Healing, Step One: Grieve

“We have to stop and feel the hurts we’ve endured.”

(From “Seven Steps to Healing” byEdgar Villanueva in Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides, second edition, copyright 2021, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc, Oakland, CA) As promised, this blog is the first installment where I will take Edgar Villanueva’s excellent healing model, (designed to address healing in the arenas of philanthropy and finance,) and apply them to interpersonal relationships. Step one is to grieve.

Sometimes we can be in so much of a hurry, either to escape a painful relationship or to heal it, that we skip right past taking an inventory of what wasn’t okay to begin with. We are probably tired of feeling bad. The last thing we want to do is to invite more uncomfortable feelings.

And yet.

As I mentioned in a previous blog dedicated to grief:

Grief is like a poor relation who plops down on your couch and demands a sandwich. He doesn’t go anywhere until you feed him what he wants. He is relentless. You can ignore him, yell at him, pretend he’s not there or feed him foods he’s not interested in, but he isn’t going anywhere until he gets what he actually needs.

As I also mentioned in that blog, grief is more than just feeling sad feelings. It’s a whole process that, according to J. William Worden, involves tending to four specific tasks. These tasks are not linear. We are typically doing several at one time. In fact, paying attention to one grief task most often puts us smack dab in the presence of another.

In the context of interpersonal relationships where some healing is needed, consider the following, (adapted from the book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, a Handbook for the Mental Health Professional,

by J. William Worden:

GRIEF TASK “Accepting the Reality of the Loss” We experience losses and micro losses in relationships all the time. We may have hoped that the relationship or the other person would be a certain way, and it turns out that they aren’t. It could be that you thought you were on the same page with your vision for the future of the relationship, but you aren’t. It could be that you thought you could bring something to the relationship and it’s become clear that you can’t. All of these are losses. Accepting the reality of these losses can bring some important clarity in the midst of a chaotic-feeling swirl of emotions.

GRIEF TASK “Working Through the Pain of the Loss” Becoming aware of the reality of that kind of loss has a habit of smacking us in the head with the pain of that reality. As much as this kind of pain is not fun, it is important. Paying attention to our pain and taking care of ourselves in that pain helps us figure out what to do with the truth of how things are now, in the presence of the loss. Which tends to lead us straight to –

GRIEF TASK “Adjusting to the New Environment” What does the relationship look like now? Has our level of trust shifted? Are we able to empathize with the other person in a different way? Perhaps we are being challenged to accept that the relationship will not be as close as we’d hoped. Possibly, the loss might bring us even closer together.

Adjusting to the new environment can be really disconcerting. It's like we had that part of our lives packed into a suitcase and this loss blew the case wide open, throwing everything everywhere. “Adjusting” means going through each piece, deciding if it still belongs, and if so, where. As you consider each piece of the relationship that needs to find its place, don’t be surprised if a new awareness of the pain of the loss swells up, leading to once again searching for a new layer of acceptance. (See what I mean about the tasks not being linear?)

GRIEF TASK “Finding an Enduring Connection” This is the task where we answer questions like, “How do I make sense out of this change, this loss?“ “What can I take forward from it?” “What do I learn?” “How do I want to do things differently?” “How will I think of the relationship as it was, versus how it is?” This task calls us to a stark sense of honesty.

When healing is needed between people, working our grief bravely, with stark self-inventory and candor, helps keep us from putting some of the same elements that weren’t working before, back into the mix again. It keeps us from winding up right back in this unhelpful place of division.

We might share our grief process with the other person. We might not. Some of this work might be private work, while other components of it are important to put in the air between people. Boldly facing our truth can help us move wisely in healing with others, not cluttering the conversation with things that we might want to hurl at the other person in our pain and anger. Allowing ourselves and the other the room to grieve can help us discern what does and does not belong in the healing dialogue.

What has hurt us in the relationship? How can we most productively share those things that are not ok with us, with the other person? Stay tuned for the next blog where we will talk about apologizing for how we have harmed the other person in this rift.

................................................................................. Would you like help working through healing a relationship in your life? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s figure it out.