The Losses You’re Grieving: How Writing Can Help
Loss Comes in Many Forms
People grieve after experiencing losses of all kinds. Many people associate grief with death, but it can also take on many other forms. Job loss, relationship statuses, switching schools, divorce, or any drastic life changes can also illicit a grief response.
Right now, most everyone is dealing with one kind of loss or another. Covid- 19 has certainly brought changes to us all, and within those changes are a variety of losses. You may be experiencing loss of space or privacy, loss of coworker interactions, loss of work identity, or loss of confidence in your ability to manage the new challenges that you are presented with.
If you are living with an underlying health condition or if you are working in a high-risk work environment, you are probably feeling a loss of safety. Some of you may be experiencing the loss of being able to hold or be near loved ones.
Another variety of loss is the loss of the things that we didn’t have yet, but expected to have. Soon-to-be graduates and newly engaged couples are finding themselves having to grieve the loss of their expectations for the way they had envisioned their ceremonies. College students are finding themselves having to grieve the loss of the way they envisioned their next school year. Summers and vacations and holiday plans all have to be re-envisioned and the expectations for what was “supposed to be” can all be experienced as losses.
Losses can all feel a little bit different. Some losses might feel bigger than others, and some might have more silver linings than others. Grief might feel like an overwhelming river of emotions or a dull ache in your heart. Often times grief is overpowering and impossible to ignore, and other times nuanced situations like Covid-19 can make it less apparent and harder to identify.
Likewise, grief can processed very differently by different people. It is an individualized process that often times evolves throughout its course.
In the past, grief was described using the Five Stages of Grief model. This placed grief experiences into the five categories of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Today many counselors are turning away from the Stages of Grief as a treatment model, as more therapists acknowledge that not everyone experiences each of these feelings, much less experiences them all in a particular order. Current research has shown that clients are better able to work through grief when they are permitted to do so freely and without fitting their symptoms into boxes.
Grief can often feel like an overwhelming river of emotions. One strategy often used in grief counseling to help manage this overwhelm is to take emotions in chunks. Counseling can help with this rather naturally, as it allows for working through some of those emotions and then allowing yourself to put them aside for a bit. This process can help you develop confidence in your ability to tolerate your emotions without feeling taken over by them.
Grieving can be extremely painful and unpleasant at times. It’s understandable that people may want to get rid of those uncomfortable feelings and push them aside. However, working through grief in chunks, while in a safe and protected environment, can allow us to feel in touch with our emotions without being overwhelmed by our experience.
Creating Narrative: One Form of Grief Expression
While I work with grief in a variety of ways, writing is one way I sometimes help people work through their feelings of loss. Writing can help the brain process emotions deeply and can help give people insight into their experiences. There are multiple ways to achieve this, and writing is just one way to do so.
It is quite common for people who are grieving a loss to feel overwhelmed with emotion. It can feel difficult to even catch your breath when an erupting volcano is overflowing a lava of emotions in your direction. Writing can help slow the eruption of emotions and can ease you into the emotional experience. The expectation is that, over time, people’s symptoms of grief will begin to ease, and the feelings will become more manageable.
Writing is meant to be a release. The physiological effects of grief, when compartmentalized, can show as increased heart rate and muscle tension, digestive issues, headaches, and high blood pressure. Psychotherapy often discusses the idea of catharsis, meaning release of tension. Writing works alongside your emotions in order to help return your nervous system to a balanced state.
Feeling safe is also an integral part of the grief process, as we can sometimes feel quite vulnerable when expressing such intimate emotions. Feelings of safety can also help regulate our nervous systems, which improves our ability to tolerate our emotions. This is another reason that a counseling setting can be helpful for people who are grieving. The ability to explore your emotions in a safe setting can lead to catharsis, and many clients report feeling better after going through the process of therapy.
We All Grieve Differently
It’s important to remember that it’s okay to grieve differently than the people around you. Some people grow up in environments that are comfortable expressing strong emotions, and others process emotions more privately and internally. Whereas one person might want to grieve with others, some people want to grieve alone. Grieving can be as unique as the relationship or experience that has been lost. Counseling can help honor the personal and intimate nature of your grieving process.
Of course writing is only one of many helpful mediums for grief work. Some people may grieve through artistic expression whereas others may express their feelings through music. Many people find a sense of peace in creating collages, whether as a way to express their emotions or to make something in honor of their loss. Creating playlists, coloring with watercolors or other paints, and using body movement are more ways people can explore their grief, which is often a very unique and individualized process.
In therapy, we don’t have an expectation of how you are supposed to grieve. We welcome you to bring your knowledge and ideas in a way that honors your personal relationships and experiences.
There are many ways to work through grief. Finding a counselor who uses methods that fit with your needs can be a nice first place to start. At Through the Door Counseling, we use many modalities to work through and process grief. We work with teen and adult clients to help them progress through grief in a manner that feels safe and comfortable to them.
If you have questions about grief work, feel free to contact us with any thoughts or questions. We would love to hear from you!
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”