The Grief Process
“Emotional lessons—even the most deeply implanted habits of the heart learned in childhood—can be reshaped. Emotional learning is lifelong”
Daniel Goleman (1995)
In referring to the grief process, I am mostly referring to feeling the emotional pain through crying which is how the old feelings are released. The other side of that part of the equation is to then be involved and connected to a community of people to fill the empty emotional and psychic space created by letting the feelings out and replace it with affirmation, validation, nurturing, comforting, etc.; all the things that were missing when the original trauma(s) occurred.
In his fascinating book on pain and suffering, Where is God When it Hurts, Yancey (1977) makes a case for the idea of emotional pain as a blessing. To make his case, he cites research into Hansen’s disease (leprosy) as well as studies on human pain by Dr. Paul Brand, which illustrated what turned out to be the impossible task of trying to creating a model that would adequately reproduce any semblance of the human pain network. As Yancey explains it, Hansen’s disease causes a loss of function in the pain cells of the hands, feet, nose, eye, etc. or ability to transmit pain information to the brain. It is this inability to recognize and feel pain as it is occurring that causes many of the deformities and physical damage to those stricken with the disease. People with Hansen’s are physically anesthetized and can wind up losing toes, arms, eyesight, etc. alcoholics/addicts seek to create a sort of “emotional leprosy,” wherein they can do whatever they like and feel no pain. They avoid the very thing that can alert them that something is wrong and that needs immediate attention. In essence, their emotional limbs begin to fall off; they begin to “lose it.”
There is a major difference between necessary pain and unnecessary suffering. Necessary emotional pain is a natural part of the living process and normally has a limited life-span if dealt with in a healthy way. Needless suffering appears to be caused by the avoidance of the necessary pain and goes on for as long as the individual is unable or unwilling to face the pain. Even the pain of abuse can be healed over time, albeit sometimes an incredibly long period of time. Put simply, all of us are faced with the choice between: Short-term intense pain leading to long-term relief versus the short-term relief of avoidance, which is initially less intense but leads to long-term suffering.
Another important aspect of the why we need to move through the old feelings when there is so much information and practical advice around changing one’s programming through the Power of Positive Thinking. While it is true that since the conscious mind programs the unconscious mind, which is the creator in our lives, the unconscious beliefs that were talked about above are deeply anchored by the feelings and emotions that have been repressed over the years. To put it more simply, all of us have seen party balloons which are filled with lighter than air gases and are kept in place by their attachment to a large and heavy metal object. The core beliefs are represented by the balloon and the feelings by the metal object, and until the connection between the two is released, the balloon/beliefs cannot be released and float away. This concept is visually represented in the figure below.
In the exchange process I have just described, as the repressed emotions are released through the grieving process, the individual’s spirit/authentic self actually does grow. Without the tremendous pain to block it and repress it, access to and connection with, the spirit, is more easily kept. The individual now operates the majority of the time from that spiritual center, which eventually changes the unconscious beliefs to the new reality. This in turn affects the conscious thoughts. The addicted person continues to have times when they feel bad about themselves (after all, they are still human); when they react in old negative thought and feeling patterns. However, the depth of the self-criticism and length of the dis-ease is greatly reduced and does not have the same debilitating effect on the individual through the triggering of self-destructive behaviors. These changes are not necessarily permanent once they occur. They require maintenance.
In order to understand why positive experiences do not have much effect on changing an individual’s deep sense of self, it is important to look within the physical sciences, where there exists a law regarding the equalization of pressure. Simply put, this law explains that when a vessel is opened (or when a permeable or semi-permeable membrane is place between two vessels), if the pressure is greater on one side, the gas or liquid will move out of the vessel (or across the membrane) until the pressure within the gas or liquid is equally distributed. By this same principle, the dis-eased individual cannot open his or her heart in order to make a connection to their spirit, because each time he or she begins to open up, whatever emotions are inside them are necessarily released. Since they cannot live in their heart and spirit, they must live in their heads, or intellect, if you like. The head is governed by the ego, which has a very narrow and disconnected vantage point from which to make life decisions, and is designed to protect the individual from anything that the ego deems might destroy it. While this may be healthy in, let’s say, an abusive situation, and may protect the undeveloped and at-risk child, as the child grows older, the ego eventually protects only the ego, and in time, destroys the individual. The destruction comes as a result of the ego’s protection, because it perpetuates the belief that the person is not capable of dealing with reality. While this belief may have been true when the individual was a child, it is not necessarily true for the adult individual. Due to this lack of integrity and healthy balance between the intellect and the spirit, the person does not emotionally or mentally mature in a healthy way. Whatever age the individual disconnected from their spirit, is the probable age of the ego. Therefore, if one disconnected at age five, a five year old consciousness (in the spiritual sense and in some cases, the emotional sense as well) is running the show. Thus the addict appears immature, grandiose, etc. (Tiebout, 1953)