I’m not having a lot of emotions, and I don’t feel right.
August 14, 2023
BY KEN BARRINGER
It makes sense that we think of grieving as an emotional experience. Why wouldn’t we? We are, erroneously, cultured to believe that when we have experienced a loss we will run through a series of emotions and feelings and then it will be over. As we know, grief over meaningful relationships never ends – it just takes different shapes and forms over time as we reconstruct our relationship with that that has been lost.
While grief is an emotional experience it can also manifest physically, behaviorally, cognitively and / or spiritually. Let’s break this down. We all have self-protective instincts. We would not have survived as a species if we didn’t. One of our protective instincts is to shut off emotions when they become too painful or overwhelming. Everyone is different in this regard, just as grief is an individualized thing. So where do those emotions go? They don’t disappear. For some, the emotions move to their body and grief manifests physically. For example, some people report having stomach aches, back aches, neck pain, low energy, to name a few, for which there is no medical basis or story as to why. This could be a physical way the grief is arriving.
Other people have described feeling like all they do is sleep, or never sleep, eat, or never eat, are always with people, or are isolated. These may be behavioral manifestations of grief. I think of the behavioral piece as often being “too much or not enough”. The pendulum has swung far in one direction or the other.
I met with a woman for grief counseling who was reporting she used to pride herself in how organized and efficient she was and now was always “out-of-sync”. This could be a cognitive manifestation of grief. People report a lack of the executive functioning skills like organizing, planning or time management. Others describe “grief brain” where they are constantly in a fog. Confusion and/or disorientation are also common. The spiritual piece can look like a lack of trust or belief in the world. Losing faith in wherever you stored faith. Disbelief and self-loathing in the case of survivor guilt are additional ways grief can surface in the spiritual plane.
Some grief workers add a sixth plane of grief; the social plane. I tend to piece “social” under the behavioral plane. I used to think of the parameters of social as interacting (or not) with other people. However, we need to include social media here. Some may always be online looking for answers or resolutions while others may delete their social media accounts.
A common thing I hear from people when they come for grief counseling is, “I feel stuck” or “I’m not feeling anything” or “I’m feeling stunted emotionally”. When we start to break down some of the other planes in which grief may be showing it can often provide relief and get people “moving forward” again.