Grieving is a natural process that is inherent in humans. In some ways, grieving is a universal touchstone shared by all of us, making it common ground among family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. However, that same universality has also created myths about grieving where soft beliefs evolve into perceived absolutes that, consequently, do more harm than good in helping people process their grief.
Widely known and commonly accepted myths concerning grief should be replaced with sound methods rooted in science that are tested and proven to help effectively process grief. While grief will always be a highly personal process that varies from individual to individual, rebuffing false — even harmful — myths about grieving and embracing scientifically proven, healthy methods to deal with grief will ultimately benefit all.
1. Grief Is Like a Journey With a Beginning, Middle and End
Many people, particularly in western culture, try to interpret most aspects of life as a finite story with three acts and a neat and tidy ending. Unfortunately, this notion not only misrepresents a complex emotion like grief but does people a tremendous disservice by allowing them to believe that, one day, they’ll wake up and their grief will be gone.
Dealing with grief is not like watching a movie or reading a book but, rather, learning to process it and deal with it. In other words, it never disappears but can be managed so that it won’t be overwhelming and overbearing forever.
Closure has become a popular trope seen in film and television, as well as everyday life. It is discussed as if it is a magical, elusive elixir that, once obtained, is a surefire way of finally reaching the peak of the mountain, and every day will be sunny thereafter.
Conceptually, there’s nothing wrong with the notion of closure if it is viewed from a healthy and realistic perspective. Closure, as part of an overarching process to help a person effectively manage grief can be very productive. However, it does not represent an abrupt finale to feelings of grief.
3. Follow the Lead of Those Who Have Been There
While there is absolutely something to be said for seeking the support of people who have experienced similar grief, what worked for someone else isn’t necessarily best for you, no matter how similar the circumstances might be. Seeking guidance and support when dealing with grief isn’t so much about similarities as it is about an agile mindset.
Those who are most capable of helping you to process grief in a healthy manner might be found in a support group but, as unlikely as it might sound, could just as well be someone with absolutely no familiarity to your specific situation. Seek support from those who can help you effectively manage your grief, irrespective of their own experiences.
4. The Five Stages of Grief Are Gospel
Of course, another popular trope is the Five Stages of Grief from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Despite its enormous popularity and saturation throughout society, the concept of the Five Stages of Grief is a useful tool to demonstrate the idea of grief as dynamic and evolving. However, it is in no way applicable to every instance of grief and for every individual.
5. If You’re Not Crying, You’re Doing It Wrong
Crying isn’t for everyone. If someone doesn’t cry in response to grief, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are keeping everything bottled up and failing to process their grief in a healthy fashion. Like many things in life, dealing with grief isn’t binary in nature. It’s nuanced and specific to the individual — it is not right or wrong, black or white.
6. Staying Busy Is Healthy
Grieving doesn’t mean the world stops. People must still go to work everyday, pay bills, get kids up and ready for school, and generally participate in life. However, completely immersing oneself in something like work is akin to getting a shot of cortisone for an arthritic knee. The shot might mask the pain for a few weeks — perhaps even a few months — but the arthritis is still in that joint and at some point must be dealt with from a longer-term perspective.
Rebuffing Myths About Grieving: There’s a Better Way
People already rely on science to develop new medications for ailments and disease, to provide technology that makes lives more efficient, and to better understand the world and our place in it. Therefore, it stands to reason that scientific research on coping with grief should be just as effective. A few research-based tips can help process grief in a healthy manner that isn’t rooted in myth.
- Take Care of Yourself: While this may seem obvious, the depression that can be closely associated with grief often prevents people from minding their health well. Grief can be an exhausting process, both physically and mentally. Make certain to get enough sleep, eat smaller meals every four to five hours if you don’t have an appetite, and exercise daily. A physically sound body is much more capable of processing grief than one that is depleted.
- Seek Professional Help When Necessary: Psychologists have been studying the complexities of grief for over a century and have developed proven strategies that can facilitate healthy processing of grief. A relatively new modality, Complicated Grief Therapy (CGT), has shown particular promise in instances when grief works in conjunction with depression to be especially stubborn and virulent.
- Put It on Paper: Studies have shown that writing your thoughts on a daily basis can be of significant benefit in helping to work through grief. In fact, writing specifically about the source of grief has shown to be remarkably effective in improving both emotional and physical factors that play a pivotal role in our ability to cope with grief and stress.