• Grief can hit as a result of all sorts of events – a bereavement, of course, but also the loss of a job, relationship, or dream

  • Paul McGee explores the value of grieving our losses – it is only in doing so that we can move on

  • If you are struggling to come to terms with a life shock or loss, our therapists and counsellors are here to support you – find yours here 

Self-confidence is not another term for the art of self-delusion or self-deception. Appearing fine to the outside world when deep inside you’re feeling pain and brokenness is not an effective approach. Self-confidence and vulnerability are not diametrically opposed – they’re not like oil and water, they do mix.

Our friend Chloe’s marriage was a short one. In fact, very short. She got married just before Christmas and we enjoyed a meal with her and Graham, her new husband, at their home the following March. By May the relationship was over.

Chloe was devastated. For a while she became a virtual recluse. She carried on working, but rarely socialised with anybody. I guess she needed to grieve. Her self-esteem seemed shattered but slowly, over time, the pieces were gradually put back together.

It did take time. It was a slow process. And that’s the key – it’s a process. There’s no pill to pop that can eliminate the pain. There’s no answer to give that can instantly heal the wounds.

You see, it’s not time that’s the healer. It’s the process.

And as Chloe worked through the loss of her dream, her marriage, she once again began to rebuild her confidence. But it still took time.

You can’t rush grief. We’d like to but we can’t.

It’s a process – a journey that you go through. And pain, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, is part of the human experience.

Why we need to grieve

One of my principles is called “Hippo Time Is OK”. Based on the fact that hippos wallow, it’s a recognition that when a major setback occurs you cannot simply “get over it”.

You do actually need a period of mourning, grieving, and reflecting.

Often these emotions are associated with death, but they can relate to any form of loss you experience. Of course, the strength of those emotions and the length of time you experience them for will vary, depending on the event and its impact on you.

But you still need to take time to recover.

Sometimes your loss is very tangible, such as being made redundant or the breakdown of a relationship.

But grief can also relate to the loss or the ending of a hope or a dream – perhaps not getting the job you so desperately wanted or failing to buy the house you’d dreamt of owning.

These emotions are valid and not a sign of weakness. But to ignore or deny them can be emotionally damaging.

The truth is … Forget the stiff upper lip approach. Sometimes we need time to express, not suppress, our pain.

However, let me make one thing clear.

This is not an open invitation to automatically pour your heart out in public and emote all over social media.

Grieving is good, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be high profile and it doesn’t have to last too long. You may decide to publicise your pain, but equally you may find the support of one or two friends more helpful.

Be careful when you’re in this place, and particularly watch what you say to yourself during this time. If you’re not careful, your own words will drag you further and deeper into the mud.

A useful statement to make to yourself during your grieving or wallowing would be:

I’m OK, and I’m not OK. I’m still the person I was before this event, with all my strengths and qualities. But I’m also hurting from what’s happened. However, these feelings are temporary and they do not define me. Neither will this event determine my future – my response to what’s happened will be the determining factor.

I allow myself to feel low, to feel angry, and to feel pain.

That is a healthy and normal response. But I will not remain feeling low, angry, and in pain. This is temporary. It’s part of my journey. It’s not my destination.

I will pull through – if I choose to. And that’s what I choose to do.

Because deep down, at the centre of who I am, I know I’m still OK.

The truth is … Grieving is good − for a time. To wallow is not a weakness – neither is it a way of life.

  • What are your feelings about what you’ve just read? Do you grieve too much or not enough?
  • When did you last grieve over a loss?
  • How long did your grieving last?
  • What do you do to pick yourself up again?

This is an edited extract from Self-Confidence: The Remarkable Truth of How a Small Change Can Boost Your Resilience and Increase Your Success (published by Capstone, 2020).

Further reading

Overcoming grief through meditation and self-compassion

How hypnotherapy helped me regain my confidence

Mental flexibility and resilience to change

Managing the loss of relationships

How therapy helped me after a bad break up