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Monday, November 14, 2011

Adjusting to Everyday Grief



HOW LONG does the average, everyday grief process last, do you think? By “everyday grief” I mean, significant life change, but not as harrowing as recovering from the tragic loss of a loved one. Everyday grief amounts to changes in the workplace, in the make-up of the family dynamic, and in feeling at home after shifting to a foreign place, for instance.


Everyday grief, as a manifestation of adjustment, may take as little as a few months to two years. That’s my personal experience.


Separating it from major grief (e.g. loss of loved ones) there is real hope for full acceptance, without ongoing mourning.


Everyday grief is far more common than the life-dividing variety that obliterates our reality. We might expect at least one of these periods every five years; maybe more regularly.


Adjusting to everyday grief is about making the transition as smoothly and quickly as possible, without skimping any of the real work in actually adjusting.


Because this is a common experience it bodes us well to develop the skill of recovery. This might otherwise be termed, resilience.


The same stage-model of adjustment in grief applies:


1. Denial – change rarely comes in the form we embrace. There is usually some resistance. Pride is part of the problem, but also disbelief; both by the fact that this change has been mooted, and is now coming into effect, and by our lack of support for the change. We just don’t believe it is right. There’s no better corrective to denial than observation of truth. This will likely cause us anger.


2. Anger – denial and anger vacillate. The disbelief in denial together with the evidence of change that we can see with our own eyes creates an enormous dissonance within us. Whatever we cannot reconcile augments anger. We best find appropriate means of expressing our anger. Discussion, physical exercise, an outlet for the emotions, and other means, may help.


3. Bargaining – it’s normal to see our changing circumstances through the lens of the old way. We want the old way confirmed; the new way, relegated. In this fashion, bargaining becomes a willed sense of denial for what is now taking place. During this phase we look for evidence where the change isn’t working. There is an ‘I told you so!’ attitude nurtured within our hearts. This is clearly unhealthy. Depression, ironically, is a sign of a healthy passing-through of this stage.


4. Depression – the reality hits for the first time at a deeper level. Depressed feelings are natural when we understand there is no choice but to do this thing; to abide by the change we don’t want to be part of. But depressive feelings, in time, make way for acceptance—stoically to begin with, followed by more enthusiastic varieties. Best we are gentle with ourselves when feeling depressed.


5. Acceptance – as alluded to above, there are varying levels of acceptance. We may arrive at this phase iteratively, over and again, for longer and better periods, for months before a final acceptance arrives. We can only tell from hindsight when we’ve ultimately reached this outcome.


***


Adjusting to significant change is both a major challenge and a key opportunity. Ensuring we pass through the stages and don’t get stuck is vital. With hope, we believe life will settle down; that fresh meaning will arrive, and a new purpose, born.


© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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