Experiencing loss is one of the most difficult things that people face in their lifetime. Everyone understands that grief occurs, but not many people understand the nuances and science behind it. In fact, there are many misconceptions centered on grief and loss. This article breaks down some common misconceptions to help you better understand how to help others heal after a loss.
Misconception #1: Grief is predictable and systematic.
There are five stages of grief and people often become stuck in that way of thinking. They believe that grief is systematic and orderly, that people will move easily from one stage to the other and come out “better” on the other side. Truthfully, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yes, there are five stages of grief, but people do not move through them the same. Everyone experiences grief in different orders and with different intensity. Some people stay in the denial phase for a day or two, while others stick go for months or even years denying that their loved one has passed and throwing away any grief gifts that come their way. Others spend only a short amount of time in the anger phase, where others spend significant time there and can damage relationships or reputations. It’s different for everyone and you need to respect that.
You cannot put people in boxes and assume that they should be healed and “moved on” by now. Everyone’s grief is unique and you can get into trouble trying to prescribe what others grief experiences should be. If you have a friend or loved one grieving, simply be supportive and non-judgmental.
Misconception #2: Mourning and grief are interchangeable.
People use the terms mourning and grief interchangeably, but there is an important distinction between the two. Grief is the internal feelings and thoughts that you have when a loved one dies. Mourning is the outward expression of that grief. In many cultures, people do not mourn because they are taught that expressing emotions outwardly is improper. That brings us to our next misconception.
Misconception #3: Outwardly expressing grief is a sign of weakness.
Unfortunately, people associate tears and outward expression of emotions as a weakness. In many cultures, ours included, tears are seen as personal inadequacy. People are taught to “keep their chin up” or to “carry on” when in reality this is not healthy. Crying is our body’s natural response to releasing inner tension. It also allows you the ability to communicate your desire to be comforted. If you know someone that is mourning, don’t try to stop the tears. Don’t discourage the tears, simply comfort them in a time of need. It’s been proven that crying helps people feel better physically and emotionally and it shouldn’t be viewed as a weakness.
Misconception #4: Grief is an emotional response to loss.
Yes, grief is a response to the emotions that you are feeling, but this response is not just emotional. Grief is so powerful that it can also affect every aspect of your life. In fact, grief also causes physical, cognitive, social, behavioral and emotional responses in the body. Have you ever felt sick to your stomach due to stress or sadness? It’s the same concept. So, if someone seems “off” after experiencing a loss, it could be that grief is impacting more than just their emotional state.
Misconception #5: You can “get over” grief.
One of the most common misconceptions is that the goal of grieving is to “get over it.” People think that they can send sympathy gifts for grieving women or men and that with time the person will just get over their loss. This simply is not the case. Humans do not get over their grief, they learn to accept the loss. You cannot recover from or resolve your grief because the loss will always be there and things can never go back to the way they once were.
What you can do, is reconcile with your grief. This means learning to accept the loss and moving into the new reality of life. Once you acknowledge the reality of the loss and process your grief, you can accept the loss, but you will never “get over it.”
Misconception #6: Medication is necessary to help relieve depression and anxiety associated with grief.
It is important to realize that grief is not an illness or condition that needs to be cured. Grief is a normal response to loss and the body needs to be given time to process, accept and heal. Medication can help with severe anxiety and depression that stems from grief, but that will not solve the root cause. The fact is that you need to face your grief and embrace the pain and emotions because that is the only way you can truly heal.
Misconception #7: People who mourn are weak in their faith.
Grief and religion share an intimate relationship and there are many misconceptions surrounding this. Tragic loss can bring a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts that might lead you to question the existence of a higher power and the nature of the universe. You might wonder how God could have taken this person from you. However, others take solace in the notion that a higher being is there to greet their loved one. This difference in thoughts can leave some people questioning how strong a mourner’s faith it. It is important to remember that grief is an extremely powerful force and causes all types of emotional and physical responses. Someone who struggles with the loss of a loved one is not necessarily weak in their faith, they are just dealing with a loss differently. Remember, we all experience and process grief differently and you should never compare your situation to that of another.
If you know someone who is struggling through the grieving process it is important to be there for them and show support. You can do this through condolence notes, sympathy gifts or even lending your shoulder and comforting words. Just remember that grief is powerful and we all experience it differently.