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Common Setbacks in Grief

How what we think is helping can actually be hindering our healing process.

I’ve learned a lot about grieving these last two years. It’s a journey none of us would choose to go on, if given the choice.


But the reality is, it will be a part of all our lives at one time or another. Sometimes we’re given a warning, or time to process that someone doesn’t have much more time here on earth. We say our goodbyes and make peace with the fact that their time is up. Then there are some losses that happen in an instant. You’re not given a warning and you have no time to prepare. No matter the circumstance, we’re all thrown into discovering how to grieve at one point or another.


My husband and I have been on a two-year journey of grieving the death of our 3.5 year old daughter. It was sudden, and it drastically changed our lives. While I’ll never consider myself an expert on the topic, there are a lot of things we have learned so far on our journey.


It’s true that we all grieve differently. But there are some common setbacks that are proven to hinder the healing process.

Common setback #1 Avoiding the grieving process

One of the biggest setbacks we often make is avoiding the grieving process altogether. We naturally don’t like to feel uncomfortable. So, we will avoid situations, conversations, and even thoughts that makes us uncomfortable. Part of the grieving process involves keeping your loved one's memories alive. This includes looking back at photos and videos of them. Reading old cards or notes they may have written. Watching their favorite movie. Listening to their favorite song. Eating their favorite foods. Even though this will initially feel painful, it is all plays a part in the grieving process.


The grieving process is painful. But it is also vital if we ever want to step into healing. It’s not something that can be avoided.


I don’t think I looked at a picture of my daughter after she passed away for months and months. It was just too painful and I couldn’t do so without sobbing my eyes out.

Common Setback #2 Suppressing our emotions

Another common habit we fall into that actually hinders our healing is the tendency to suppress our emotions. Most of the time we do this subconsciously without even realizing it. If we have a job we have to get back to, if we have children we have to take care of, if we have a spouse depending on us, it can feel easier to try and ignore our feelings of grief so that we can get on with our responsibilities.


The build up doesn’t stop. Those intense feelings don’t just magically vanish. When we ignore them or try to stuff them in a box for later, we’re unintentionally letting them grow stronger. The stronger they are, the more hold they have over us. You may be able to temporarily compartmentalize them for a moment, but they will eventually force their way out in one form or another.


Sometimes this can lead to us picking up some serious unhealthy habits, such as drinking too much, experimenting with drugs that help numb those emotions, even lashing out in anger at others at a moments notice. These are all results of painful thoughts and emotions that haven’t been brought to the surface. You can’t heal what you don’t reveal.


I’ve always been guarded. Ever since I was a teenage girl, I never wanted to talk about my feelings. When my daughter passed away, it was our entire extended families first experience with grief. No one knew what to say. Really, there aren’t any words anyone can say that can help that level of pain. But it also made me guarded once again. I didn’t want to talk about how losing her made me feel. I don’t think I could even try to explain it if I could, I just wanted to die.


But over time, and with a lot of therapy, my husband and I both learned how to talk about our grief and do so in healthy ways.

"You are inhibiting your grief journey when you put your energy into distractions instead of working through the loss" – Karen Roldan

Common Setback #3 Comparing our grief journey

Lastly, we unintentionally end up comparing our grief journey to others. None of us grieve the same. Spouses will grieve differently from each other. Best friends will grieve differently. Children especially will grieve differently anyone. One of the worst things we often get in the habit of doing is comparing our grief journey to each other


My husband and I both suffered the same loss. But we were in two totally different places when it happened. Each of us has a unique experience with that day. Our grief journeys have looked very different from one another. There’s been times where each of us felt like we weren’t doing enough. We felt that we must not be grieving the right way because our journey’s never matched.


But they are not supposed to. We each have our own stories. We each have ways of coping that work for some of us, and not the other. We have our own outlets, different things that bring us comfort, different ways we handle our emotions.

We must break out of this mindset of comparison. It doesn’t foster growth and healing; it only hinders it.

I spent most of those early days stuck in anger. I felt utterly broken. I still have those days, and I’m sure I always will. But my focus has shifted from anger and bitterness to reclaiming the joy that is still being given.

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Apr 08
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you for sharing your journey so honestly.


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