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Authentic Grief

I believe everyone has had their grief or pain minimized at some point during their lives. In most instances, this is not a result of others’ poor intentions or a sense of maliciousness but stems from the fact that no other person can truly understand your unique experience. We are each different people with different personalities and different experiences. Even if someone has undergone an almost identical experience as you, it will impact each of us differently. For instance, if both you and a sibling underwent verbal abuse from one of your parents growing up, it will affect each of you in varying ways. Or, if you and a friend were both in the same car accident, each of you will be impacted differently by the accident. While you may be able to empathize with one another, the other person cannot truly understand the way in which the experience impacted the other because they are different people with different personalities and different backgrounds.

Meaning, do not feel that you have to experience the same emotions, thoughts, types of relationships, desires for reconciliation, impact on your self-esteem, etc. as someone else with a similar experience. Be honest (at a minimum with yourself) with your feelings, beliefs, and views, rather than trying to conform to those of another because they feel more righteous or seem like the way you should feel. Freedom to experience your experience authentically. This is a difficult task, as it means no guide map exists for how your grief or emotional process should look. The reality is there is no right or perfect way to grieve or heal, as it will be entirely unique to your personality, background, hurts, and so on. This may feel overwhelming, lonely, and scary. However, if you do not grieve in a way that is authentic to you, you will not truly heal.

So, how to approach grieving authentically? First, throw off the expectations of others of what your response should be. Then… Journal. Run. Paint. Talk to a safe friend. Get counseling. Write letters but do not send them. In other words, express those emotions – let ‘em fly. Otherwise, they will be trapped. And you will likely feel stifled, inauthentic, sensitive, irritable, and claustrophobic.

Now, how to respond to the minimization of your experience or grief? Your response likely depends on the intent of the person it is coming from. In instances of others being well-intentioned yet ignorant, an extra dose of grace must be bestowed. While they meant well, they fell short. Regardless of one’s intent, create a metaphorical “dump bucket” (Humphrey, 2009), where others’ minimizing comments may be tossed . This removes the power of such words, separates them from your experience, and restores power to you. No one else has the authority to tell you how you should feel. Only you get to decide whether you authentically experience your grief.

Written by Hannah Chism

Sources: Humphrey, K. M. (2009). Counseling strategies for loss and grief. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.