The only “wrong” way to grieve is not to grieve at all or to shame yourself for what you feel. Grieving is different for every person, and we all do it in our own way. What is unfortunate about grieving in the western world is that it is not widely talked about. We are also encouraged to grieve behind closed doors — making it an even more isolating and painful experience.
When Grieving Really Goes Wrong
While there is no “wrong” way to grieve, there are ways to prolong the grieving process and make things significantly worse. Grieving doesn’t go anywhere. Avoiding the process, pretending things didn’t happen, or trying to escape it will only make things worse. The following are things to avoid, as much as possible, while tending to your heart during grieving.
Suppressing Difficult Emotions
Trying to suppress or deny your feelings can lead to unresolved grief and emotional pain. It’s important to allow yourself to experience and express your emotions, even if they are difficult or uncomfortable.
Losing a family member or a beloved pet is a traumatizing and painful experience. You may feel the deepest sorrow you have ever experienced — a sadness so strong that it takes you down. That is okay. It is important to have great courage in the face of big waves of emotion. This is what grieving is. It hurts, and it’s ugly — but it is necessary for healing.
Withdrawing from social connections and avoiding activities you used to enjoy can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. It’s important to stay connected with friends and family members who can offer support and comfort during the grieving process.
This looks different for everyone, and shouldn’t be forced. It’s quite normal to recluse after someone you love dies. It’s a very introspective time, and being around other people may bring on feelings of anxiety and alienation. But completely shutting off from the world for months, forgetting your hobbies and passions, and completely dissociating from life is dangerous.
Using Substances to Cope
Using drugs or alcohol to numb your emotions can lead to addiction and further emotional distress. It’s important to find healthy coping mechanisms that don’t involve substance abuse.
Substance abuse and grieving can be interconnected, as some individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with the intense emotions and pain associated with loss. However, using substances to cope with grief can lead to a variety of negative consequences, both short-term and long-term.
While grief is a lifelong affair, with time, it can become manageable. Acquiring an addiction in the early stages of grief makes grief far less manageable— and creates a whole new problem to be solved. Don’t try to escape your feelings. Feeling numb might be relieving at first, but it is not worth the aftermath.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse while grieving, it’s important to seek help. Support from mental health professionals, grief counselors, or support groups can provide guidance and coping strategies to navigate the grieving process without relying on substances. Early intervention and support can help prevent long-term negative consequences and promote a healthier grieving process.
Blaming yourself and/or Others
Blaming yourself or others for the loss can lead to feelings of guilt, anger, and resentment. It’s important to recognize that grief is a natural process and that no one is to blame for the loss. It is also imperative to accept that people will grieve in their own ways.
Allow space for others to grieve as they will, without taking their process personally. In doing so, you might find that you are allowing yourself the space to do the same. Grief is a fickle, wild, painful thing that looks very different from person to person.
Let it be.
Rushing the Process
Grieving takes time, and there is no set timeline for how long it should last. Trying to rush the process or avoid it altogether can lead to unresolved grief and emotional pain. Honor your feelings wherever you are in your process, and understand that the stages of grief are not linear.
It is very common, even years after someone has passed away, to have moments of disbelief that it actually happened. It is normal to experience waves of anger over the death well after you have truly accepted the loss.
Take a Breath
As previously mentioned — grief is a feral animal that can not be tamed. There is no way to control it, manipulate it, or make it work for you and your life. It is a tidal wave that must be endured. There is no going around it, over it, or underneath it. The only way is through.
And that can feel really unfair, given that you probably just want to feel some sort of normalcy. Isn’t losing your person enough? And now you have to battle deep emotions, feelings of sadness, AND carry on with a normal life?
It can feel like a lot, but know this:
You are not alone.
Be gentle with yourself.
Be gentle with others.
And finally — practice unbridled, wild and radical self-love and acceptance.
You can do this.