What if You Called it Grief?
January 13, 2023
BY KEN BARRINGER
As many have come to realize we grieve nondeath losses as much as death related losses (sometimes longer and with greater intensity). However, we may not be giving grief it's due when nondeath losses can feel like “normal things that happen”. We could be experiencing reactions across any of the five planes of grief but not know why we are having emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, or spiritual reactions when “nothing is wrong”. When we feel disrupted or dysregulated, we do not have to look hard to find a loss; jobs or relationships ending, injuries, end of a structure like school or transitioning through a developmental milestone. (A brief digression, I believe there is an element of loss in every reason someone may seek counseling).
I was recently speaking with someone who “didn’t have a good reason to feel the way he did”. Things were going alright and had “nothing to complain about” but didn’t understand why he felt so blah. He had a stiff neck (didn’t sleep on it funny), went out with friends but wasn’t always excited about it and didn’t feel like he “had his sh*t together”. Upon further conversation over the past few months, he had been passed over for a job promotion at work, his roommate was moving out to live with his girlfriend (“I’m really happy for them”) and he felt like his single mother had not been honest with him about how she was doing. I said to him what if we call what’s going on with you grief? Maybe it’s showing up in your body (physical, stiff neck), socially (behavioral, not getting the same joy from friendships) and organizationally (cognitive, can’t keep himself together). While this labeling might help to explain what was going with him, it changed none of these circumstances. However, what it did allow for was him to explore what the job and relationship loss along with parental trust really meant to him. The labeling thus served as activation for him to reflect.
When we have been conditioned to hear “everyone goes through it”, or some variation, to explain away a loss we may start to question or deny why we are having the responses we are - thus disenfranchising ourselves. Can we call what we are experiencing grief? We also know that what we may be having a grief reaction too may not be what we are grieving. Any loss in the present, can trigger a loss from the past. Thus, the intensity of the reaction may not match the loss further disenfranchising ourselves. Ultimately, does it matter? Yes, we want to have a context to understand why we are feeling, thinking, or behaving the way we are.
So, what if we just called it grief? Having words and language may be what is needed to free ourselves up to get moving again.