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

3 ways to avoid buying too much at Christmas

We are at that time of the year when we think of Christmas.

Christmas is a time of year that brings up many emotions. It can be difficult emotionally. Issues that you can ignore at other times of the year often surface at Christmas time.

Additionally, if you have people to give presents to, there is the purchasing of presents to complete.

If you eat at home, or go somewhere and take food with you, then there is the purchasing of food items.

Everywhere you go there are amazing displays and temptations to buy. Whether it is amazing gifts or tempting food items, there is always the call to spend.

This happens in person and online.

Of course in the middle of this there are also the calls to buy things for yourself.

It is very easy to go online and click, click, click or go into a shop and fill your trolley or arms with gifts.

Neurologically we notice what is novel or different. This is a mechanism to keep us safe. It ensure we notice the things that are different in case those things are dangerous. This feature of our brains trips us up when shopping as we are more likely to notice what is different and novel and be tempted to buy it.

All this push to spend is made worse when old traumas surface as Christmas approaches. Many people find buying things to be very comforting. It is a form of addiction and addiction exists to soothe and calm. This belief is bolstered by advertising that sends the message that happiness is found in buying. Unless you want a houseful of novel items or fantastic specials on household goods (and there is no limit to the number of sheets and towels you can buy, right?) then this buying is unhelpful.

What can you do?

Use Mindfulness as an ally and helpful tool:

• Recognise the pain of past hurts and trauma. Use a simple soothing meditation to assist you in calming the hurt part of you. In my next Thursday blog I will include a simple meditation. If it is difficult to manage the pain then see a trauma informed counsellor.

• Set an intention to only buy what fits within your budget and list.

• Set a budget of how much you will spend on each person and be strict with it.

• Write a list of what you want to buy and stick to it.

When you find yourself looking at an item and wanting to buy it, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I really need this item? Is my brain hooked on its novelty or the advertising campaign around it?
  2. Is my desire to buy this item a deep need that wants my attention. This is where you can check in with yourself and ask what desire you have that you think buying this item will fulfil. Are you seeking love, connection, acceptance or to fill a childhood need? If you answer yes to any of this, stop and acknowledge the need and offer your wounded part compassion and understanding. Reassure that part it does not need that item anymore.
  3. Now ask yourself what will happen if you buy the item. Will you need to take money out of your present budget, which means someone else will miss out on a present? Will you instead spend money you have been saving for something else? Will you use the item and what will you use it for? Is this item good value for money? The question list is endless.

Whatever you decide, you need to be happy with your decisions.

It is also helpful to get help from a counsellor who is trained in trauma therapy and understands the issues around the pain of past hurts and traumas. I have training in trauma therapy and understand the pain.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your hurts and 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

Is my grief normal?

Many people come to see me because they are concerned they are not grieving properly. Many are told by family and friends that they should be over the grief by now and worry that their family and friends are right.

So what is considered “normal”?

It is normal to grieve a loss.

Grief is the emotional suffering you feel when someone or something you love is taken away. That pain can be overwhelming.

The emotional pain you experience can be mixed and not what you might expect to feel.

You may feel shock, anger, disbelief, relief, guilt, devastated, extremely sad, numbness, denial, despair, anxiety, loneliness, depression, helplessness and yearning.

You may feel overwhelming feelings and thoughts as well as physical sensations and behaviours you don’t normally experience.

Your progression through grief may not look like someone else’s progression through grief. But that doesn’t mean your grief experience is wrong, or that someone else’s grief experience is wrong. There are many different ways to grieve.

Basically, when you are grieving you will come to a point where you can:

• Accept the reality of your loss

• Allow yourself to experience the pain of your loss

• Adjust to the new reality in which who or what you have lost is no longer present

• Allow yourself to have other relationships.

All these things will take different amounts of time for different people and will be experienced at different intensities by different people.

You will reach a point when you find yourself interested in life again and are able to think of the one you love without a more manageable pain.

Sometimes the act of grieving becomes stuck and the person is known as suffering from prolonged grief, sometimes also known as complicated or persistent grief.

The definition of prolonged grief is that is must be at least 6-12 months after the loss of a loved one and be longer than the expectation of the society and culture to which the person belongs.

Such a person will still have a persistent longing for and preoccupation with the lost loved one that has not diminished with time. This longing will be accompanied by intense unrelenting emotional pain and will significantly impair the person’s daily function.

It is considered the person will have certain areas where they are emotionally stuck. These include:

• Sadness

• Guilt

• Anger

• Denial

• Difficulty accepting the death

• Feeling one has lost part of one’s emotional self,

• Emotional numbness, difficulty engaging with social or other activities

The person may not feel they have moved forward at all. They may feel stuck in the same pain they experienced immediately after the loss of their loved one.

This person may be unable to shake the sadness of their experience. They may be caught up in wishful thinking (If only …). They may still think and dream incessantly of the person who has died. They feel great pain related to the loss of their loved one.

They may find life is without meaning and find themselves unsure of where they fit into life anymore. They may even wish they had died with their loved one.

If you are concerned you, or someone you care about, is suffering prolonged grief then it is important to see a grief counsellor in order to work through those stuck points and release them.

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 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

Ambiguous Loss – how do you work with it?

There are many losses in life that are frequently overlooked as losses.

One is having a child with an intellectual disability. The loss of anticipated outcomes for that child is frequently unnoticed or unacknowledged. The same applies if someone you love suffers from an acquired brain injury, or a much loved parent gets dementia. In those situations you are grieving the loss of the person while they are still there.

This is an ambiguous loss.

Another ambiguous loss is when a loved one goes missing. You don’t know where they are or, in some cases, if they are alive. You may know your loved one is dead but no body has been found. You may wonder if they are alive or whether you should grieve their death. Again the loss is ambiguous.

When someone you love is a drug addict, or suffers from a severe mental illness, you can also experience ambiguous loss.

Ambiguous loss is often described as occurring when the person is physically present but psychologically absent, or physically absent but psychologically present.

The trouble with ambiguous loss is that people put their lives on hold as a result of the loss. If your parent with dementia dies, then you have a funeral and can say goodbye. But if the body of your parent is still there, but the personality that made them who they were is gone then you have suffered a loss of that parent. You can’t grieve them, because they are still there, but you suffer grief because they are not your parent anymore.

The same thing happens when someone you love is missing. They are not there, but you don’t know what has happened to them. They may eventually re-enter your life. You don’t know. So you can’t mourn.

This situation makes ambiguous loss traumatic. There is no resolution of this loss, no way to end it. If someone dies you have a funeral and you learn to move forward. With ambiguous loss there is no moving forward. That person is always in your life, either physically in the case of the parent with dementia, or psychologically in the case of the missing person.

Grief never stops when it is ambiguous. The torture of the person’s condition goes on day after day. You have lost the person you know but they are still there. Or the person you know is lost but still there in your mind because you don’t know where they are.

Research on the experiences of people whose loved one is physically present, but psychologically absent report feeling stressed, that life is chaotic and very confused. They feel sad, angry, frightened and can experience guilt and feelings of powerlessness. They are also likely to report feeling anxious about the future. Not surprisingly they will also report feeling physically depleted. Many report feeling that they are in a living nightmare that doesn’t stop. They reach out to friends for support. Initially that support is present, but over time friends drift away as they tire of providing support for an ongoing crisis that never ends. This results in the person often feeling unsupported and isolated.

Unfortunately, that person is very likely to be diagnosed as depressed, rather than suffering an ambiguous loss.

When someone is physically absent but psychologically present it is difficult for families to move on. Even when the evidence suggests the person is dead, without a body there is still a possibility they are alive. It is also difficult in that there are many unanswered questions about how the person has died. There is no sense of being able to make sense of a death where the circumstances surrounding the death and manner of death are never answered.

Part of the process of Grief is making meaning in the loved one’s death. How do you do that when you don’t know if they are dead? And if it is likely they died, you don’t know what happened. Eventually the grieving family members come to the conclusion their loved one is dead and they will never see their body. Then they have to construct their own meaning and truth around the death. The trouble with ambiguity is that a person’s grief process and cognition become frozen by the uncertainty and the processes that are needed to construct this meaning are blocked.

It is worth noting that this type of ambiguous loss occurs when a loved one has been kidnapped, or when people have been involved in a traumatic war or genocide event such as has happened in Syria, Rwanda, Cambodia and the Holocaust. It also happens when a loved one dies overseas and the body is never returned home. This was particularly common after the World Wars when the loved one was buried overseas, or was listed as missing. Another cause of ambiguous loss is where a family member is caught up in a religious cult, or caught up in a coercive control relationship where contact with the family is lost.

It is important to remember that your feelings are valid. You are grieving. Grief is normal. For you, grieving an ambiguous loss is more difficult than a more usual type of loss. There is no certainty, whether the one you love is missing or whether they are dying day by day from dementia. There is no death certificate, no funeral or memorial service. There is often nothing tangible to grieve. What you have lost and continue to lose every day is something other people cannot see.

Did you know that research has shown people suffering ambiguous loss feel incompetent, guilty and uncertain? That their sense of certainty in this world and their ability to cope with it is shattered. That it is common to feel helpless and confused?

One of the hardest, but most important tasks, of ambiguous loss is to work to change what you can and accept what you cannot. One of the hardest things to do is learn to be at peace with not knowing all the answers.

It is hard to deal with ambiguous loss on your own. This is where a grief trained counsellor is helpful.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your ambiguous 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

Childhood Trauma is also …

A lot of people I see do not recognise their childhood experience as traumatic.

It is not surprising. We as a society recognise physical or sexual abuse as traumatic. We may sometimes recognise aspects of verbal abuse as traumatic. But we miss many traumas that occur to children.

For the child growing up with trauma, their life seems normal. That child does not necessarily know that what happens in their family is different to what happens in other families. That awareness may not happen until adulthood, if at all.

So what else is Childhood Trauma?

• Being seen and not heard.

• A parent/parent figure denying your reality.

• Being told directly or indirectly that you can’t or shouldn’t experience certain emotions.

• Having a parent/parent figure who cannot regulate their emotions.
o This could be a parent who explodes into anger without warning
o Or it could be a parent who gets agitated and blames those around them, including you, for what is happening or calling you useless, incompetent, a troublemaker and so on.

• Having a parent/parent figure who is focused on their appearance.

• Having a narcissistic parent.

• Having a parent/parent figure who has no boundaries or has poor ones.

• Having a parent/parent figure that swears at you, insults you, puts you down, humiliates or acts in a way that makes you afraid that you might be physically hurt.

• Having a parent/parent figure that pushes, grabs, slaps or throws something at you, or hits you so hard they leave a mark.

• Being chased by an angry parent intent on punishing you and you are scared.

• Feeling that no one in your family loves you or thinks you were important or special.

• No one in your family looks out for each other, feels close to each other or supports each other.

• You don’t have enough to eat, have to wear dirty clothes, your parents are too drunk/high and can’t take care of you.

• Your parents are separated or divorced.

• Witnessing a parent being pushed, grabbed, slapped or having something thrown at them. Or being hit, kicked, bitten or threated with a gun or knife.

• There is someone in the house who is a problem drinker or drug taker.

• There is someone in the house who is depressed, mentally ill or attempted suicide.

• Someone in the family is in prison.

• Being bullied at school and/or at home.

• Having a parent/parent figure who is not attuned to you. (Doesn’t understand when you are sad, or upset, or even happy).

• Being told you are stupid, useless and other put downs.

• Not having anyone comfort you when you are upset or frightened.

The list goes on. The truth is, more people have been traumatised in childhood than haven’t. Some people manage to recover from this and learn skills to help them cope with the world as adults. Other people find coping with life difficult because of the many situations that trigger fear and because of the difficulty they had learning the skills to help them cope with the world as adults.

It is really important to be able to acknowledge that trauma and not feel ashamed of it. It is not your fault if those things happened to you.

It is also important to understand that, with the correct care, you can recover from that trauma.

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

What is the normal way to grieve?

Today I am going to revisit what Grief actually is, what is commonly experienced and when you might need to worry that you need extra help.

Most people think Grief is about crying – a lot. This crying is commonly believed to be worst at the funeral and then the funeral is over, you go home and get on with life. So many people tell me they have had friends and family tell them that the funeral is over so it is time to “get over it”.

If that was all grief was, we maybe would cope better, but it is far more than that.

Grief is total emotional, physical and mental chaos. The emotions are many and varied, ranging from total devastation, through guilt, fear, anger and many more.

If you lose something/someone that matters to you then you will grieve. It is normal to do that.

Grief will affect you totally, in every aspect of your self and your life. Your thoughts, behaviours, belief, feelings, even your health are affected by grief.

In addition, the way you relate to others and your world is also changed.

Grief is a normal part of life and many people will cope with grief without requiring outside help. They will find they have plenty of friends and family who will support them. They will be able to continue through life able to cope with the disruption of grief.

Not all people will experience that. They will experience feelings that are intense and persistent. Some may be so overwhelmed they require specialised help.

These different experiences are all perfectly normal.

What might you expect to experience as a result of Grief?

There is a meditation I do when I run groups for all ages. It involves walking through a forest. All the leaves on the trees are turning into autumn colours. But in this forest, it is not just the yellows, oranges, reds and browns. There are also pinks, purples, blues, greens – any colour that exists. As you walk through this forest your feet crunch the leaves on the ground. In the air around you leaves are falling off the trees and floating past you to the ground. Every so often you catch a leaf. These leaves have words written on them. Words that express your grief experience today.

After the meditation I ask people what the leaves had written on them. The answers are many and varied.

Some of the feelings people see on their leaves are: sadness, anger, anxiety, disbelief, panic, relief, irritability, numbness, hopelessness, devastation, confusion, fear, loneliness. There are many more. People experience a wide range of feelings, and they vary from day to day.

Many people also feel very lost after a grief. They find it hard to focus, to concentrate. Making decisions feels like a herculean task. They cannot find the clarity to decide anything. Many feel stuck in a deep, dark hole with no perceivable way out. Many tell me they feel they are going mad.

Many people report difficulty in sleeping. Other complain of headaches, nausea, aches and pains. Others just say they have no energy left.

Some of these physical symptoms are actually caused by the changes that occur in your brain during the first months of grief. Pathways in your brain change in response to the loss you have experienced. These changes take time and require a lot of energy and focus from the brain. This work of the brain can cause pain as well.

Another source of the physical pain is your feelings. Feelings are expressed in the body and can be experienced as pain, particularly when the feelings are around grief.

The important thing to remember is that grief is very individual. You will grieve in a different way to the next person. Some aspects of the grief will be similar, but there will also be aspects that are totally different.

Some people will be very open about what they are experiencing, other people will keep their feelings to themselves.

Culture, belief systems and gender have an impact on how people grieve. Your previous grief experiences will also influence how you grieve.

It is important to remember that grief never ends. There will always be some pain. In time it will become less, but it will never totally go away. The grief will become part of you as you move on through life. You will be changed by that grief.

Grief is about learning to accept the loss of that important person. It is about learning to live with the changes that have occurred to you and your life. The you that emerges from the experience of loss will be a different person to the one that existed before. You will need to learn also to trust again. Trust the world, trust the lives of other people you love, even trust other people.

Many people want to know when this pain will end, or at least become less. The answer is that there is no time limit to grief. Most people find after a few years they are feelings better able to cope, but there are those who still struggle for longer than that.

It is important during this period to look after yourself and make sure you set aside time to attend to your needs. This is particularly important if you are caring for others, such as children. Don’t become so immersed in their needs that you neglect your own. You are more use to your children if you are coping than if you are not.

It is important to put off making major decisions, such as moving house and giving away belongings, for several months until you feel better able to make decisions you may regret later.

You may wish to journal your experiences, if you can focus enough to do that. Many people tell me they found the journaling experience really helpful.

You may like to create a memorial – some people plant a special plant, install a seat, build a pond in their backyard. Creating a memorial gives you somewhere to visit to honour your loved one.

Other people develop rituals that they find helpful. One particularly popular one is to listen to the music your loved one loved.

Being able to express thoughts and feelings is really important. This doesn’t mean you have to express them to another person, you may prefer to journal them, write a letter, put together a photo album, draw. Never overlook the obvious one of allowing yourself to cry.

Other people find they are very restless and find exercising to be really helpful. Combining this with a reflective setting, such as walking on the beach, cycling along a bush track and sitting on a seat to meditate, can be helpful.

Those who have religious beliefs and practices find these observances helpful.

Other people seek out grief support groups, read books, anything that can help them compare their experience with others.

Be sure to take time out for rest and special care, such as a massage, meditation, retreat.

If sleep is a problem exercise, restricting alcohol and caffeine intake coupled with a good sleep routine can be helpful.

You may find it helpful to talk to a counsellor to find support and explore other ways you can process your grief and manage with life.

Don’t be frightened to seek help if you need it.

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

The spiral of healing

I have had many clients over the years who struggle with healing. They find themselves being triggered again and again and find themselves back in that pain and anger place. They feel frustrated at the seeming lack of healing.

But healing is not a straightforward “magic wand” action. It is not a direct process. It doesn’t involve steps that continue in a straight line, it takes twists and turns.

When I worked as a registered nurse, I worked with people on the healing journey of physical injury. Their healing rarely progressed in a straight line. It was more like a spiral. And their healing hurt.

If physical healing is convoluted and painful, why do we expect emotional healing to be straightforward and painless?

If we liken emotional healing to a spiral, it makes a lot more sense. Healing does loop around. Some days you may feel on top of the world. You are free of the pain and functioning well. Other days you seem mired in the pain and dysfunction you are seeking to escape.

Experiencing those difficult days is not a failure or backstep. It is actually an opportunity for you to heal further. If you explore those difficult times, you often find insights you had not seen before. This allows you to recognise and heal sources of pain. You may also encounter a familiar pain you have struggled to heal in the past. But this time, you are further on the healing journey and able to process and heal that pain.

Those days are also an opportunity to practise the new skills you have learned and to discover that you are able to cope much better with these old hurts. In fact being able to attend to them in a new and healthier way is amazingly liberating.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your healing, 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