Although the grief process is highly individual, obstacles that cause unnecessary suffering are common among mourners. Often, such obstacles are part of our early learning and the resulting beliefs impressed on us by the behavior of the adults in our lives. In many instances, poor grief models are copied and played out from generation to generation.
The way to intercede in this unhealthy cycle is to become aware of the normalcy of the many aspects of the grief process and the limiting beliefs that keep us in prolonged pain and suffering. This is an ongoing task that takes much time and great effort. As part of developing a new awareness of healthy grieving behaviors here are some of the obstacles to avoid in your quest.
1. Resisting your new identity. The death of a loved one changes us as we have to assume new roles and meet all of the new demands in the "year of the firsts." That is, getting through all of the first events when your loved one would have normally been with you. These are difficult times and it is perfectly normal to feel sad and show emotion. Attempting to repress these feelings only blocks a natural process. Patiently allow the new circumstances of life to become part of you and your life.
2. Becoming stuck in the past. Memories of the past can be critical grieving tools and remind us of how much we learned and what we can still develop. It is very helpful to use loving memories in our transition to a life without the physical presence of our loved one. Nevertheless, living more in the past and less in the present is a recipe for continued pain, especially when we emphasize what we do not have. On the other hand, learning how to love in separation and accept our new and different life is a goal leading to positive accommodation of our great loss.
3. Isolating yourself from needed support and encouragement. It is not unusual for mourners to refuse to share their deep hurt with trusted friends. Months into their grief many resist aid, constantly focusing on what they have lost. Beware of turning down invitations or avoiding opportunities to interact with your support network. Isolation thwarts a critical human need: occasions for receiving and giving love. People provide hope for the future. Increasing your ability to love is one of the most powerful coping responses you can develop.
4. Taking on the role of victim. Whenever we assume the victim role, we automatically minimize our ability to meet the new challenges that loss imposes. Yes, we have to gather our courage and face our new life without the physical presence of the loved one. Self-pity is not uncommon. Give it brief recognition, and then make the commitment to continue to adapt by focusing your attention on the goal of the day. We can continually escape self-pity by doing our grief work which will strengthen self-esteem. What do you need to accomplish now, today?
5. Lack of knowledge of what is normal when mourning. There is a wide range of normalcy when mourning. In fact, it is common for great differences to occur within the same family. Judging one's outward behavior as an indicator of the depth of one's grief is a frequent error. Since we receive little formal education about separation and loss, narrow definitions of what is good grief abound. Refuse to waste energy on meeting some preconceived notion of what is normal. Allow grief to move through you in a natural progression. Accept that some days will be better than others, that we all have our limitations, and that grief revisits in all its fury.
6. Holding on to grief for secondary gains. Sometimes early in life we learn that any illness is a time when we receive special attention and exceptional assistance from others. Regrettably, when grieving, there can be a carryover of this awareness and a tendency for some mourners to emphasize certain aspects of their loss because of the personal gains obtained. This can go on indefinitely unless we become fully aware of how this behavior affects our ability to adapt. The demand to develop new routines, habits, and in some cases needed skills is delayed in favor of the easy road to attention.
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