The Issue of Unacknowledged Pain in Loss and Grieving
Why those who suffer feel the need to share their pain, why people find it hard to listen, and what can you do about it.
When you lose something or someone dear to your heart, the pain can be excruciating. It can be a lot worse than physical pain because no one can see it and thus people assume you are fine when you feel as if you were bleeding and dying inside. Going through the pain of loss and grief is not easy and when you are experiencing it, you are anything but fine.
Loss, and especially traumatic loss, could be seen as a form of emotional and psychological injury. Just like physical wounds take time and proper care to heal, so do psychological. Metaphorically speaking, there are similarities in the healing process of both types of wounds.
The first step in the healing process
Physical wounds have to be cleaned first, so that they do not get infected. In the healing of psychological wounds, the cleaning is provided by talking about it and letting your feelings out. The more you try to bury your pain inside, the more you deny it and refuse to open up, the more likely the wound will get ‘infected’ instead of healed. Pain will not disappear if you suppress it and unresolved issues will not be resolved if you refuse to talk about them.
One of the most helpful approaches to dealing with emotional pain is to start talking or writing about it. This helps to ease the pain and makes it more bearable. A desire to tell stories and share personal experiences is a part of what being human is all about. We are social creatures and through telling our story we not only feel better ourselves but also help others find ways to deal with their problems.
Talking about it helps, but it can also be hard
Traditionally, we have not been brought up in the spirit of openly talking about and processing these feelings. One of the main reasons why people find it hard to talk about emotional pain and grief is that it makes most people uncomfortable. Those who talk about it might fear that they will come across as weak and those who listen find it painful because mirror neurons in our brain literally make us feel the pain of another as if it were our own.
People avoid pain so they might withdraw and avoid listening to anything that makes them feel bad. Furthermore, most people do not know how to react and what to say beyond how sorry they feel for you. They have not been trained to deal with such issues and so they might say that life goes on and that you need to move on too. They might make you feel that you’ve been mourning for too long or tell you to get over it already.
These are some of the most common responses and even though people say such things with best intentions, they hurt rather than help. So while it is OK to mention loss in our society, it is not seen as OK to dwell on it for too long. But is that healthy? No, it is not. You need to process the loss and that takes time, compassion (including self-compassion), opening up, and understanding what’s happening inside before you can reach closure.
Who could you talk to?
We understand that we need medical attention when it comes to physical wounds, but we all too often deny this same need when it comes to emotional pain. Would you attempt stitching an open wound yourself or ask a friend to do it? Probably not. But when it comes to emotional pain, we tend do just that. Instead of seeking professional help, we overburden close ones with issues they might not be qualified to deal with or seek solace in self-medication and suppression of grief.
Support groups where you meet others who are going through the same kind of experience can be useful. In these groups you can talk openly, socialise, and meet new people, but you might not necessarily get the full attention and individual guidance you might need. It also takes time to be ready to meet new people and so this might not be the best option for everyone.
Opting for individual sessions with someone who is qualified, willing, and able to devote their full attention to you is advisable. This does not mean that there is something wrong with people who grieve and that they need to see a psychiatrist. Suffering because of a loss is a natural reaction and in most cases never develops into a mental disorder. Loss and grief, however, are not easy to deal with and those who go through it could use some help.
If you are trying to cope with loss, it is important to find someone you resonate with and feel safe and comfortable with. This could be a life coach, a psychologist, a therapist, a priest or anyone else who is specialized in helping people to cope with these issues.
I am one of those people and I launched Transform the Pain as an online individual support service to help in coping with grief and transformation of the pain of loss into a meaningful life experience.
Transform The Pain
Transform the Pain was born from my personal experiences with some of the most severe forms of loss. I could say that I not only graduated in psychology but also in dealing with loss through what I personally went through.
If you’d like to transform your pain, book your session here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get your first session free.
Thanks to Justine M Dunn for editing.
Mateja graduated summa cum laude in psychology from Arizona State University and is now working on her online service Transform the Pain to help people cope with grief and loss. She previously worked as a freelance journalist, radio personality, and psychologist. Her life resembles a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs and some pretty wild turns. Among other things, her car was destroyed by tanks and she survived several brushes with death.