Many people associate grief as an emotional experience that occurs after the loss of a loved one. It can be, but I have also found that grieving occurs in other situations as well; and usually around something more abstract. I have worked with clients that have grieved the loss of feeling safe in this world after a sexual assault or having to grieve the loss of their identity to an eating disorder. Some clients must work through their grief of a relationship with a parental figure that they wish they had, deserved to have, but never actually experienced. Just because someone did not experience a physical loss does not make their grieving process any less real.
By allowing ourselves to grieve abstract things — safety, attachment, identity — we validate our own emotions of longing, sadness, guilt and loss, among the many others that occur when experiencing grief. This allows us to acknowledge that the loss has shaped us in some way, while empowering ourselves to decide how it will impact the future. When I think about how this is used in trauma work, I am reminded of clients that have been able to grieve their loss of safety and trust in others before turning their trauma into a source of resilience. They are able to show themselves compassion by acknowledging that their lives have been changed, but have also made a conscious decision not to let their trauma dictate their daily lives any longer.
Change is inherently difficult for people to tolerate and sometimes grieving what we have lost in the upheaval is necessary to be able to make sense of it and move forward. If you’re feeling stuck, ask yourself what has changed in your life lately and whether you have lost something in the process. Give yourself permission to grieve what you have lost and play to your strengths by tapping into your creativity, talents and connections with others. Maybe you need a therapist to help process everything out loud. Whichever way you decide, just know that it is normal because there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Kate Burns is a therapist with Empowering You, specializing in eating disorders. She is currently running an outpatient group to support women with eating disorders in addition to taking on individual clients. Please contact us today if interested in support