Late at night, as you read quietly, before you fall off to sleep. . .
During a busy afternoon as you run through a crowd, hurrying back to your office or home. . . .
Sitting in a movie theater, a restaurant or waiting for the light to turn. . .
A sudden thought or image rises within you. It can come as a small nagging feeling or as a wave of emotion that threatens to overwhelm and drown you in the grief of a memory. Either way it's clear; here comes his/her ghost again.
For those who are haunted by a past relationship, the instinctive response is often to run away from these feelings or to pretend they just aren't there. It is also not uncommon to react by setting your system on “anger mode" and seeing everything and everyone in a negative light. Shutting down all ability to handle even the simple routine tasks of daily life is another response, and one that signals depression. This one needs to be addressed quickly, as it can leave a trail of destruction in it's path.
These defense mechanisms are employed as a way of coping and to “get through the day. " However, when these responses become prolonged and ingrained, we can get stuck in the grieving process that accompanies loss. This is where the ghosts come in.
All loss, especially the absence of someone with whom we were intimate, results in sadness, anger, denial, fear, depression and guilt. These feelings are normal. However, how we respond to them will make the difference in how well we recover and move on to a new and healthy life.
In order to work through the grief and finally lay those ghosts to rest, you may need some help with the important do's and do not's of grieving. The following is a basic primer to get you started.
Things To Do:
Denial can provide a very short-term way to cope with loss, but will compound the bottling up of destructive feelings that need to find a healthy outlet for expression.
Allowing yourself to feel, helps you to understand that what you are feeling is normal and therefore, you are not “crazy" or alone. It also opens the way to learning how to cope and move towards a positive resolution. Over time you will learn that feelings won't kill you, and that you are strong and able to confront them and move on.
Express Anger Safely and Productively
Fear of our own anger is normal. This is why we have so much difficulty expressing it to others. We imbue it with a power that is beyond our control and something that can only be destructive.
Therefore, we stuff everything inside. Pressure builds and we explode, and out comes the “anger monster"; a creation of our own inability to deal with anger when it is at a lower, more manageable level.
There are safe ways to express these feelings. Crying, talking to friends, writing down the feelings and even engaging in some physically demanding labor are all healthy ways to release your anger.
Take Care Of Yourself
This seems to be one of the things we most neglect when loss strikes. Not caring for even basic needs is one of the faces of grief. It can also be a sign of a dangerous depression. Therefore, it has to be a priority.
Basic needs are what usually require attention. These include: adequate sleep, eating right, taking care of minimal household and financial responsibilities and attention to personal grooming.
In addition, exercise not only provides a great outlet for stress, it has been proven in clinical trials to be effective in lessening depression in a significant number of people. Regular exercise can also offer assistance to those who have difficulty sleeping and heightens self-esteem.
Build and Strengthen Social Supports
A strong social support system is always important. During a time of extremes loss, it is vital to recovery.
Do you have good, supportive friends? Do they have time and energy that they can offer to you during this period of grieving?
What about religious ties? A church, temple or other community of like-minded believers?
Do you have good support from any family members?
What about organizations that you have participated in and given your time and energy to? Can they now give something back to you?
These are a few of the supports that you can turn to. Make sure you PLAN well for weekends, holidays and other significant days. Let people know you want to get together and that you want to get out regularly and stay active and involved. This allows others to offer their support and remember to include you in group activities, etc.
Give Yourself Time
Getting over the loss of someone you love takes time. It is a process. It doesn't take “forever. " You will move on and recover. But beware of that feeling that is often expressed of “I don't know what's wrong with me, it's been months and I'm still not over it. "
The months SEEM like forever, but you know they are a relatively short period of time. You need to give yourself that time or run the strong risk of getting stuck for (perhaps years) in the quicksand of grief.
Set Realistic Goals
This is a time to prioritize and decide what you most want and need and to make a realistic plan for achieving it.
Goals will keep you focused and on-track. They will provide a compass as you navigate your way to a new life. They will help you to achieve success and to boost your self-esteem. This achievement will help you to feel strong and capable of beginning a new life.
Things To Avoid
When enveloped in grief and loss, we have to be careful not to respond in dysfunctional ways. Some classic examples of poor coping behaviors include:
overuse of alcohol
use of illegal drugs
ignoring signs of serious depression
*** acting out
recklessness with finances
ignoring basic safety and placing self in risky situations
These are all the result of low self-esteem, guilt and feelings of hopelessness. With good supports and the utilization of healthy ways to express feelings, you will be at far less risk of using these self-injurious behaviors.
Remember, we must be willing to accept grief as a possible price of experiencing love. Many, many people have gone through the process of loss and despair and come out strong, whole and ready for a new life. Along the way, they often come to know themselves better and to understand what they most need and want from their relationships. Armed with this new experience and knowledge they are then ready to form new, healthy and lasting relationships.
Toni Coleman, MSW is a psychotherapist, relationship coach and founder of http://www.consum-mate.com . As a recognized expert, Toni has been quoted in many local and national publications including; The Chicago Tribune, The Orlando Sentinel, New York Daily News, Indianapolis Star and Newsweek newspapers and Family Circle, Cosmo Style, Tango, Men's Health, Star (regularly quoted body language expert), and People magazines. She has been featured on ABC news, Discovery Health, AOL news, MSN, and Match. Toni is also the featured relationship coach in “The Business And Practice Of Coaching, ” ( Norton, September 2005); and is the author of the forward for, ” Winning Points With The Woman In Your Life, One Touchdown At A Time” (Simon and Schuster, November 2005). From March 2005 until December 2005, she was a weekly contributing commentator (love and dating coach) on the KTRS Radio Morning Show, (St. Louis, MO). Toni is a member of The International Coach Federation, The International Association of Coaches and The National Association of Social Workers.