Why We All Need To Better Recognize Our Grief, From A Clinical Psychologist
When we hear the word "grief," our minds typically jump right to death. We grieve family and friends who have passed, yes—but what about all the other little things in life we grieve that don't involve a literal death?
Here's what clinical psychologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS, had to say about this oft-misunderstood emotion, in a recent conversation with mindbodygreen.
What we get wrong about grief.
According to Beurkens, only thinking about grief in the context of death keeps us from properly grieving other endings or metaphorical "deaths" in our lives. This limited definition then inhibits us from actually honoring, processing, and moving through those endings.
"Grief is a pretty intense emotion that we experience in lots of ways," Beurkens explains.
As she explains, we can grieve any type of loss, from losing a job to losing a relationship to losing a former version of yourself as you grow into your next evolution or chapter of life. She notes that feelings of nostalgia could even fall under grief's umbrella, too.
You can even grieve for a future you never had, which you might experience when going through a breakup, for example. Suddenly, the future you'd imagined with this person will never happen, even though you'd been planning for it—and that's a loss that will certainly bring up feelings of grief.
"We can grieve change—any kind of change. So I think people don't realize that a lot of what we attribute to sadness is actually more accurately labeled as grief," Beurkens tells us. "They don't think about it because no one died—but a lot of the sadness, a lot of the melancholy—a lot of that stems from grieving in some way."
How to make room for grief in your life—because it deserves the space.
The first step to working through any of the more difficult emotions is, of course, identifying it in the first place.
In the case of grief, locate that feeling in your body. What does it actually feel like? (Note: We're not asking you to intellectualize what, or why, you're grieving—just feel the feeling!)
From there, Beurkens says, remember that emotions do come and go with time. Sometimes we lean away from grieving because it feels too painful to face, but this only results in stifling those emotions, forcing them to pile up inside you. Trust that by dealing with your emotions now, you'll be better able to move forward.
"That's one of the things in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that we really work on with people, is this understanding that you are not your feelings," Beurkens explains, adding, "Your feelings are happening to you in the moment, but they don't define you—and what you're feeling now is not the same way that you're going to be feeling an hour from now or a week from now."
With this understanding, we can move away from over-identifying with our emotions. Because if you become too preoccupied with grief, or if you never even honor the fact that you're grieving something, it can start to impact the way you're operating, from your mental landscape to your behaviors, Beurkens says.
For more tips on how to navigate grief and finally move forward, check out our full guide on how to let go of the past.
Grief is primarily reserved for instances of a loved one passing away, but the truth is, we may actually grieve different things all the time, as we're constantly changing, growing, and evolving. Nostalgia is real, and grief is too—and when we honor it as such, we don't have to be weighed down by the past and can move through our emotions with more grace and compassion for ourselves.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.