We are blessed with a guest article. It is given to us by Barbara A. McGuire, the Registrar for the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. The original article is at http://www.pastoralreport.com, date July 5, 2011.
Embracing All We Are —by Barbara A. McGuire
“Sadness is not the opposite of happiness. It is one of the myriad ways in which we respond from our whole self to what life brings. It is a path toward healing life’s hurts. Let the anguish in your heart be heard”. A. Quezada
When someone we love dies, the body reacts with shock. The circulation slows, breathing is shallow and we become disoriented. After the numbness wears off, our bones ache and our muscles are sore. We have no interest in food and although we might feel exhausted when we go to bed, we often can’t sleep; or we sleep too much. This is how the body grieves. Grief affects our body, mind and soul.
Nonetheless, expectations are put upon the grieving within our Western society that encourage people to deaden their pain, avoid it or worse pretend it is not there. We are socialized to believe that when a loved one dies we are suppose to ‘get on with our lives’, ‘get back to normal’ or ‘get over our grief.” These mistaken beliefs create an environment for the grieving that is unrealistic. Yet these myths perpetuate throughout our society because they become part of the cultural belief system about the grieving process; they are inaccurate and wrong.
People will compare grieving to living through a long winter; where life lies dormant in those long, dark, cold months; feeling it impossible that one day there will again be spring. Despite the fact that many people have gone through this winter; they continue to devalue the importance and value of expressing feelings that accompany grief. Grieving and supporting the grieving involves work.
Societies unrealistic expectations and inappropriate response to normal grief reactions can make the experience worse than it needs to be. When a loved one has died and the person grieving hears unhealthy suggestions, it creates more confusion. The griever would have fewer conflicts about expressing their grief if those around them would promote the expression of these feelings. Promotion of feelings would allow for more realistic expectations about the grief process and acceptance of the expression of these feelings would help in the healing; creating less conflict for the griever. Dr. Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist, confirms the necessity of all emotions when she says, “…all emotions are healthy, because emotions are what unite the mind and body. Anger, fear, and sadness, the so-called negative emotions, are as healthy as peace, courage, and joy.” It is time for all clinicians to become a support to grievers, not an obstacle.
Why do we avoid this pain? As a culture we have been taught to run from the ‘bad’ feelings, which hold just as much if not more value than the ‘good’ feelings. My client’s fight back their tears, hold their breath and ‘suck it up’. Our culture teaches us that expressing our feelings is a sign of weakness. Yet the opposite is true! Clinicians need to encourage their clients to cry, shriek, scream, and wail. Our hearts are broken and it is in that weeping where our healing will begin.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could openly express all the emotions we have been fortunate to receive? In conversation with psychotherapist and colleague, Perry Miller, I mentioned how, “As a culture we run from the ‘bad’ feelings which hold just as much, if not more, value than the ‘good’ feelings”. Perry replied, “I wish clinical chaplains and psychotherapists could embrace that truth rather than having to support and encourage at the expense of the substance of genuine expression of humanity and suffering from those whom they extend their care”.
I couldn’t agree more, this tension of opposites; your body tells you one thing and culture teaches something else. We want to cry but we hold back our tears. We feel one way but are taught to act in another.
Jung encourages us to, “Go into your grief for there your soul will grow”. As clinicians it is our role to assist clients in recognizing the soul work of grieving, just as nature’s work of renewal, cannot be rushed. Sometimes it is enough to bear witness. Or as T.S. Eliot eloquently said: “The faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting.”
As clinicians it is our job to invite our clients into something new. We can only do so if we ourselves believe it. So let us not shrink from the darkness but rather, gathering strength from nature’s example, wait patiently and faithfully for spring.
Barbara A. McGuire, LCSW works as a bereavement counselor for Hospice Care Network (HCN) in New York. She provided individual and group support to patient families at HCN. Barbara also provides these supports for members of the local community. Barbara is the registrar for CPSP.