.

Communication is about respect. Respect the other person who is venting to you. Respect the other person who may not be in a position to hear your vent.

Learning to Sit With The Discomfort and Journal

I often write about the way our brains suppress uncomfortable feelings. In this blog I am going to talk about how this relates to grief and how you can learn to sit with what is uncomfortable in your grief journey.

When you feel uncomfortable feelings, your brain responds in many ways.

The first way is you may consciously push the uncomfortable feelings aside. The more you do it, the easier it is to do next time. A lot of people learn to do this as they grow up. It is how we survive in a society that expects us to push our feelings aside in order to maintain the status quo.

But your brain acts subconsciously (without thinking) and unconsciously (below conscious awareness) as well to suppress the uncomfortable feelings.

Where does the brain hide these feelings? In your body. But those feelings don’t just stay there. They agitate to be heard. A lot of pain in the body actually comes from those suppressed, hidden feelings.

Imagine how hard it is to find those feelings and express them when your brain has been so efficient at hiding them!
This happens generally in life, but in this blog I am talking about how this happens with grief and makes it hard to process that grief and move forward in life.

What are the impacts of pain hidden in the body?

The raw pain that sits in your body has never had a chance to be processed. That pain can and does get triggered on occasion and then you are left feeling overwhelmed. Often the pain is never recognised for what it is. But its impacts are far reaching. They may even cause you to feel so overwhelmed with life that you are unable to move forward with your life.

What can I do about this pain?

Processing your pain daily is helpful. That is the ideal. In the early weeks of grief you may find daily too hard to do at first. But try when you can and eventually you will reach a point where you can process this pain daily.

How can I process this pain?

There are many ways to process the pain. I have a daily practice, which I teach in my “Paint Your Soul” workshops. If you have not explored what is hidden within yourself before, it may be more helpful for you to start with a different approach. This allows you to process the great volume of past hidden feelings.

Trust Your Intuition

I often have people telling me they don’t trust their intuition. This is because they have had bad experiences where they thought everything would work out and it didn’t. They often think they have listened to their intuition and it turned out badly. When asked to describe the experience in more detail, it emerges that their intuition was sending clear messages they weren’t heeding because their needs were drowning out the wise voice of their body.

Sit with your body

I teach people to take the time to sit with their feelings and focus on their bodies. Shutting down the brain’s chatter is challenging. But this practice, which is mindfulness, can be learned.

It is often better to learn from someone skilled with mindfulness. I often teach people who come to see me to practice mindfulness in their bodies.

Mindfulness needs to be practiced or it doesn’t work. When you are feeling relaxed and secure is a great time to learn how to tune into your body and listen. When you learn how to do that, it is more likely you can use mindfulness when you start to feel unsafe.

How do I use mindfulness to explore these hidden feelings?

A daily practice of mindfulness meditation and journalling is a great way to explore these feelings.

This involves meditating, listening to the body and writing in a journal the things you have observed.

This method helps you to listen to your body, understand the uncomfortable feelings hidden there and learn how trustworthy your intuition actually is.

How do I journal?

To do this practice, you need to commit to 15 minutes of practice a day.

It is best when you can be in a quiet place and undisturbed.

Getting up 15 minutes earlier in the morning is one way to achieve this if you can’t find space at any other point in the day.

What I have found when I did this practice was that the more I cleared subconsciously, the more my unconscious mind released for processing.

Sitting With The Discomfort Journal

Before you start, you need something to write your notes in. You will find you won’t write a lot, but it is important to record what you need to. This allows you to see patterns, discover hidden feelings, see progress and be encouraged. An old exercise book is ideal for this.

You may like to set a timer for 15 minutes so that you will know when the time is up.

Step 1 – Clear the Space Around You

To do this step, you may like to play some relaxing music quietly in the background. This is useful if there are distracting noises within hearing range.

Sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Note when you breath in and when you breathe out.

Breathe in deeply so that your chest and belly rise. Then breathe out slowly.

Take a few minutes to breathe in and out, just noticing the feeling of your in and out breathe.

Now notice your body. Breathe into each area of your body and observe how it is feeling. Then breathe out any tension held there.

Once you feel you are relaxed, ask yourself how you are feeling today. Don’t push the answers, just allow them to come up. Don’t let the issues that may arise overwhelm you. It helps to identify what comes up as “the feeling of”. This helps to keep it more objective.

Step 2 – Choose a Problem

Now choose one problem you will focus on. Remember to be outside the problem, keeping it objective.

Notice where in your body you can feel this problem. What are you feeling in your body?

Note down without too much detail what and where you are feeling things.

Step 3 – Explore the Problem

After writing down your notes, come back to the breathing in and out, and feel into that part of the body that is housing the problem.

What word, phrase, symbol or image comes up when you sit observing this problem?

Allow yourself to sit for a while to allow something to come up. Don’t try too hard. Just allow what comes up to come up. If nothing comes up that is okay.

Stay with what comes up and allow it to develop. When you feel you have enough detail then write a description of this in your journal. This is your felt sense.

Step 4 – Matching the Felt Sense and Description

Go back to breathing in and out as you focus. Once you are focused bring up the feeling of the problem again and think about it with the words you used in your journal to describe it. Do you feel they were the right words? If your body experience of your problem changes then follow the new changes. If either the feeling or the description need to change then do that.

Keep exploring this until you feel your description is the right one.

Step 5 – Ask More Questions

Now that your description of your problem feels right, it is time to ask your sense of the problem to deepen.

Feel the part of your body where you sense the problem. Ask it what the significance of the problem is. Ask it if the problem has more to add.

One technique I often use is to ask the problem what it wants, what it needs and what will it feel like if it gets what it needs.

Keep asking it questions until you feel you have explored enough.

Step 6 – What Does Your Body Want to Give You?

This may not happen on your first go. It may be that you may not even be able to identify the problem or find it in your body.

Persevere. As you do this practice every day you will learn how to find these problems in your body and understand your body better. You will also get faster at exploring the problems. With practice, you will learn to trust your intuition.

For this final step just sit again with your breath and the awareness of the body part where the problem was hidden. Allow yourself to be aware of anything that comes up. You may observe images, symbols, words, colours or any way you gain an impression of what you are experiencing around your intuition and the problem.

Sit with whatever comes up.

Sometimes you feel emotionally there has been a major shift. Just sit with that as your body absorbs what has happened.

As you sit you may develop an understanding, or that may not come for some time.

When you open your eyes you can record any impressions you gained.

Sit quietly for a few minutes. Feel your feet on the floor. Wiggle your toes. Move your fingers. Stretch your arms above your head. Listen to the noises in the room and outside. Then when you are ready open your eyes and go about your day.

Daily Practice Leads to Results

It may take some time to gain understanding and insights and that is normal. As you practice every day, you will notice over time that things become clearer and with that comes understanding.

You will also notice that the uncomfortable feelings are not as uncomfortable as you thought they were.

How This Relates to Grief

A major aspect of grief is being able to experience the pain and understand it. It is in letting yourself feel the pain that you are able to process it. Processing involves the experience of pain and the giving of meaning to it. It also allows you to be able to move through life with the pain so that it is more manageable.

Sometimes This Practice is Better Learned From a Professional

If you are having trouble learning this practice. Or the pain is overwhelming and you can’t do it. I am experienced in teaching mindfulness, as well as being trained in Grief and Loss Counselling. You are welcome to make an appointment to see me so that I can help you with mindfulness, being able to sit with those uncomfortable feelings, and learning how to do the steps of the daily practice.

I can be contacted on nan@plentifulllifecounselling.com.au or 0409396608.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with learning to complete your Sitting With The Discomfort Journal, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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

20 things Anger is 6 it isn’t

Anger is feared in our society. From an early-age children are taught that Anger is bad and they are taught to suppress it.

Children are rarely taught how to manage anger effectively. Consequently, many adults run from or push away an angry person instead of taking the time to calm the other person and respectfully seek to understand what the problem is.

An important thing to remember in this is that when confronted by an angry person, if you want to stay calm you will be able to. Anger is only contagious if you allow it to. But if you want to feel angry you will get angry at their behaviour. So managing a situation of anger is very possible.

When anger is approached that way, it is frequently permanently defused and a win win resolution is achieved for both you and the angry person.

What anger isn’t.

The following things are what anger is not:

• Aggression

• Bad

• To be avoided at all costs

• Frightening

• Negative

• Controllable (behaviour can often controlled but not emotion)

What anger is.

If anger isn’t something frightening, negative, bad, aggressive, controllable or to be avoided at all costs then what is it?

Anger is:

• Doubt,

• Guilt,

• Tiredness,

• Confusion,

• Fear,

• Frustration,

• Embarrassment,

• Due to being in pain,

• Feeling overwhelmed,

• Feeling rejected,

• Anxiety,

• Loneliness,

• Disconnection,

• Feeling threatened/unsafe,

• Jealousy,

• Grief,

• Unfairness,

• Helplessness,

• Disappointment,

• Stress.

Emotions are divided into two different types. The first is primary emotions. The second is secondary emotions. Secondary emotions arise from other emotions.

You have probably already guessed from the “anger is” list that anger is a secondary emotion. It arises from other emotions that happen.

If you look at the “anger is” list you will see that all these underlying emotions and feelings are ones that the brain perceives as danger. This activates the body’s defence mechanisms. Anger is part of the body’s defence mechanism of fight or flight. Anger gives the body the push it needs to run away or stand and fight.

(It is important to note that abuse is not anger. It is abuse and needs to be dealt with differently.)

Something to try

Here is something you can try.

Next time you find yourself starting to feel angry be curious. Examine that anger. Where has it come from? What thoughts are you having around that anger? Those thoughts will give you important clues to the source of the anger.

If you can’t identify the thoughts then ask the anger what it needs. The anger will want something, which may be to vent that anger so don’t ask it what it wants. The anger will be needing something, it may be to be understood, or to get out of a situation that feels overwhelming, or to be able to take time out for rest.

Would you like to know more?

If you go to PLC Blog – Plentiful Life Counselling Blog (https://plentifullifecounselling.com.au/wp)
And click on the category Anger (in the left hand column) you will see a number of blogs on the subject.

If anger is something that you fear and you feel you need help with it, then seeking help from a Registered Counsellor is a good idea.

Can I Help?

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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

“I don’t love you anymore”. Getting over the trauma.

Many years ago I had a woman come to see me.

She had been married nearly 50 years, having married in her teens. It was a very long and seemingly happy marriage.

One day her husband told her he had never loved her.

He left.

She was devastated.

The Impact of a Relationship Ending

It is unlikely what he said was true, but so often I hear one of a couple tell their partner the same thing. It is as if in the moment they don’t love the person any more so it becomes “I never loved you”.

This woman had worked hard all her adult life. She was approaching retirement. They had been planning all the things they would do. Now all that was over.

She was facing retirement and old age on her own without the man who had been part of her life for almost 50 years.

Relationship Ending Cause Grief Too

And there was the pain.

He didn’t part amicably. It was nasty and messy. He left and ignored her. The only contact was through lawyers.

The Pain of Rejection

How do you recover when someone you have spent all your adult life with is gone?

It is hard enough when they die. But when their departure is due to them not wanting to be with you anymore that is excruciatingly painful.

It is an incredible rejection.

She had moulded herself to be the other half of a couple. They had a lifetime of memories together. The children they shared, the places they had lived, the pets they had over the years. Everything was a tattered wreck.

How Counselling Helped Her

The woman who walked into my room was shattered. She was stripped of self confidence, self esteem, self worth and sense of self. She was deeply grieving the loss of her future, her plans, her dreams.

But she was resilient. After a few sessions where she was able to express all her anger, devastation, fear and the desire to get him back, she began to realise how resilient she was.

She determined to reclaim her life. And to reclaim it as it related to her. Not as half a couple but as an individual.

Retelling Your Life Story

To do this she decided to tell her life story. Prior to this point she had been telling it as half of a couple. Now she told it as a single person.

She told and retold and retold the story.

She kept telling it until she was able to develop a fresh sense of self.

Finding Who You Are in the Retelling

With that newfound sense of self she was able to hold a fresh perspective on her life. With this perspective and her renewed sense of self she was able to find purpose and meaning in her life to date and in her life moving forward.

This may sound extreme, but we all tell and retell our life stories. Every time you relate to someone else the hurtful things in your past, or the great things in your past, you are telling your story.

What this woman did was look at her life story from a different perspective. She looked at is from the perspective of being an individual.

You can do this too, not just with your stories of loss, but with anything in your life.

Can I Help?

When you are in the depths of grief and rejection, it can be hard to find your story to tell and retell from a new perspective. At those times it can be helpful to see a specialist grief counsellor.

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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

I didn’t think I had an abusive childhood, but now I realise I did

Do you need other people to validate the things you do?

Do you need the approval of others?

Do you find it hard making decisions for yourself?

Do you find it hard feeling self-reliant?

Do you find it hard to regulate your emotions?

Are you really hard on yourself?

Do you feel you have little or no worth?

Do you do things to numb your emotional pain?

Are you frightened of rejection and abandonment?

Do you feel you are stuck in angry mode?

Do you find it hard to feel joy or peace?

Do you find it hard to get close to other people?

Do you feel lonely and seek out others to compensate for your loneliness?

Do you feel lost, misunderstood or that you don’t fit in and others are judging you for that?

Do you frequently feel anxious or depressed?

Are you frightened of social situations and fear being rejected.

Do you feel others judge you as not being good enough?

Do you feel empowered in your life?

How childhood experiences can impact you as an adult

Did you know that trauma in childhood has a significant impact on your self-worth?

If your sense of safety and belonging in childhood was damaged you are likely to have developed skills to keep you safe in that situation. As you grew up you may never have unlearned those skills, so they trap you in patterns that don’t serve you in adulthood.

Also, poor attachment between your parents and you puts you at risk of suffering from loneliness in adulthood.

Traumatic experiences in your childhood disrupt how you see your self as a person and affect your ability to regulate your emotions. All this impacts on the quality of the interpersonal relationships you have later in life.

My parents didn’t physically or sexually abuse me. I can’t have suffered trauma.

It can be hard to understand you have been traumatised in childhood. The usual picture of trauma is that of being hit or sexually abused. But trauma covers much more than just that. In fact, the worst traumas are emotional and psychological.


Neglect is a trauma that is often overlooked. With neglect the child’s physical and emotional needs are frequently overlooked. It may involve not receiving regular meals, not having clean clothes to wear, not having your emotional needs for comfort and support met. A parent who rarely interacts or shows an interest in you is also neglectful.

Neglectful parents are also unlikely to be there to teach you skills of emotional regulation. They may not teach you how to wash yourself, how often to change your clothes.

It is unlikely a neglectful parent will see you and spend time connecting to you. This is known as attunement. A child who is not seen is a child who is not safe. Not being safe is extremely traumatic.

The clear message in this situation is that you have no worth or value. After all, you are not worth having any time or attention given to you.

Narcissistic Parent

Narcissistic parents are also very destructive of a child’s sense of self-worth.

Such a parent depends on the child to make them feel good. The child gets positive attention when they do things that serve the parent. The trouble is, there are no clear guidelines as to what the child needs to do to serve the parent. Consequently, the child lives life second guessing the parent in order to feel that the parent will care for them and they will be safe.

Narcissistic parents will also often shame their children in front of others. They will expect their child to meet their needs, to do things to make them proud. They will never teach their child any skills that will equip them for adulthood and self-reliance.

Narcissistic parents will often hold the child close to serve their needs. They want the child to stay dependent on them because the child is there to serve their needs and that is why they had them.

One classic example is of a woman who would take her child to school. The child would happily run into the classroom and greet her friends. The mother would call her back and make a fuss of her, stating it was okay for mummy to leave now and she would be okay. The child would go back to her friends and be happily talking with them. Again, the mother would call her back. This would continue until the child’s resolve was broken and she would wail and beg her mother not to leave her.

A narcissistic parent is one of the most destructive types of parent and sentence their children to mental poor health and a dependence on validation from others in adulthood.

Complex PTSD and Borderline personality disorder

These conditions develop because of chronic trauma experienced in childhood. The type of trauma most associated with these conditions is emotional abuse and invalidation. It can happen if you are neglected or have a narcissistic parent. It can also happen from other types of abuse and invalidation.

Sometimes parents are not aware that their behaviour towards their children is invalidating and can be surprised when their child develops this disorder in adulthood.

When a parent is emotionally abusive or invalidating during a child’s early years it impacts on the child’s sense of self and the child can struggle to have a strong sense of self.

You may develop self-defeating attitudes and beliefs around yourself and the trustworthiness of the world.

When raised in such an environment it is also difficult to learn to regulate your emotions. This is often due to your parents being unable to regulate their emotions. How can you teach another person how to regulate their emotions if you can’t do it yourself.

For this reason, I encourage people who had difficult childhoods to seek counselling from a trauma trained professional before having children. Many parents who were emotionally abused as children are determined their own children will never have to go through that. But sometimes things your children do can trigger reactions in you that you can’t control and don’t like doing. If you find raising your children triggers behaviours you struggle to control then seek counselling. Seeking help makes you a good parent.

Unstable and intense relationships

If you find that any type of relationship you have with others tends to be intense and over time unstable then you may be experiencing the impacts of chronic trauma in childhood. Sometimes these relationships happen because you are uncomfortable being alone and seek out anyone who looks willing to be in a relationship with you. This can result in you unconsciously choosing the wrong type of person to have a relationship with.

Sometimes when you are in a relationship you can sabotage it by clinging to the person and unwittingly pushing them away.

I think you are the best, I hate you patterns

Another impact of childhood trauma can be seen in meeting someone new and idealising them. This continues for some time then you start devaluing them and finding things wrong with them.

You are too hard on yourself

One of the saddest impacts of childhood trauma is the lack of self-worth and lack of self-compassion.

It is not surprising that children develop these beliefs. When a parent is abusive, or expects you to jump over hoops to gain their approval, the natural response is to believe this is because you are a bad person. If your parent constantly tells you that you are bad then this belief is reinforced.

The reality is that a child is just a child learning how to live life. There is no inherent badness in a child. Sadly a child doesn’t know that. Shame becomes a big part of the life of an abused child.

Ways to dull the pain

If you never learned how to regulate your emotions, and you believe you are a bad person, then you feel great pain that you don’t know how to soothe.

Many people turn to behaviours that numb the pain. These behaviours may be dangerous. A good example of this is children who steal cars then drive them dangerously at high speed. The risk and dangers inherent in this activity help to suppress their pain.

Other things people do include addictions such as substance abuse, smoking or vaping, gambling, compulsive shopping, sex addiction, exercise addiction and eating disorders.

I am lonely

If you don’t feel you are worth anything then you may not feel you are likeable. The result is that you may avoid getting close to others so that they can’t reject you.

Getting close to another person means exposing yourself to the rejection of your parents. If they rejected you, then other people will too.

When you do form relationships with others you may be frightened of expressing your needs or asking for help because your parents failed to meet those needs when you were a child. So you may feel even lonelier because you can’t turn to someone for help.

Many people who suffered trauma in childhood report feeling lonely.

Depression and Anxiety

It is very common for someone traumatised as a child to be anxious. Your childhood was an anxious time of never being sure when you would receive support, or whether you may be abused. Abusers are rarely predictable so hypervigilance was an essential part of childhood.

Hypervigilance leads to anxiety. There is the need to be constantly on your guard because you never know what is going to happen in the next minute. You never know when things will suddenly become dangerous and frightening.

When you grow up and things become safer the fear doesn’t go away because your brain has developed neural pathways that constantly scan for danger. This is why anxiety is a constant companion of the traumatised child.

Depression is another consequence of this type of childhood. Many people report feeling depressed from childhood. The sense of not being good enough, the lack of self-worth, being emotionally worn down with anxiety and fear, the rejection and abandonment of parents and the sense of never being safe all contribute to feeling overwhelmed and hopeless and lead into depression.

I constantly feel on edge

The environment of neglect and emotional abuse is a highly stressful environment. Children in this situation are being impacted regularly by the release of stress hormones in the body. This has an impact on the developing brain and will often result in an adult who is highly sensitive to stress hormones.

The result is that your brain is in a constant state of defending yourself. In other words the fight/flight/freeze response.

It is very difficult to cope with life if your brain is constantly seeing danger and you spend a lot of time with your brain taking over your life and deciding whether you are to fight, run away, or freeze.

When this defence mechanism takes over, your thinking brain switches off. You can’t control your reactions. Sadly, very few people understand this and you may find yourself judged when you get stuck in this defence response.

It is for this reason that it is important to seek counselling from a qualified trauma counsellor.

Can I Help?

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 helpful 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

Grieving that isn’t allowed

In life you will meet a lot of people. Some will matter very much to you but the relationships will end, or will become more distant.

Examples of this include someone you were once in love with, a family member you lost contact with, a close friend who grew distant when the two of you moved in different directions.

When a relationship ends there is an initial grief for that relationship. But grieving for that relationship does not mean you are not going to grieve again when that person dies. In fact, you are more likely to grieve again over their death.

Denying your right to grieve

The difficulty is in other people recognising your grief, or considering you have the right to grieve.

This type of grief is known as disenfranchised grief. It is a denial of your right to grieve.

The idea of disenfranchised grief is grounded in the concept of human dignity. It is a recognition of human attachment and the needs of individuals to grieve for those they love when they die. For some people, others actively deny them the right to grieve for the one they love. An example is that of an estranged family member who is denied by the rest of the family the right to be at the funeral or say goodbye to the person they love.

For others there may be an assumption by those around them that they wouldn’t feel grief at this person’s death. An example of that is of the ex-partner who moved on from the relationship but still holds love for the person. Many assume that once a relationship is over there is no love there, but that is not true in most cases.

Other ways grief is disenfranchised.

For people in non traditional relationships, grief may be disenfranchised.

In the past people in same sex relationships were often disenfranchised in their grief. Those having extra-marital relationships are also often disenfranchised. Other people may have a close bond with someone that other people do not realise exists. This may happen with a work colleague or a friend.

The loss is not recognised as a loss

If people don’t consider you have lost anything then your grief becomes disenfranchised. This happens frequently with miscarriages, still births, abortions, deaths of companion animals, someone you love being brain damaged or suffering from dementia.

You are not capable of grieving

The belief that you are not capable of grieving happens particularly with children. The old belief that children are resilient fails to acknowledge the impact loss has on a child at any age.

This can also happen with elderly people, especially those with dementia, and those with intellectual disabilities.

The way your loved one died

In this type of loss people may judge the one who has died and consider their death was deserved or not worth grieving over. This can occur with suicide, death from a stigmatised disease, death from overdose, or death due to recklessness – as in a car accident where the person was the one at fault.

Grieving differently to other’s expectations

If your style of grieving does not match what other people expect you to show you may be judged by others and your grief discounted. You may be shut down in your way of grieving which acts to disenfranchise you from being able to grieve.

In many cultures there are different ways of grieving. Being able to observe those rituals is important. If you are denied that then your grief becomes disenfranchised.

When people expect you to “be over it now” that also disenfranchises your grief.

Respect for those who are grieving

It is important to respect those who are grieving and to respect their suffering and their right to suffer.

In grieving there is a drive to experience your suffering. There is also an ability to thrive and live meaningfully after your loss. Allowing you to grieve in your own way to allow your natural resilience to guide you through the difficulties of grief. I will explain this more further in the blog.

Resilience is driven by hope and the potential within you to live meaningfully again. When you are not allowed to grieve at your own pace in your own way it hinders your natural resilience.

The lack of understanding around grief

When other people fail to understand and appreciate what you are living through they are more likely to interfere in your grief. This interference often destroys your natural grief.

People can be well meaning in the way they respond to grief but it can be the wrong approach. When my grandfather died I was staying with my brother, 4 hours drive from home. We were particularly close to my grandfather and could have comforted each other upon learning of his death. Unfortunately my mother decided to let us know individually after I had returned home. She was concerned I wouldn’t be able to drive home safely. My grandfather had died two days earlier so I would have had two days to be with my brother so we could both process our grief together.
My brother, who lived on his own and was a single teacher in a one teacher school, found out when there was no one in the house or his workplace to talk to. I arrived home, one hour before I had to go to my work as a registered nurse, and saw a message to ring my mother at her work. I was alone in the house and had no one to talk to either. I had to drive to work on my own so that wasn’t any safer. At work I was on the relieving roster so spent the evening working with people I didn’t know and with no one to talk to.

Both of us were disenfranchised from the grief at our grandfather’s death.

Unhelpful, disenfranchising comments

The following are a list of comments people on an online poll reported being told. In all cases they felt their grief was devalued and downplayed:

• When things like this happen, all you can do is give it time, wait it out.

• Eventually, you’ll get over this.

• I don’t see how his life can be worthwhile again. He’s lost the only thing that really mattered to him.

• Somehow it feels disloyal to laugh or try to be happy. I sometimes feel that I owe it to him to live in sorrow.
What can I possibly have to look forward to?
Response: The best thing is to try to put what happened behind you and get back to normal as soon as possible. Try to go on as if nothing has changed.

• There’s no point in looking for meaning in something like this. Suffering brings us face to face with absurdity. The best thing is to try to forget.

• You shouldn’t be looking for anything positive in this. There can’t be any such thing.

• Oh, that’s just a coincidence. You’re reading too much into what happened.

• I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that in some ways I seem to have grown from the death of my child.
Response: Face reality. She is dead. You will have to fill her place with something else.
Response: Everything she meant to you is undone.

• If you’re going to grieve, you have to let go completely. It is all about the heartache of goodbye. If you don’t let go, you are stuck in the past.

• Remembering adds to your pain and prolongs suffering. Spending so much time with memories can only bring you down. Let the past stay in the past.

• Don’t keep talking about her. You should be more focused on those who are still here.

You have to let go completely

One thing about the comments listed above is the message that you have to let go of the one who has gone. So often people feel they are not allowed to grieve their loved one. Instead, they are expected to push away all memories and thoughts of their loved one and stop being sad.

Much of this pressure comes from people who feel uncomfortable at another person’s pain. But how can you push away memories of the one you loved so much? Love doesn’t end just because the other person is dead. You will always love them. You will always feel grief and pain at their passing. You will learn how to live with it and you will even learn how to be happy again, but you will never forget.

Grief is constructive

Strange and profane as it may seem. Grief is constructive. It takes resilience to work through grief and find the capacity to thrive and find meaning in life again. It takes strength to face the pain and learn how to live with it. It takes drive to learn how to live again in a changed world. Grief is about experiencing the pain but still saying Yes to life. Saying yes to learning how to forge new patterns of living, find new narratives in life and learn to live in a way that honours you and allows you to live a meaningful life again.

The drive of the Soul

There are two major areas of the self that are worked on in grief. The first is the soul.

Many grief commentators refer to the soul as a drive within. This drive finds the ability to keep going, to find a reason to be living in the present.

The drive of the soul is one to connect to life and other people. It is this drive that leads you to love others and love life. This is the core of the strength and resilience that allows you to continue with life.

This soul drive pushes you on despite the pain. It drives you to reconnect despite the hole left in your world by the one who has gone. This drive pushes you back into life. It pushes you into life with the absence of your loved one.

The drive of the Spirit

The other area of the self is the Spirit.

This is another drive. This drive allows you to get through the acute phase of your grief. This drive allows you to move forward into the future. A future with more unknowns than you thought it may have held. Despite those unknowns, this drive gives you the strength and motivation to step forward and determine to survive and find a new way of living. It guides you to find meaning in your life again.

As with the soul drive, this drive is the core of the strength and resilience that allows you to continue with life.

This is your grief

You can be disenfranchised from grief in so many ways.

There are the losses where you are not recognised as having a right to grieve.

There are the losses where your are not recognised as having lost anything.

There are the losses where people believe you are not capable of grieving.

There are the losses where people judge the worth of the one who died.

There are the losses where you don’t grieve according to the belief of other people.

There are the pat statements that are unhelpful and deny your right to grieve.

There are so many more ways that grief can be disenfranchised.

But you have two drives within you that help you grieve and move forward into life again. The drive of the soul sustains you for the long haul. Alongside this the drive of the spirit helps you through the days of acute grief.

Sometimes you can get through your grief with those you can find to support you. Other times you might need the help of a grief counsellor.

Can I Help?

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 helpful 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 complicated journey of grief

Dealing with grief is overwhelming.

As you try to come to terms with your grief it can feel so hard to do. Being able to verbalise what you are feeling and experiencing can be so difficult to accomplish that many people never process their grief to that depth.

Grief is complex, overwhelming and unsettling.

The 5 stages of death belief

Back in the 70s it was thought that grief was processed in a straight line. There was a five stage process that you went through in that order. According to this theory you were supposed to experience the stages of:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Later an extra stage was added:

  1. Meaning

This was a theory formed to describe the process of dying, not the process of grief.

So much harm was done to people who weren’t grieving according to the rigid stages structure. Even today, there are those who adhere to this long defunct theory.

The effects of grief are more complex than a simple linear theory.

The tasks of grieving

There have been many theories of death proposed since then. In many of the theories it was suggested there were “tasks” to be completed during the grieving process.

One of the most popular theories gives four tasks:

  1. Accept the reality of the loss
  2. Process the pain of grief
  3. Adjust to a world without the one you lost
  4. Find an enduring connection with the person in the midst of embarking on a new life.

The tasks in themselves aren’t wrong. But a rigid adherence to them is not helpful when you are grieving.

Oscillating between grief and life

More recently the Dual Process Model has become popular. In this theory you oscillate between loss oriented mode and restoration oriented mode. This model has great validity. You need to keep living so you do have to live in the real world and there are tasks of living you still need to do. Additionally you need to learn how to live in the world without the one you love. You also need to process the loss so you need to spend time and allow yourself to experience and accept the emotional pain of your loss.

But there is more to understanding grief than oscillating from loss and restoration.

Multidimensional Grief Theory

In 2023 a paper was released describing Multidimensional Grief Theory (MGT). This theory relates to children aged 7-18 who are grieving. According to the theory there are three dimensions of grief. They are:

• Separation Distress

• Existential/identity distress

• Circumstance-related distress

Although this is aimed at children, my reading of the theory is that it can be applied to adults as well.

Separation Distress

Separation distress is not just an emotional reaction. It also involves areas of the brain where attachments to other people form. When someone close dies, there is a time of that area of the brain removing and altering neural networks connected to that person.

The big issue with separation distress is finding a way to feel connected to the person you are grieving for, even when they are gone.

Existential and Identity exploration

Every time you lose a loved one, there is a period of redefining yourself. This happens because every person you are connected to helps you define who you are. When one person dies, especially if they were very important in your life, you have to redefine who you are.

Every loss is a challenge existentially. I have found this is greater when it is the first time you have encountered the death of someone you know.

The way they died

The last dimension of grief relates to the circumstances of that person’s death. How do you think and feel about the way they died? How do you learn to accept that?

These three dimensions of grief have a major impact on how well you process grief and incorporate it into your life.

The importance of understanding what is happening to you

You may wonder why I am giving you all this information.

It is important you understand what is happening to you. When people talk about you being in denial or anger you can understand this is an outmoded theory on dying that was misapplied to grief.

If someone talks to you about tasks you must complete you can understand what they are referring to.

You are more likely to hear about the dual process model if you visit me and I will explain how you sometimes are overwhelmed by grief and other times focused on daily tasks and learning to live after your loss.

As for MGT, I am also likely to discuss with you the impact on your brain of the separation from the one you love. I will also at some stage explore the existential and identity aspects of your loss. You may also want to talk about how your loved one died so I will most likely explore your perception of that with you.

To Summarise

Grief is a complicated journey. There is a lot to process and a lot of physical changes in your brain to be completed. You need to learn how to live in the world now they are gone. You need to learn who you are. You also need to process your feelings around the manner of their death. Sometimes you will want to talk, other times cry, and maybe other times process your feelings through expressive activities such as poetry, painting, sandplay, or journalling.

This journey takes time, so don’t rush it. Be okay for it to take as long as it needs to.

Can I Help?

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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