by Russell Friedman & John W. James of The Grief Recovery Institute
In a previous article “Less Than Loved Ones -Hopes and Dreams” we touched upon the idea that grievers develop a relationship to their pain, as if their identity hinged on regarding themselves as unhappy. Many people become so familiar with those painful feelings that they are afraid to let them go. If it were not so sad, and if it did not have such dire consequences, one would be tempted to draw a cartoon of someone clinging desperately to a horrible looking creature called “pain,” terrified of losing it. And yet, that is exactly what it looks like.
Some of us have very long-term relationships to pain. We may have unresolved “loss of trust” experiences from childhood that keep us in an almost perpetual state of acceptance of pain as a permanent condition. Many of us keep dragging the unfinished relationships of our past into all of our new relationships, and then acting surprised when they always end the same. We may be ill-equipped to deal with the feelings caused by the end of each new relationship, and we may be unaware that almost all of our past relationships are incomplete or unresolved.
Some of us are able to acknowledge that we have sabotaged many relationships. While we have the intellectual awareness that we are the common denominator in the sabotages, we find ourselves unable to change our behaviour. If the intellect were the key to successful recovery then we would be able to think ourselves well. We would be able to understand ourselves into better actions. Clearly that does not work. Unresolved grief is cumulative and cumulatively negative.
Incomplete relationships create unresolved grief, and …
…Unresolved grief creates incomplete relationships.
Incomplete relationships can cause us to limit our lives, can induce us to sabotage good relationships, can encourage us to keep choosing poorly. Unresolved grief becomes a relationship to ourselves as unworthy of happiness. We must learn how to grieve and complete relationships that have ended or changed. It may sound simple, and it is simple. Why then, do so many people resist taking the simple and clearly defined actions of Grief Recovery®? The opening paragraph of this article referred to how familiar we become with our pain. Familiarity can create a powerful illusion that change is not necessary, that growth is not possible, and that where happiness is concerned, 20% equals 100%.
“Am I equipped for happiness?” Yes, but I am much more familiar with pain. As the direct result of years and years of practice, I am expert at identifying and relating to pain. Happiness is an unwelcome intruder in how I relate to myself.
We have all searched desperately for the key to happiness. While it may sound simplistic to say that we held the key, ourselves, all along, it is true. Access to our own happiness is directly linked to our ability to grieve and complete our relationships with people and events, as well as our ability to grieve and complete our relationship to the pain we generate when we are reminded of the unhappiness we have experienced in our lives.
Many of us say, over and over, that if only this or that would happen I could be happy. The thing might be love or money or success or fame. And yet, how often do we get the very thing we wanted and wind up as unhappy as we were before, and even more disillusioned? To rediscover your ability to be happy, you must go back and grieve and complete all of the incomplete relationships from your past. As you do so, you will begin to find your normal and natural desire and ability to be happy. You may have heard people talk about stripping away the layers of an onion; we prefer the analogy of stripping away the leaves of an artichoke, and discovering your heart inside.
QUESTION: I have had many painful loss experiences in my life. Sometimes I feel as if there is no way I can ever let down my guard and allow any positive or happy experiences in. Will Grief Recovery® principles help me change this fearful habit?
ANSWER: In clearly identifying your behaviour as a habit, you increase the probability of growth and change. The idea of changing a habit is probably less intimidating than the idea of changing behaviour. In truth, most of our behaviours are habits that we have practiced so well and so often that they seem like our nature. Many of our survival habits were developed when we were quite young. Often we are managing an adult life with the limited skills and perceptions of a small child. As we grieve and complete the events and the behaviours of our pasts, we become open to our ability to be happy.
© 2002 Russell P. Friedman, John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at *protected email* or by phone USA (818) 907-9600 Canada (519) 586-8825