Given the regular occurrence of tragedy in the news, it is not uncommon to fluctuate between feeling numb to tragic news and feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. The Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr aptly states that “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” Emotional pain is one of those experiences that can influence people to react in as many different ways as you can imagine (from productive to destructive). Grieving and enduring emotional pain (disappointment, rejection, sadness, etc.) is an important emotional experience. Despite the desire to avoid or minimize emotional pain, it is often the expression of pain that strengthens relationships and social support.
Let’s be honest, sorrow makes most people feel uncomfortable; both those who are experiencing it and those who are trying to be a comfort or support. And unfortunately, it is that discomfort that makes many people avoid sharing their grief or pain. Yet it is exactly that exchange of pain and support that brings us together. Without a healthy expression of sorrow and pain, it starts to come out in various ways, often destructive ways.
My encouragement to you would be to start small. It is not important if you do it well (expressing the grief or offering the support), it’s just important that you do it. For those of you who are grieving, tell a friend or loved one that you are hurting, sad, discouraged, or overwhelmed. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or expansive. Simply telling someone about your pain makes the pain more bearable because you know that you are not alone. For those of you who are offering support, I can’t emphasize enough how powerful the simple act of listening can be. You don’t need to know what to say, you don’t need to know how to say it, and often times you may not even need to say anything. Being there for another person speaks volumes.
And while many times there might be one person who is clearly in the role of griever and another in the role of supporter, often times those roles are shared among all involved. The most important aspect of the grieving process is to express your pain in a healthy way.
Tips for grieving:
- Recognize your feelings of grief, sadness, disappointment, hopelessness, etc.
- Recognize the temptation to avoid or minimize your pain.
- Express your feelings in an honest way to a person you trust.
- Give it time (grief does not just disappear, it takes time to heal).
Tips for offering support:
- Offer a listening, nonjudgmental ear.
- Resist the temptation to “fix” how the person feels (you do not have to make them feel better).
- Remember that you do not have to know what to say. In fact, often times you do not even need to say anything.
Above all else, remember that choosing to experience the pain of grief and express it in a meaningful way will lead to healthier results and increases resilience.
Shawn Healy, PhD