What is a “normal” grief default setting?
After my son’s death, I instinctively put up a force field to protect myself from feeling grief of that magnitude ever again. At the slightest hint that a loss could be on the horizon (when my mother was dying of cancer, for example, or when a romantic relationship seemed sure to fail), I turned off emotionally. From that point on, I simply "went through the motions" of coping. But when a surprise loss hits me upside the head, I feel like a moth flying face first into a bug zapper and was hypersensitive to the loss.
This polarization of feelings, and the resulting emotional roller coaster, is natural. This dilemma of loving too little or caring too much may be with me (and possibly you?) forever. Coping with another traumatic separation often means reliving the greatest tauma or emotionally sidestepping it. It’s hard to level your emotions. Distancing ourselves from grief is a natural way to protect the core – and everything the body does instinctually, mentally and physically, is intended to protect the core life energy. But grief will not be denied. It will be expressed, eventually. Bottled up or shut “off”, it may resurface as an extreme reaction to lesser loss of a job, a lost opportunity, or an injured pet. Accepting or understanding that altered reality – a changed part of ourselves – will help move us toward a more peaceful and sane existence, and to a greater compassion for ourselves.
It's considered Traumatic Grief if you disconnect from all the love and joy in the world and slide into a depression that is long lasting. That is not a natural reaction, it is a clinical depression. Untreated, it won't just go away. You need help. Symptions include: purposelessness about the future; numbness, detachment, or absence of emotional responsiveness; difficulty believing or acknowledging the death; feeling that life is empty or meaningless; feeling that part of oneself has died; shattered world view; assuming symptoms of harmful behaviors of the deceased person; excessive irritability, bitterness, or anger related to the death.
Worried you're suffering from Traumatic Grief? Here is a quick quiz that you can download. It is not a diagnostic tool by itself, but an indicator light to help you differentiate between the natural grief process, and the more traumatic grief response of depression that lasts six months or longer. If you feel you do have Traumatic Grief, please see a counselor. It isn't a matter of having the "will" to heal yourself; it's likely beyond your ability.
And really… can’t we use any help we can get?
Point this week: Go easy on yourself. Be compassionate and understanding about the depth and breadth of the loss you have suffered. Then work to identify grief patterns and to address any problems you become aware of.