Many of us live life trying to maintain the illusion that we are in full control of our own lives. Even knowing that there are many things (like aging and dying) that we do not control, we prefer to maintain the illusion by not thinking about these things. The wish to hold on to this illusion can be very intense.

Karl wanted more than anything in the world to get custody of his two sons after his divorce. It just didn’t happen. He hired an expensive lawyer and did extensive research on his own. The judge gave him visitation rights only on alternate weekends.

Nothing more could be done. Karl’s disappointment was getting him down. He was irritable at work and turned down invitations to go out with friends. He felt he should be coping better, but just couldn’t find the energy. What could he do?

Like others who have suffered a keen disappointment, Karl needs to recognize that loss of a hope is just as real as loss of some tangible thing. Our culture gives us permission to grieve major losses, but unfortunately expects us to react “maturely” and have minimal responses to relatively minor losses. “After all,” his mother scolded, “your children are healthy and happy and you do get to see them every other week.”

When a loss occurs, we first try to deny it. “This isn’t happening to me,” Karl kept thinking. Then we turn to fear and anger. When anger doesn’t work, we often start blaming others. Karl blamed his wife for his situation, when he was the one who initiated the divorce.

Karl, like all of us, must face that as an adult, there aren’t any bigger, more powerful people who can fix things for us. Mother’s kissing our scraped knee will no longer solve all of our problems. We need to move on to feeling our sadness.

Once we grieve, we can let go of the energy we’ve invested in trying so hard to get what we wanted. Only then can we move on and look for other important things.

Karl finally accepted an invitation to go fishing with a friend he had been turning down for weeks. As they drove to the mountains, he poured out his disappointment to Jacob. How good it felt to grieve out loud and get Jacob’s support! They caught their full limit and ended up laughing uproariously when a sudden thundershower drenched them as they ran back to the truck.

What Karl learned that day was simple: trying not to experience an unpleasant feeling only serves to keep that feeling there almost indefinitely.

The harder he had tried not to grieve, the more it had festered inside. Pretending it was not there did not make it go away, and crying in front of Jacob had not damaged their friendship. In fact, Karl felt even closer to his friend than ever.

When we have no model for appropriate expression of feelings, we tend to hold them inside. It never occurs to us that expressing how we feel about a problem (in Karl’s case a very real loss) can help us change how we feel. Sealing over the uncomfortable feelings that were not permitted also seals over happy joyful feelings. All that is left is depression.

The expression of one kind of feeling makes the expression of other kinds of feelings possible. It’s like unlocking a locked box. Everything in it is now available to come out.

Dealing with loss is a highly individualized process. Grief from minor loss may be gone in minutes ﷓ other deep losses may take years to resolve.

What is important is to pay attention to your own internal signals (like getting tearful or angry) about what you need to do. Then go ahead and do it, preferably with the support of people who care about you ﷓ until you feel your own energy available for moving on to live your life as you choose.

Excerpted from I Don’t Need Therapy, but Where Do I Turn for Answers?

[tags]Emotional Problems, Personal Growth, Self-Improvement, Self Help[/tags]