Writing the story of your grief

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


As human beings we love stories.

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


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

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

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


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

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

What happens when the story teller dies?

How do you fashion a new story?


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

Now you have to write your own.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Will you come with me?

You may call it a journey or just an exploration.

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

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

I am going to call this exploration a story.


The hero of the story is you.

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

Where are you?


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

What are you going to write about where you are?


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“This is my story about …”

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

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

Stop Gaslighting Yourself

It seems everyone is speaking about gaslighting.

First as a form of abuse

Then as a way to shut down victims.

Gaslighting is a common way to control people.

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


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

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

You learn to gaslight yourself.


Today I want to remind you to just stop.

To stop and pay attention to the pain inside.

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

I want you to stop gaslighting yourself.


Stop and tell yourself these 4 things:

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

When Anger is Positive

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

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


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

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

There is a need for freedom to express anger.


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Anger is a natural response to your boundaries being violated.

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Gold in Dark Places

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Maybe for a while you do panic.


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

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


So you get up and sit against a wall.


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

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

This gold is your way out of this dark place.

So you take it and leave your dark place.


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

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


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

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

This is the gold that has changed you.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Are you willing to get out of the mine?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with getting out of the mine, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

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

We Need To Stop Rushing And Respect The Time Healing Takes

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


At some stage the plaster comes off.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

• “what ifs”,

• the “if onlys”,

• the “I should haves”,

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

• the harsh judgements of your behaviour,

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth About Mental Health and Pills

When Freud published his ground breaking work on mental health over a century ago, mental health treatment moved from the dark ages of asylums to recovery. But over the past 30-40 years, mental health treatment has been pushed aside and relegated to something only people with money can afford.


In 1986, people diagnosed with depression were sent to therapy. Less than half of those diagnosed with depression were given some form of medication. The go to treatment for depression was therapy.

Now, almost 40 years later, you are more likely to be prescribed a medication for depression. Four times as likely.

Being referred to therapy is rare.

The reason for this was the marketing of the SSRI and SNRI drugs such as Prozac.


In the marketing speak of the pharmaceutical companies you had to take pills. With the lack of ways of examining the brains of living people it was easy to insert the idea that depression was caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain.

In our modern culture people prefer instant fixes. When we get a cold, we buy a cold and flu tablet to help us get over it quickly. When we have depression, instead of taking the time to find the root cause and treat it, so we are less likely to get depression again, we head for the quick fix of a medication.

These days, the idea of a “chemical imbalance” is widely believed to be the truth.


The fact is, there is no “chemical imbalance” causing depression. Depression is caused by unresolved issues.

The belief that a tablet will “change” your brain where therapy won’t is widespread.

The truth is, therapy does change your brain and those changes will occur without harming your brain.

The truth is, the SSRIs and SNRIs damage the brain when used long term. What was only intended to be used for a short period of a few months maximum is now used year after year after year.

I see a lot of people who want to get off these drugs that they have been on for years. We can try and we can hope the damage done to their brains is repairable. The sad truth is increasing evidence shows long term use of these drugs causes damage. Like tobacco in past decades, there has been no court case to set a legal precedent to establish the damage caused. But like tobacco, that day will come.


Here are some facts:
• Researchers can find no evidence of chemical imbalances in the brains of depressed people.
• Multiple research studies have failed to find any evidence of chemical imbalances in the brains of depressed people.
• Some people can be helped by these drugs, but so can people given placebos. Actually there is no significant difference in the effectiveness of the drugs compared to placebos.
• Exercise helps significantly more people with depression than drugs.

Here are some other facts:
• researchers discovered an overwhelmingly strong link between childhood trauma and depression in adulthood in the 1980s
• A stronger link to suicidality and childhood trauma was also discovered
• These findings have been replicated in multiple research studies.


The facts demonstrate:
• Bipolar disorder is caused by emotional dysregulation that occurs as a result of childhood trauma.
• If you have childhood trauma you are 3 times more likely to develop schizophrenia than those without a trauma history. Increase the number of traumatic events and the likelihood increases exponentially.
• If you have autism you are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia due to misinterpretation of your autism symptoms.
• People with schizophrenia have multiple traumas that make emotional regulation, the organising of thoughts and connecting with reality incredibly difficult.


Research has shown children living in traumatic environments are constantly in fight-flight-freeze mode. Their bodies respond by releasing cortisol and adrenaline into their systems. These effects are frequent and can last for hours.

The brains of these children are activated by the fight-flight-freeze mode. This happens so often their brains are primed to react quickly to danger and take longer to go back to normal.

These defence systems in the body fire again and again and again.

The child is flooded with emotions like fear, anger, shame, guilt and sadness. This flooding of emotions prevents the parts of the brain that plan and control emotions from developing fully.

The protective lining on brain cells does not form properly. Research has shown that even DNA is altered. If this happens severely enough genes in the DNA can be switched off.

There is often no adult available to help that child calm down and regulate. As the child grows they may well use cigarettes, alcohol or drugs to soothe themselves.


If you have childhood trauma you are:
• 2 times more likely to smoke
• 5 times more likely to use illegal drugs
• 7.5 times more likely to abuse alcohol
• 10 times more likely to inject drugs
• 30% more likely to be sedentary
• 60% more likely to be severely obese.

You can see where this is going. If you smoke, take drugs, abuse alcohol, are obese and sedentary or any one of those things you are at higher risk of 7 of the leading causes of death. That is heart disease, cancer, lung diseases, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and suicide.


Therapy by a trained therapist works to heal the psychological injuries and to help you learn the skills necessary to cope with the stress of life and be able to regulate your emotions.

It may be that you might need pills for short periods of time during crisis periods, but the real healing will come from properly targeted therapy.

Research has shown that DNA recovers with therapy. This does not happen with pills where the DNA damage remains.

Other research has shown that after therapy 80% of people who took pills will suffer another depressive episode compared to 30% of people who received therapy.


I am a trauma trained therapist with over a decade of experience treating trauma. If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your 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

Losing Someone Is and Isn’t Like Losing My Phone

Have you ever lost something important, like your purse or phone, and raced back to find it, only to have it never be found again?

What was that like to experience that?

Most people asked that question will say they felt panic and disbelief. Panic at how they would manage without it and disbelief that it could be lost.

Then they started to berate themselves at losing it.

Up came the “if only I had been more careful”. “If only I had checked to make sure I had it at such and such a place.”

Many people report feeling sick at the thought of losing this item. They may feel disoriented and very vulnerable. Then they start to wonder what will happen. How will they manage without their phone, credit cards, money.

We form attachments to objects and people

When we lose things we are often devastated. We have a strong attachment to the things we own, particularly those that matter to us.

It is similar with people we are attached to. The people who matter in our lives.

Neurologically that attachment can be seen in the brain. We have neuronal pathways in our brains that allow us to experience what others are feeling. When we see another person performing an activity our mirror neurons respond. When we see another person hurt themselves we can understand their pain. More recently neuroscientists have identified the role of mirror neurons in human attachment. The attachments we form with the people we are closest to.

What’s it like losing someone you love?

If you can imagine being so upset at the loss of a phone or purse, what would it be like to lose the person you love deeply?

Many words come to mind:

Devastated, deprived, destitute, stripped, bereft, bereaved.

These words are synonyms of each other.

Other synonyms are disbelief, disorientation, vulnerable.

Similar reactions to losing your phone but much more extreme.

When I was looking for synonyms for bereaved I not only came across the above words, but I also came across other phrases.

One “to be robbed” was a surprise. But when I thought about it I realised it made sense. This important person in your life is gone. You search for them. You don’t believe you could possibly have lost them. You berate yourself for being so careless. You start on the what ifs and progress to the how will I manage?

You search, even hunt for the person, for evidence of their continued existence. You feel disbelief. You bargain to keep them here. You start on the what ifs. You are anxious, fearful, sad, disbelieving, terrified and feeling guilty.

You have a strong sense of how unfair this all is. You may even think you don’t deserve this. Worse, you may feel that is your lot in life, to have everyone leave you.

Putting off the inevitable until it catches you

Although death is inevitable, we all push that knowledge aside and don’t think about it. We don’t think about our own death and we don’t think about the death of those we love. So unless we know someone is dying, we don’t prepare for that time.

Despite your strongest desire to not be here, here you are.

Life is suddenly hard. So, so hard.

You are struggling and experiencing many things: Here is a list of some of the things you may be experiencing:

• Insomnia
• Physical exhaustion
• Loss of time
• Confusion
• Sadness
• Anger
• Clumsiness
• Sleeping all the time
• Anxiety
• Nightmares
• Intense dreams
• Loss of appetite
• Loss of interest
• Feeling like you don’t belong
• Eating everything
• Frustration
• Sense of unreality
• Loneliness
• Memory loss
• Physical sensations including chest pain and stomach pain
• Unable to concentrate
• Difficult to focus on reading
• Short attention span
• Restlessness
• Hypersensitivity to anything and everything
• Phantom aches and pains
• Interpersonal challenges
• Feeling that nothing has meaning
• Feeling that everything has meaning
• Inability to cry
• Inability to stop crying, you may even cry so much you gag or vomit.
• Numbness
• Mood swings
• Everyday tasks seem confusing
• Dark sense of humour
• Screaming in the car, out walking, in your bedroom, in the shower.
• Crying silently
• Feeling different from everyone else
• Feeling short tempered
• Unable to complete tasks, such as shopping, putting things away. You may find you walk away in the middle of doing something.
• Feeling immense love for everything around you.

The list is extensive. And this is only some of the list. What you may be experiencing may not even be on the list. That doesn’t make it abnormal, it just means I haven’t listed it.

Grief involves your entire body

It is important to know that grief is a full body experience.

There are good reasons why you are tired.

There are good reasons why your stamina seems to have evaporated.

There are valid reasons for your lack of focus and that you find even simple tasks impossible to do.

Your brain is trying to make sense of an event that doesn’t make sense. It is trying to dismantle neural pathways and build new ones. This is in addition all the usual daily requirements of your brain. No wonder then that it has trouble functioning.

Your body is trying to hold the impossible reality of this even within itself. That doesn’t leave a lot of capacity for normal daily tasks of living.

All of you is working hard to just get through each day.

You don’t “get over” grief

Remember that there is no getting over grief. You will most likely reach a point where you can learn to live with what has happened but you will not get over it.

Closure is a word that is used a lot but is something that does not happen. You may find a sense of “meaning” in what has happened, but you will never reach closure.

Remember that grief is often described as love after death. It is so true.

Grief is hard

Grief is really hard. It will impact you physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually.

There are no stages in death. These 5 stages devised by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross were used to describe the process of a person dying, not the experience of those who are left behind. It was never intended to be a description of anything else but dying.

Death is the end of a person’s life. However, the relationship we have with the person still continues.

Grief is inevitable

Grief is inevitable. We will all die and we will all lose someone we love.

Grief is part of the way our brains work. It is a function of our brains to form strong connections to the people we love. It is also part of the function of our brains to grieve.

Importantly, it is also part of the function of our brains to heal.

It is said that healing begins when we reach a point of understanding our loss was not something we wanted or deserved. It is just something we have.

When we can understand and accept that then we can start to grieve.

Trust your brain

I always tell people to trust what their brains are doing and to be kind to themselves. I remind them they are the one who needs support and understanding and to allow time for that.

I remind them that at the funeral they are not required to flit around being sociable and attending to the needs of others.

You are required to cry if you need to. To remove yourself from the company of others if that is what you need. To allow yourself to be looked after if you need it. To walk away from attending to the needs of others, unless they are your children. You will attend to your children’s needs and then your own, always your own. To not have unrealistic expectations of how much you can achieve. To accept that you are doing your best.

It’s your right to grieve

These words by Thich Nhat Hanh (How to live when a loved one dies) are a lovely affirmation of your right to grieve.

“When we lose a loved one, our heart is filled with a deep suffering that we cannot express. But we can express our pain in tears. We can cry. When you cry, you feel better.

“Men can cry too. I wanted to cry when I saw someone else crying. It is human nature to cry. To be able to cry brings comfort, relief and healing.

“if you want to cry, please cry.

And know that I will cry with you.

The tears you shed will heal us both

Your tears are mine.”

Prolonged Grief

It is vital to remember that you are hard-wired to heal from grief. However, the wound can become infected and you may need more specialist assistance from a therapist trained in working with Prolonged Grief Disorder.

Getting 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

I am also trained in working with Prolonged Grief Disorder and can help you if that is your experience in grief.

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

Are you frightened by silence?

For many people silence is unpleasant.

You may be someone who, when there is a quiet lull in the conversation, rushes to fill the silence with sound.

In the silence you can hear sounds you try to ignore. In particular you can hear your body talking to you. You can hear your intuition urgently telling you to listen.

Silence is intense, deep and powerful.

If you don’t want to hear what your body has to tell you.

If you are frightened of what your intuition is trying to impart to you.

If the idea of confronting the you that you hear in the silence fills you with fear.

Then silence is scary.

In the silence you hear the parts of you that you find frightening.

In the silence you meet the real you.

In the movie Never Ending Story Atreyu encounters a mirror that shows who he is inside. It is said that many have encountered this mirror and run away screaming. Atreyu sees the mirror and realises he is the boy Bastian who is reading the story. He is terrified.

Atreyu and Bastian stand their ground and continue, realising the knowledge they now hold is not terrifying at all.

Many people, confronted by their real selves, run. It takes strength to stay and face your true self.

Blocking out the real self

Many people are so terrified of the self they find in the silence that they fill their lives with sound. These are the people who constantly have to have music playing. Who can’t even go on a bush picnic without loud music. Who are lost without music drowning out their self within.

But if you stop and listen to the silence you will discover immense strength and power in it. You will experience the great weight and quality of silence.

You will discover that all sound emanates from silence and returns to it. It is in silence that sound is able to exist.

Allowing the silence

If you allow silence in, you will discover a place where your mind is calmed and your body rejuvenated.

Try sitting in silence. Early in the morning is a good time to do this. Just sit still and listen.

Allow yourself to relax into the silence and sit with the discomfort of thoughts and feelings you usually try to avoid.

Allow yourself to notice the thoughts are there without engaging with them. You will usually find that allowing the discomfort is never as terrifying as you imagined it might be.

Allow yourself to experience the self you try to ignore.

Allow yourself to feel the vastness and potency of silence.

Allow the silence to cleanse you

In silence, in connection to self, you find a vast well of creativity.

Memories in the silence

If the silence awakens terrifying memories, then you can be helped by seeing a trauma trained counsellor.

Do be sure the counsellor you see is trauma trained. Many claim to be able to work with trauma but have no understanding of it.

I am trauma trained and follow the Blue Knot Foundation guidelines in treating trauma.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your terrifying thoughts, 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 There Meaning In Loss?

Victor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor, wrote that we human beings are meaning making. He wrote this after witnessing people dying in the concentration camps.

When you think about it, it is true.

Making Meaning Is Difficult

That said, Making meaning out of the death of a loved one is really difficult. So many losses feel meaningless and unfair.

I see many people who struggle with this.

My Role In Your Grief Journey

My role as a counsellor is not to “fix” your grief and give you meaning for it.

My role as your counsellor is to walk alongside you as you experience the intense pain and confusion of your loss. To be present while you deal with the desperate fight/flight response in your body.

My role is to be a witness to your story and help you feel empowered to share it with others if you wish to do so. Your story is important but often the opportunities for your story to be heard are few.

I can also help you express the parts of your story that cannot be told in words by giving you the opportunity to use art and movement.

Handling The Questions

I can help you as your struggle with the many questions you have.

Working with you in your grief is a privilege. It is a time of tenderness, sadness and poignancy.

Why I Care

I have experienced personally how hard it is to grieve in a society that seeks to shut down grief.

As a nurse I witnessed the pain of grieving families and felt frustrated at the ways their grief was shut down by others.

My desire is to give you the support I wish I had received.

I hate the fact you may have been shut down and told you are mad, or need medications because you are still in pain.

How I Want To Help You

I want to sit with you and tell you that you are perfectly normal.

I want to tell you that you can cry as much as you need to.

I want you to find a place of sanctuary where you can experience you grief and find a way to hold your hurt, heal and grow.

I want to remind you to have compassion for yourself. The journey is hard and you need to cut yourself some slack as you negotiate this new reality.

I want you to learn to honour your feelings and honour your needs.

I want to teach you how to use your self compassion to move through your deep suffering without giving in to despair or self blame.

I want to teach you how you can use touch to soothe yourself when things are overwhelming.

My Own Experiences

Over the years I have learned to share, when appropriate, my own experiences. I am not ashamed at how hard it has been to grieve. I am proud of the way I survived and grew through the experience. I am proud of the way I continue to manage that grief.

I may tell you, if it seems appropriate, that I have been there too and have experienced that disorientation. I too have thought I was going mad. I too have found no one to support me.

Being Present For You

I don’t have good answers for you. I can’t tell you why your loved one died.

However I can be present for you. I can provide a space of care and safety where you can share your pain and be supported. A space where you can feel life isn’t as crazy as you thought.

Finding Meaning … Or Not

As for the search for meaning. I don’t think the meaning is necessarily about finding meaning in the death of your loved one. I think the meaning is often in you finding the meaning of that loss in your life.

The meaning you may find in the loss of your loved one is very personal. It may also take time to find. I have seen people who decided to try a new venture because they realise life is too precious to waste time in being frightened to try new things. That is the meaning they found in their loved one’s death.

This person you loved. The one who is now gone. They existed. They were part of your life. An important part of your life. They laughed and cried. You looked into their face. You heard their voice. You have so many memories of them, all with emotions attached. Now all you have are memories that appear to be fading.

Being Prepared Never Happens

Rarely is someone’s death something you are ready for.

There are always questions, what ifs, if onlys.

You are in pain and you can’t see an end to it.

I Give You Permission

You have permission to be affected by this death. You have permission to be sad. You have permission to be angry. You have permission to find that every time you remember this person there is now pain attached to that memory. You have permission to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.

You are allowed to grieve as long as you need. You also have permission to decide one day you are going to move on to a different stage in your life. You are going to change your relationship with your grief.

You do reach a point where you realise that it is important to honour the person you have lost and to honour what their presence in your life was. Part of that honouring is acknowledging how much it hurt to lose them. Another harder part is imagining a future that they are not in.


Let me tell you the story of Amber*.

Amber told me that she realised one day that the love she felt for her loved one was forever, not just while they were both on this earth together. That she will always be able to love her lost loved one.

Amber was able to look at the future and think about what her lost loved one might have wanted for her for the future, whether they were in it or not.

Once she realised this, she was able to feel okay to remember. To see the memories as precious moments to smile about and remember fondly.

Strolling To The “Finish Line”

It is possible to find meaning, but not immediately. Grief is not a rush to reach that finish line, but instead a series of steps, halting at first, that may gain momentum as time goes on or may always be slow and hesitant.

Finding meaning is something that may come later, much later when the acute pain of grief has begun to settle. And if you are never aware of finding that meaning. That is okay too. Not everyone does.

Remember, everyone grieves differently.

*not her real name – in fact any identifying information including possibly gender has been removed to protect their confidentiality

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with finding meaning in your loss or more importantly 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

I want to feel stronger and feel better about myself

You had a childhood much like others seemed to have. Maybe you were bullied. Maybe your father was impossible to please. Maybe you always seemed to be the one singled out when someone needed blaming for things that went wrong. Maybe you never felt understood.

There was nothing obvious about your childhood.

But you have grown up and there are people you find yourself unable to set boundaries with and you don’t understand why.

Here are some of the people you may be struggling with.

The manipulator

You know the one. Ultra friendly but they always talk talked negatively about another person you barely know. They may say one things in this relentless narrative that is true, so that must mean everything else they say is true as well, right?

So you believe her and avoid the person she is targeting. Maybe you tell others about what a horrible person they are.

Then you discover the woman was telling you lies. You discover the other person is actually a lovely person who hasn’t done anything they’ve been accused of doing.

You feel so ashamed.

You still feel ashamed at how easily you believed the lies.

It reminds you that you have lived your life believing lies told to you by other people.

Your mother telling you that you were useless.

The bullies at school.

The bullies in adulthood.

You feel so ashamed at your fawning behaviour.

But this behaviour was how you learned to survive as a child.

Forgive yourself for not knowing better at the time.

The power grabber

You are with a friend. She is a very dominating person and she wants both of you to do something you are not comfortable with. You don’t feel confident enough to say no. You go along with what she has said. You are not happy with what you have done.

You feel ashamed.

You gave away your power and did not stand up for your values.

As a child other people could do things, but not you.

You learned that you had no power and no right to say no.

Forgive yourself for giving away your power.

Going along with the bullying

You are at work and a workmate is being bullied. You have the opportunity to defend them, but you are afraid, so you remain quiet and say nothing.

Later the workmate is diagnosed with a trauma related condition due to the bullying.

You feel ashamed and weak for not supporting the person.

Forgive yourself for past behaviours.

What you do to survive

You learned in your childhood how to survive.

You learned behaviours such as:

• Fawning

• Going along with the bullies

• Not defending your friends

• Sacrificing your values and participating in behaviour you felt was wrong

• Not setting boundaries

Those behaviours helped you to survive.

Forgive yourself for the survival patterns and traits you picked up while enduring the difficult and unfair moments of childhood.

Forgive yourself for being who you needed to be to survive.

Do these behaviours trouble you?

Do you want to change them?

I am trained in working with these behaviours.

I know how to help you break the patterns of the past.

I am committed to walking alongside you as you learn new, more fulfilling ways of being.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you feel stronger, set boundaries and feel better about yourself, 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