Blog

Articles to help you improve quality of life

Grieving 2020’s losses

Grieving 2020s losses
When we do not process significant losses, we struggle to move on

Most people would agree that 2020 was a challenging year. Some might even express their discontent more strongly and state that it was “a terrible year”, or “the worst year ever”. Referring to the year just gone in such a negative fashion unavoidably leads to high expectations for 2021. But what if the changes we are anxiously expecting do not materialise as soon as we would have liked? Are we emotionally prepared to accept the circumstances in a more patient, centred manner?

For the majority, the answer is no.  That is because most of us have not grieved 2020’s losses yet. When we do not process significant losses, we struggle to move on. If the concept of grieving last year’s losses feels too abstract to you, imagine 2020 as a life changing event such as moving in with someone you love. Before the move, both of you plan everything together, excitingly. You envision a cosy and beautiful place you have created together. You see friends coming over for dinner and having a wonderful time. Then, as you are getting ready for the big move, one of you loses their job and the other gets diagnosed with a serious illness. Suddenly, you are forced to put everything on hold. And, what is worse, you have no means of predicting when things will get better or if you will ever be able to make that dream come true any time soon.

Such losses make us very sad and very, very angry. Because we were raised in a culture of emotional neglect, however, neither of these emotions are addressed and dealt with in a healthy fashion. Despite not connecting and processing them adequately, we do feel them, make no mistake. Even though emotion phobia is so prevalent, the sadness and anger we carry remain stored in our bodies, which tends to damage not only our emotional, but also our physical health. With regards to relationships, life dissatisfaction and built-up anger are usually projected onto others, an unconscious process which also damages their quality.

Therefore, if you want to face 2021 with a fresh attitude and protect the health of your relationships, I highly recommend fully grieving 2020’s losses, such as the missed opportunities of moving and interacting with others freely, travelling, meeting up with friends and family, socialising with colleagues and neighbours, dating, meeting new people and making new friends, finding a new job, moving and all the other activities and events that colour our existence. If you need help processing any type of loss, please keep on reading the following articles:

How to process emotional pain

5 self-soothing techniques for healthy grief processing

Is it your shame you are carrying?

Is it your shame you are carrying
Emotions like shame are highly contagious

Shame, as the other core negative emotions (sadness, anger, fear, shock and disgust), might become toxic if not identified and dealt with mindfully and proactively. Toxic shame is particularly detrimental to emotional wellbeing because it is experienced cognitively and physically in a great variety of ways, which makes it difficult to identify it. While you might underestimate how low you feel when comparing yourself to others, for instance, and fail to connect the attitude to shame, the feeling feeds off your inadequacy. Like a virus that takes over your body without your awareness, shame finds its way into your system and weakens your self-esteem and healthy sense of self.

Since emotions are highly contagious, they move from one body to another swiftly. When we consider that shame is mainly there to create discomfort when we fail to confirm to social norms and makes us aware of a threat to our group status, it can easily lead to a great fear of rejection and abandonment. As social beings who thrive in groups, feelings of wrongness and exclusion triggered by shame have the potential to stop us from behaving in an authentic fashion. A false sense of self is then created to secure membership, regulate the inadequacy and re-establish an inner sense of safety.

Therefore, catching yourself when affected by shame is key to protect self-esteem and nurture the authentic, autonomous self. You can achieve that by asking yourself “Does this shame belong to me?” when feeling inadequate, less than, unappreciated, criticised, judged or not good enough. Like anger, shame is easily projected as a dysfunctional means to emotional regulation. Despite the harm it causes to those who are directly or indirectly affected by that process, it is repeated in a highly unconscious manner, damaging not only our ability to love and accept ourselves unconditionally but the quality of our relationships. If you find your shame not to be congruent with the beliefs of your free and confident self, give it back to whom it belongs. You can do that by moving your hands as if you were throwing a shame ball back to its owner, or tell yourself, silently, that the shame you feel is not yours to keep. Use your creativity and have fun with it. For challenging negative thinking that leads to shame feelings, I also recommend filling out a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts during periods of vulnerability.

For healthy healing: what types of loss can cause grief?

For healthy healing what types of loss can cause grief
Realisation of traumatic events and their effects may cause grief

Our ability to deal and overcome the losses we experience relies greatly on our willingness to tolerate and accept grief. As most of us were raised in a culture of emotional neglect, grief tends to be ignored, repressed or even strongly dismissed depending on the context from which arises. As grieving is a biological healing process with might result from any type of loss, the deeper our understanding of what is meant by “loss”, the better our awareness of our need to grieve. To help you expand your knowledge on the meaning of loss and connect with your grief in a healthier way, here are 17 types loss that can cause grief beyond the stereotype:

  • Moving to a new house/flat, city or country
  • Losing body parts, be it due to accident or surgery for health reasons
  • End of loving relationships of any kind
  • End of friendships
  • Death of family members, loved ones, pets, colleagues, neighbours and/or acquaintances
  • Loss of material goods which have impact on quality of life
  • Loss of power to make decisions or sense of empowerment and autonomy
  • Change in professional situation, such as promotion, demotion or retirement
  • Being fired or made redundant
  • Realisation of lack or even inexistent sources of emotional, financial and/or social support
  • Loss of self-esteem, be it through traumatic events (abuse, neglect) or significant change in life circumstances (academic, professional and/or social/relational)
  • Loss of identity, be it through psychological, emotional and/or physical changes
  • Loss of money or change in financial situation
  • Realisation of traumatic events and their effects
  • Cutting contact with family members or significant others
  • Radical change in life routine, such as the ones experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Change in health, as through chronic illness diagnoses, for instance

Because true healing from losses such as the ones mentioned above tend not to materialise without conscious and healthy grieving, changing the way you view and experience grief is a key element to processing it fully and wholeheartedly. Even when those around you are not able to understand your need to grieve, grant yourself the right to grieve. Trust your body as your wisest guide to connect with painful feelings such as anger, shame, guilt and sadness and embrace them autonomously and without judgement.

5 self-soothing techniques for healthy grief processing

5 self-soothing techniques for healthy grief processing
Grief tends to follow a sense of loss

Grief tends to follow a sense of loss. Death of a loved one, sudden increase in awareness of childhood trauma, being fired or made redundant, experiencing relationship breakups of any nature or changes in health and/or living conditions, for instance, are all examples of losses that may trigger the need to grieve. Even though it is a biological and functional process, grief is still highly misunderstood and even neglected. If you believe in the power of grieving as a reliable source of emotional connection, wholeness and wisdom but often feel overwhelmed by it, here are 5 self-soothing techniques for healthy grief processing to help you through it:

1- Self-cuddling: Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing and writer of Waking the Tiger, has taught us how to use our bodies to soothe ourselves. Give yourself a big butterfly cuddle by placing the palm of your right hand on your left armpit, and the palm of your left hand on your right arm. Relax your shoulders and truly hold yourself while you feel the warmth of your body through the palms of your hands (to watch Peter Levine’s demo video, please click here). This technique is recommended to those who find themselves affected by feelings of sadness, loneliness, rejection and/or abandonment and, therefore, struggle to feel safe and loveable.

2- Gentle touch: place the hand you write with on your chest, and the other one on your belly. Breathe deeply (5 seconds for the inbreath and 5 seconds for the outbreath) and truly hold your own body and emotions with love and unconditional self-acceptance. This technique also works well for those who are experiencing great feelings of fear/anxiety, sadness, loneliness, rejection and abandonment.

3- Cigar breathing: make a strong pout and breathe deeply in and out through it (at least 5 seconds for inbreath and outbreath). This exercise allows you to connect with the vagus nerve so to calm down the nervous system and regulate anger and fear/anxiety/panic.

4- Tranquil place: imagine a beautiful and calm place that you associate with relaxation and other pleasant feelings. Transport yourself to your tranquil place mentally. Visualise enjoying your surroundings and savouring everything that makes this place truly especial to you. Moreover, observe how your body gradually relaxes and makes you feel more serene as the connections with the image deepens.

5- Grounding: sit on a chair with a straight back, relaxed shoulders and both feet in parallel touching the floor. Start focusing your attention on your breathing. You do not have to force anything. Then, gradually, start changing the focus to the soles of your feet. Notice the bodily sensations that bring them to your awareness, as well as the sensations between your (bare) feet and the floor. This exercise helps you feel centred and back in the present, where you belong.

Through grieving our losses with our whole self – body and mind – we not only process and overcome them healthily, but also develop emotional wellbeing and maturity, unconditional self-esteem and post-traumatic growth.

For recovering codependents: tools to successfully say no

For the recovering codependent tools to successfully say no
Learning how to say no helps you overcome codependency

If you are codependent, your sense of safety and identity rely on your ability to please and be liked by others. Codependents are also emotionally dependent because they use other people to regulate negative feelings and emotions. Because of their history of relational trauma, they often feel anxious in the context of relationships. In order to ease that emotional discomfort, they turn their attention outside their selves and focus on making others feel good. When codependents’ perceptions of others in relation to them is one of approval, they feel worthy and lovable, which makes their state of unease more manageable.

This tendency makes it almost impossible for codependents to feel at peace with themselves when saying no. For that reason, they avoid it as much as they can. This turns them into “Yes men and women” who sacrifice their happiness and wellbeing for others, not necessarily because they are “nice”, “kind”, “helpful” and “friendly”, but because their behaviour is greatly motivated by insecurity and a fear of rejection and abandonment.

So how can a recovering codependent break that habit and start prioritising their own needs, wants and interests without feeling guilty, afraid and ashamed? By saying no and tolerating the discomfort. Tolerating inadequacy and just sitting with it, feeling it while observing it without judgement and, most importantly, resisting the urge to act, is one of the greatest skills of the emotionally autonomous. The emotionally mature can say no also because of their understanding that affecting others in negative ways – even when unintentionally – is human and unavoidable. Safe in that knowledge, they tolerate their own discomfort as well as others’, while freeing themselves of the incoherent burden of making others’ existence pain free.

Due to our ability to feel and process negative feelings and emotions, we are equipped to handle the disappointment that might arise from being refused or denied something we want. Therefore, if you are trying to overcome your codependency by not agreeing with everyone and everything that is asked of you, start saying no and practicing sitting with the discomfort that that behaviour tends to trigger. Resist the urge to go back on what you have said, change your mind, explain your reasons for acting the way you do, apologise and compromise, and just accept that your body needs time to adjust to a new attitude. With patience and perseverance, your assertiveness will enable the authentic self to flourish, which once fully felt and experienced, revolutionises – in a much healthier and functional way – your ability to think, act and feel independently.

2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way

2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way
Having no time for anything also indicates an over reliance on intellectualisation, social interaction and movement as defence mechanisms not to connect with emotions

The habit of relying on external factors to regulate negative feelings and emotions is at the core of emotional dependence. People, things, work, food and exercise are all examples of external factors which are commonly used to make one feel balanced or “better”. While a certain level of dependence is healthy to nurture secure attachment, for instance, constantly searching for someone or something outside the self to help one deal with the discomfort that lies within – without consciously connecting with it – often worsens one’s ability to process emotions in a functional way in the long term. To raise your awareness or prevent you from perpetuating such tendency, here are 2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way:

You do what you can not to spend time alone

Focusing the attention on others distracts us from having it on our own selves. Emotionally dependent people tend to equate being alone to feeling lonely, restless and/or somewhat uncomfortable. That belief feeds a constant need to be surrounded by people in order not to feel that emotional discomfort. Such avoidant behaviour – or emotion phobia – signals a maladaptive tendency of not wanting to connect with the inner world, address and fully process negative emotions.

You do what you can to stay “busy”

Although activities such as studying, socialising, helping others, working, cleaning, talking and even exercising may be productive, they also work as perfect excuses for not thinking or, most importantly, feeling. As being busy is much more socially acceptable than connecting with negative emotions, since we come from a culture of emotional neglect and intolerance, endless to do lists and “no time for anything” might also indicate an over reliance on intellectualisation, social interaction and movement as defence mechanisms not to connect with emotions such as fear, anger, sadness and shame, as well as feelings of abandonment, emptiness and rejection.

Looking outside the self and relying on the external world to gain distance from emotions and, therefore, “deal with them” correspond to emotional dependent attitudes that strongly affect mental health and wellbeing. To embrace an emotionally autonomous stance, learning how to spend time alone and in stillness are essential for anyone who wishes to freely reconnect with the body and feel more centred in an organic, adaptive way which also boosts personal growth and emotional maturity.