Relationships offer us the biggest opportunities for learning lessons in life, for discovering who we are, what we fear, where our power comes from, and the meaning of true love. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
I have adapted the work, On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to help understand the healing process that is necessary to release oneself from wanting something like love and acceptance that you can never get from the outside world. When we experience a traumatic experience as a child, such as the loss of a parent, physical or sexual abuse; because we do not know how to fix the situation or make it better; we disassociate or fragment ourselves in order to survive. We escape in order to cope. Some enter a safe fantasy land of make believe friends. Whatever way we choose to cope some part of us no longer dwells in our bodies. Part of us has died, we feel empty, lost and unloved. We grieve for what we have lost- our childhood innocence.
The Hero’s Journey
At some point in our lives when we have an overwhelming desire to reintegrate what we have lost, we then start the hero’s journey of reintegration. This inner search for the holy grail follows the similar five stages as outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross plus some additional stages “They (the stages) were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.”
The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance to which I have added forgiveness, reintegration before reintegration. “These are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live and reclaim what we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order. Our hope is that with these stages comes the knowledge of grief ‘s terrain, making us better equipped to cope with life, loss and reintegration. At times, people in grief will often report more stages. Just remember your grief is as unique as you are.”
Denial is the first of the five stages of grief. It helps us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day. Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle. As you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are unknowingly beginning the healing process. You are becoming stronger, and the denial is beginning to fade. But as you proceed, all the feelings you were denying begin to surface.
Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal. There are many other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that anger has no limits. It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your loved one who betrayed you, but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this? Underneath anger is pain, your pain. It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger. Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. At first grief feels like being lost at sea: no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone, maybe a person who didn’t rescue you, maybe a person who isn’t around, maybe a person who knew what was happened but did not do anything about it. Suddenly you have a structure – – your anger toward them. The anger becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection from you to them. It is something to hold onto; and a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing. We usually know more about suppressing anger than feeling it. The anger is just another indication of the intensity of your loss and your desire for reintegration
Before a loss, it seems like you will do anything if only the abuse would stop, you would be rescued or your parent would not abandon you. “Please God,” you bargain, “I will always be a good girl if you stop him from abusing me. I will love my mother and be good if she only would step in and protect me.” After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others. Then can I wake up and realize this has all been a bad dream?” We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want life returned to what is was; we want our innocent childhood restored. We want to go back in time: find the solution sooner, recognize the abuse more quickly, stop the incident from happening…if only, if only, if only. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We may even bargain with the pain. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss or abuse. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt. People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.
After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever. It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a great loss. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in going on alone? Why go on at all? Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of. The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the situation you’re in is actually depressing. The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response. To not experience depression after a loved one dies would be unusual. When a loss fully settles in your soul, the realization that what you lost is not coming back unless you do something about it is understandably depressing. If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way. In the case of grief over a lost part of ourselves, our loss of innocence and our discovery may feel that the earth is not a safe loving place to live. And, that no shinning knight is going to ride up and rescue us and no, those from our home planet are not coming to land in our backyard and take us home.
Forgiveness begins when we realize that we create the world we live in with every thought, word and deed. When we take radical responsibility for everything that has happened our life, no matter how painful it was; then everything that has happened in our lives has happened because we chose it to happen for our soul’s growth. So we chose our parents and our abuser in order to claim something that our soul was lacking in experience. So ask yourself why did I ask this perpetrator, these entities or disincarnate beings to show up? What is the lesson that I wanted to learn? What did I want that I did not get? How can I claim what I wanted inside of myself right now? Is it that I have to love or accept myself unconditionally or what else do I need to claim within? Because once you unwrap the present, you no longer need anything or anyone outside of myself to point out this lack; because you have reclaimed who you truly are, have been and always will be. Now, once you forgive them, you can stop judging yourself and love yourself unconditionally; so you no longer need any outside confirmation that you are loved, wanted and appreciated.
So what is the present you have unwrapped? What is the gift they have brought the new born child? Now that you have reintegrated what you thought you had lost, are you ready to get on with the rest of your life?
Instead of denying our feelings and numbing out with drugs, alcohol, overeating or sex, we listen to our needs; we move, we change, we grow, we evolve. We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. We invest in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves. We begin to live again, but we cannot do so until we have given ourselves time to forgive them and ourselves and to fully heal.
This article was adapted by Tyhson Banighen from the original article located at http://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/
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