On The Grief for What Could Have Been

A friend recently asked me what the remedy is for the pain from a recently failed potential relationship. Two people who are getting to know each other, things seem like they are going well, and then there's a fizzle followed by that sickening feeling of knowing that something that felt like it could work had slipped through your fingers. Follow this with some self blame, maybe some anger, lots of questions, and ultimately, lots of sadness.

I don't know if both people go through the pain equally, or if it's one sided at times. I do know that the pain is intense. My friend mentioned that the person who had just gone through this experience was a proactive person: fit, healthy, working a great job, and active in the community. However, these wonderful distractions were falling short and were not numbing the pain and grief of the loss for what could have been.

We live in a culture of quick fixes and instant gratification. However, when it comes to difficult emotions related to things like grief, pain, betrayal, or loss, there is no quick fix. There is only time. Distractions may help, but ultimately we have to face our inner most selves and allow the hurt to be given its due process. It's not an easy feat, but in order to move forward in a healthier way, it is necessary. 

In her Ted Talk on vulnerability (one of my favorites), Brene Brown mentions that we are one of the most addicted, obese, and in debt adult cohorts in American history. We use distractions, drugs, food, and overfilled schedules as a means of placating our pain and delude ourselves into thinking it is gone when in fact all we have done is numb ourselves. Brene Brown also points out that we cannot numb the difficult emotions without in turn also numbing the positive emotions of happiness and joy. To me, that's the scariest part of this whole thing.

So my answer to dealing with the hurt? Allow it to be. Give it time. The follow up question to this was "How can one distract themselves from their thoughts of what never came to be?" I would say that sometimes you can't. And as a matter of fact, sometimes you shouldn't. One of the most common complaints that I get from clients in therapy is not about the sadness they feel, but more so about the inability to feel happiness. I believe this is linked to the fact that we cannot selectively numb emotions. Only when we allow ourselves the experience of difficult emotions can we create the capacity for and fully embrace positive emotions. 

 

Getting Started: On Connection

"To be human is to need others. And this is no flaw or weakness." -Sue Johnson

It just so happens that tonight alone, I saw at least 3 events in different parts of the country taking place where the topic centered around developing a happy family.  I'm really excited that these conversations are taking place. At a time where even babies have personal media devices, families run the risk of drifting apart, or perhaps never even having a connection from which to drift from.

The number one thing that I've come to learn about in therapy, both as a client and a therapist, is the pain that comes with feelings of being disconnected and lonely. As humans, we are built with an innate need for loving connection. When this is either unfounded or ruptured, whether between a parent and child, spouses, or friends, the affect can be devastating.

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So, how do we nurture healthy relationships?

It's taken me a long time to learn how to speak my truth and be honest about my feelings when the going gets tough. It can be scary and sometimes require more vulnerability than I'm comfortable with. But I know that it is absolutely necessary if I want to build authentic relationships.

People often say that relationships suffer because people don't know how to communicate well. I'd argue that the problem goes even deeper in that we often don't know ourselves well enough to communicate authentically. Emotions can be confusing, especially because we often run from uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anxiety, and pain to safer but more destructive defaults like anger and shutting down.

Ignorance is not bliss. If we don't take the time to explore our difficult emotions we run the risk of forgoing our mental health and the health of our relationships. Additionally, if we don't work towards creating homes where families express their love, share meals, and even fight sometimes, we run the risk of disconnection. I often see families and couples who love each other deeply but cannot manage to share what is in their hearts. Recognizing the need to speak our truth is the first step in repairing and healing. If we don't do so, our emotional and mental well being will undoubtedly become a casualty.