Loss is a kind of trauma. When we experience loss, viscerally it can feel like a wrecker ball has torn through the fabric of our lives.
Sometimes the loss is sudden and unexpected. A loved one has a sudden heart attack with no history of heart disease. A friend is killed in a car accident or a plane crash. A bolt of lightning strikes your house.
Sometimes the loss is expected. An elderly relative who has been suffering from cancer passes on. A company that has been failing lays employees off. A family moves from their long-time home after selling it because they can no longer afford the mortgage payments.
However, while the “concept" of loss is something you can mentally grasp, the actual “experience" of the loss may be an entirely different matter, and something you can't really grasp or integrate until you have actually lived through it.
Living through loss may result in feeling “heartbroken, " as though the loss of a loved one or something that really matters has literally broken your heart. Loss hurts. And the heart, which is where we develop a sense of bonding and connection, viscerally feels the tearing when a bond or connection is ripped away.
When I experience a loss, I literally feel a deep aching pain in my heart. And while it is clear that loss takes an emotional toll, this emotional toll also creates a physical and energetic stress on the heart.
Being respectful of ourselves, our feelings, our experience and our loss is very important in caring for the broken heart. However, this is not the cultural norm. Our culture could benefit from more emotional literacy education, and many people lack an understanding of the importance of emotional safety, especially when an individual is going through an emotional rough, raw or vulnerable time. Many of us are taught to hold in our feelings, push them to the side, ignore them. And that we are supposed to “suck it up" and “get on with it. "
While it is possible to “suck it up" and “get on with it" with the raw feelings of loss compartmentalized and buried somewhere, this is not in our best interest in the short or long run. Buried pain still takes our emotional, physical and spiritual energy. And perhaps it takes more energy to keep it buried than to let it out.
Though we may be afraid of deep feelings, it actually takes less energy to feel fully, to cry, to grieve, to scream, and to be angry than to bury the feelings. To unearth and express these feelings, we need to feel safe, held, understood and loved. We need to fee free from judgment, pressure to be different or to be anywhere other than where we are emotionally at that moment in time.
Emotional safety is essential for us to feel what is true for us, including feelings that are deeper than we are used to, which may scare us. And loss often evokes primal feelings that are so strong that we tighten up and shut down because we lack the emotional space to just be with them in a moment in time.
When a deep painful feeling emerges, we are often afraid of the intensity of the feeling. We are afraid of the physical and emotional sensations in our bodies. We are afraid of the thoughts that stem from our fear. Will this ever end? Can we survive the feeling? If we surrender to the feeling, will we lose ourselves or be lost? The fear of the feelings breeds its own cycle of deeper fear and overwhelm. Often we shut down or numb out just to survive those scary, painful moments.
Some combination of internal feeling and reflection, support from others, and connection with the spiritual or divine level of life are usually part of a very personal balance of how to create emotional safety to feel fully and move through loss.
Sometimes, we cannot move through those feelings alone.
We need someone else to be there, just to be with us so we are not alone. We need someone to hold our hands, to look us in the eyes, to offer a solid embrace and/or to hear our pain.
Sometimes we need support to unfreeze the frozen parts of us, so the tears, the fear, the pain can melt and flow out of our bodies, hearts and eyes. Sometimes we need another to be with us-be it a beloved pet or a beloved person-to remind us that we are still connected to others and to life itself-that while our hearts may be frozen at this moment, we can still restore our sense of interconnection in time. At times, the company of others is essential if we are going to feel safe and be able to move through grief and loss.
Sometimes, what we need most is a spiritual connection.
Meditating at home, or going to a church, a temple, a place of worship, or a special place in nature may provide us an emotionally safe, sacred environment in which we can let our feelings go. Restoring a sense of faith and/or a sense of interconnection with the fabric of life, may be necessary to help restore our sense of wholeness.
Sometimes emotional safety involves disengaging from the activities of daily life.
Doing something that feels like self-care is important: taking time out from work, going for a walk outside, or lying quietly on one's bed. Activities like these allow the heart, the mind, the body and the spirit to focus internally and be at rest.
When we are able to “ride the rapids" of deeply painful, often unfamiliar, or sometimes too familiar scary times, we deepen our capacity for resilience and we deepen our hearts. In time, feeling through and moving through these emotions help us restore a new sense of wholeness, and the knowledge that we can survive even what initially feels insurmountable. And that we can both count on ourselves. And that we don't have to do it all alone.
Copyright 2008 Linda Marks
Linda Marks, MSM, is a body psychotherapist and life coach practicing in Newton, MA. Linda works with individuals, couples and groups, helping them embrace the power of the heart. She is the author of Living With Vision: Reclaiming the Power of the Heart, Knowledge Systems, Inc, 1988, and Healing the War Between the Genders: The Power of the Soul-Centered Relationship, HeartPower Press, 2004. Linda holds degrees from Yale and MIT. You can reach her a http://www.healingheartpower.com Her blog is http://www.heartspacecafe.com/blog