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Professional Corner

Grieving

From a workshop by Gwen Whiting

Grieving Is...

Normal
Lifelong
An event of sufficient magnitude to allowed without justification
Not self contained
Without order or sequence
A "feeling state" (Not a Stage)

Key concedpts in grieving

Grieving is the spontaneous, natural, necessary feeling-based process that moves one to separate from a lost dream, fantasy, illusion, or projection into the future, impels a search for meaning in the light of loss, and then guides one to more authentic being, expressed through new attachments that are more congruent with one's evolved, natural self. The process of grieving is driven by the interplay of denial, anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, and fear, each of which serves a specific function. Denial and anxiety are forces that govern the process of separation from the lost dream, and impel one to undertake the search for new meaning. Depression, guilt, anger, and fear are the affective states that impel the examination and redefinition of core existential values, and prepare one to recommit to the existential tasks of authentic being.

Feeling states

Denial helps one buy time to find the inner strength and external resources that are needed to cope with traumatic loss. Through the gating process of the layers of denial, one is eased into an unacceptable, incomprehensible reality in manageable steps.

Anxiety first mobilizes energy, and then impels one to examine personal definitions of competency, capability, value, and potency, and how such assumptions shape one's beliefs about the nature of the universe and one's place in it. Ultimately, guilt prepares one to make new commitments, and to assume authentic accountability for them.

Anger impels one to examine core assumptions about the nature of fairness and justice, and how such assumptions shape one's beliefs about the nature of the universe and one's place in it. Ultimately, anger prepares one to maintain authentic boundaries that are consistent with the natural forces of being.

Fear impels one to examine the basis of one's personal courage, and how such assumptions shape one's beliefs about the nature of the universe and one's place in it. Fear prepares on to face the existential dilemma inherent in risking attachment. Ultimately, fear impels one to search for the courage to be.

Transition is the phase of the grieving process shaped by the dynamics of denial and anxiety, and focused on the discovery and separation from the adapted self.

Active grieving is the phase of the grieving process shaped by the dynamics of depression, guilt, anger, and fear, and focused on the discovery and separation from the injured self.

Transformation is the phase of the grieving process shaped by the dynamics of congruence and the authentic performance of existential tasks, focused on the uncovering and empowerment of the natural self.

RELATING TO PEOPLE IN CRISIS: An Introduction to Grief Counseling

In the process of trying to "help" loved ones and friends as they struggle to deal with the problems they encounter, "helpers" often feel at a loss to know what to do or how to do it. In addition, knowing when enough is "enough" is an illusive bit of knowledge. We somehow know that we are supposed to "relate" to the people we are trying to help but the definition of "relate" is not always a clear or consistent concept. Further more, we are often left with an uneasy feeling that, though we have "related" to the person's feelings and issues, we have just not done enough. The concept of ENUF was formulated by Dr. Kenneth Moses and Dr. Robert Keamey to answer the question, "When is enough ENUF?"

ENUF

Empathy
Non-judgment
Unconditionality
Feeling-focus

Empathy is the concerted effort to gain an accurate perception of another's experience, and then to congruently share that perception in one's own words, unique style and personal manner. It must be intensional, with concerted focus and accurate. It is more than " active listening".

Non-judgement is achieved through the helper maintaining a focus that removes the element of judgment, positive or negative. It is not the task of the helper to determine whether the person being helped is functioning "good" or "bad", rather the task is to gain an accurate perception of the person's experience.

Unconditionality is the name given for the beliefs that helpers hold for the person they are helping. An unconditional posture basically holds that a person cannot earn respect, value or caring, nor can they lose them. People are respected, valued, and cared for simply because they exist.

Feeling-focus is a way of looking at the experience that the person shares. This focus is contrasted with the content as understood by the helper. To facilitate or "help" the person who is sharing the experience. The helper must first focus on the person's feelings which are the hallmark or the indicator of the connection between the underlying issues and the objective content or behavior on the surface. Experience is understood here to refer to the person's internal intuitions, understandings and feelings relative to the nature of their life struggle. Only the person sharing the experience knows what it is until it is shared and understood by the listener.

DENIAL INTERVENTION: Helping with Stuckness

Although denial is a part of a normal, necessary and healthy process of grieving, sometimes it is advantageous for all concerned to facilitate the process. When contemplating such an intervention, it is important to remember that one does not give up denial unless it is replaced with something that will work better. A genuine, meaningful relationship often outweighs the benefits of denial. Therefore, all of the following interventions are done within the context of ENUF.

Level of Denial: Intervention:

Facts Gather behavioral observations from bereaved individual and other first hand sources, and restate those facts without imposing conclusions or judgements.

Conclusions Provided bereaved individuals with impersonal, unbiased exposure to experts through books, films, or, preferably, in person presentations commonly offered through information groups.

Implications Process and confront resistance to change by requiring a commitment and follow through on a helpful task or action.

Feelings Intensify the practice of ENUF.

Gwen Whiting ended the workshop with a story about a little boy and a butterfly that ran in the Parents Corner in June 1998. It is re-printed here as a final message to us all.

The Butterfly

By Earl Nightengale

There's a story attributed to Henry Miller, the writer, about a little boy in India who went up to a guru who was sitting and looking at something in his hand. The little boy went up and looked at it. He didn't quite understand what it was, so he asked the guru, "What is that?"

"It's a cocoon," answered the guru, "Inside the cocoon is a butterfly. Soon the cocoon is going to split, and the butterfly will come out."

"Could I have it?" asked the little boy.

"Yes," said the guru, "but you must promise me that when the cocoon splits and the butterfly starts to come out and is beating it's wings to get out of the cocoon, you won't help it. It is important not to help the butterfly by breaking the cocoon apart. It must do it on it's own."

The little boy promised, took the cocoon, and went home with it. He then sat and watched it. He saw it begin to vibrate and move and quiver, and finally the cocoon split in half. Inside was a beautiful damp butterfly, frantically beating its wings against the cocoon, trying to get out and not seeming to be able to do it. The little boy desperately wanted to help. Finally, he gave in, and pushed the two halves of the cocoon apart. The butterfly sprang out, but as soon as it got out, it fell to the ground and was dead. The little boy picked up the dead butterfly and in tears went back to the guru and showed it to him.

"Little boy," said the guru, "You pushed open the cocoon, didn't you?"

"Yes," said the little boy, "I did."

The guru spoke to him gravely, "You don't understand. You didn't understand what you were doing. When the butterfly comes out of the cocoon, the only way he can strengthen it's wings is by beating them against the cocoon. It beats against the cocoon so it's muscles will grow strong. When you helped it, you prevented it from developing the muscles it would need to survive."

It's a story every parent and professional should remember. . .

Handing a child the toy he wants instead of letting him crawl across the room for it or try his best to crawl for it; fulfilling his every whim; loading him down with toys and other shiny beautiful things before he really needs or desires them; emphasizing the importance of grades in school instead of the importance of education. . . all of these things tend to weaken the muscles a child should be developing on his own so that when the time comes to function independently, he will have the strength he needs.

SO OFTEN, WHAT SEEMS HARSH OR CRUEL IN NATURE, IS IN REALITY WISDOM AND KINDNESS FOR THE TIME AHEAD.

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Last modified: January 26, 2013