How Acceptance Can Heal Painful Losses
When we encounter difficulty in our lives, whether we recognise it or not at the time, we have often experienced a loss of some kind. Loss can take many forms; from the death of a loved one, ill-health or a major life change.
The loss of independence, as one example, can evoke myriad emotions which can feel overwhelming. A natural urge when we experience unease is to seek an immediate remedy; something to alleviate the pain or provide a sense of certainty.
Soothing that pain can take us down various avenues. Some can be destructive, such as turning to alcohol, pills or over-eating to numb the pain. While other ‘remedies’ may seem healthy on the surface, such as a new relationship or intense exercise,they often only serve as a distraction; like sticking a plaster on a wound.
Soothing or numbing behaviours are habitual ways to cope with painful emotions and it is important to recognise how you may use these to avoid coming to terms with what has happened to you now and in your past. It is useful to mention at this point that sometimes the emotions encountered may not only relate to recent loss, but also a loss of years, possibly decades ago.
Common numbing behaviours:
- Excessive TV or Internet
- Excessive spending
Learning to accept your loss is often life-changing. It provides an opportunity to get in touch with emotions relating to both your current situation and past losses in a way that may have previously been less accessible. But to reach a level of genuine acceptance, is necessarily to go through the process of acknowledging and identifying what you are missing and then allowing yourself to mourn before you can fully accept the loss.
The key word here is process; coming to a place of acceptance takes you through a journey of phases. These stages of mourning and grief have been found to be universal and are relevant to many types of loss. The five stages first identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying are:
1. Denial/isolation: the first reaction is to block what has happened, a normal reaction to help us with the immediate pain
2. Anger: as the intensity of the situation is realised our raw emotion is often expressed as anger or frustration. This may be aimed at strangers, friends or family, towards the deceased or ex-lover, former employer or inanimate objects
3. Bargaining: the ‘if only’ phase is a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and is often accompanied or engulfed with a sense of guilt
4. Depression: this is a contemplative phase where the weight of the loss is felt as deep sadness and regret while a preparation to separate is encountered
5. Acceptance: a phase of withdrawal and calm and while it is not a happy state, it is a place of re-integration from within; a place of readiness to re-engage
There is no ‘right’ way through or timescale to these stages and people often oscillate between them before reaching acceptance. However, many people find themselves stuck in a stage that makes it difficult to move on. Allowing others to be there alongside you, letting them know what you are experiencing, will provide comfort and give you the strength to help you through this natural process towards acceptance and personal growth. This may be a good friend, relative or a therapist.
You may ask: why go through all that pain and struggle, when you are fine carrying on as you are; keeping busy and keeping the emotions locked down? Many people do just this, but will find that pushed down emotions having a way of bubbling up, causing pain and problems throughout their lives. Working through your feelings provides a learning that will help you cope with future disappointments and losses. It will enable you to understand and accept yourself and in doing so a greater capacity to accept others and find fulfilment in your life.