How Can We Think With Empathy to Overcome Our Grief

When I have some spare time, I scour them to find what else is out there to keep the t2a community informed of other helpful resources.

The other day, I read a posting (I’d prefer not to single out the writer, so we will call her Beth) from a young woman whose father died five months earlier. She expressed that she felt as though the psychiatrist she was seeing was not respecting her feelings. In fact, she felt he was being antagonistic and quick to suggest prescriptions for her depression and admitted self-destructive behavior.

The moderator of this website, let’s call her Marcia, responded very sympathetically. Marcia condemned the mental health professional and quoted, very eloquently, a few passages from a grief expert’s book.

While I think both parties had the very best of intentions. I worry about advice that does not stem from an empathetic and realistic standpoint. This psychiatrist may have been awesome or just downright terrible but labeling him is completely irrelevant. The focus should shift to what can we do to make this a better experience. Seeing a mental health professional is not a must. Human beings are resilient. Alternatively, lots of people seek mental health professionals when coping with grief. It’s a personal preference only an individual can know what modality will be helpful to them.

When I read that piece there were a few pieces of information omitted. Knowledge is power and being better informed can be the difference between a bad experience and a pleasant one.

Number one: Psychiatrists specialize in treating mental illness. They also have the ability to write prescriptions, something psychologists and therapists can’t do.

It’s always a good idea to research a mental health professional, before you see them, especially if you have a strong preference about whether or not you’d be open to medication. It also gives you the opportunity to talk about their treatment style. And if you meet with someone who isn’t a good fit, even after your screening process, you should consider looking for someone else. Shopping around is very important in this field.   Personal biases play a significant role in seeking help, who you get it from and your results. Being picky is completely within your right. Regardless of the type of construct with which you seek for help with grieving, feeling comfortable and trying to be as objective as we can will factor into progress.

Number two: Last year’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) said that grief and mourning were to be considered mental disorders of sorts. To be fair, I’m paraphrasing. It also said that a psychiatrist could label a mourner clinically depressed two weeks after a loss. There were a lot of opponents to this new label, and they balked that grieving is not a mental disorder, but is rather a universal reaction to something we will all experience. I agree. But regardless of what the DSM decides, it’s best to be empowered with this knowledge so you know when you seek help.

Number three: Given what I said in point one about biases being a barrier to successfully coping with grief, it could seem like it goes against my firm belief that everyone should find what works for them through a creative exploration. While I do advocate for people to hold firm of their personal journey through grief, there is one thing about Marcia’s response that I find very counterproductive. This woman Beth came to a grief website to complain. Her entire question was a rant, not really a question. Beth said, this guy was mean to me and even elaborated to add that he told her not to go to Marcia’s site, while Beth felt that Marcia’s website was the only resource that had truly helped her so far. While that was probably a nice ego boost for Marcia, it shouldn’t get in the way of her response.

Marcia even gave Beth more ammunition against this psychiatrist. One, she doesn’t know what the psychiatrist said and whatever he said is irrelevant. For Beth, he wasn’t helpful. That’s the most important part. Perpetuating and encouraging someone to complain more who is grieving, or even in a plain old bad mood, is not helpful. It feels good at the time to be validated, which is important, but after the validation the focus should shift to actually solve the problem.

If anything all that negativity regresses progress. Regression will only lead you back to where you started before you decided to confront loss in the first place. The best way I can explain this is yoga. They say that the yoga pose truly begins as soon as you want to get out of it. But then you go through pose after pose and 90 minutes later you leave feeling invigorated and high on life. You’re enlightened in every sense of the word. After all that drudgery you have a high and when you go back for the next class it’s just a little less arduous and you’re amazed by how hard you can push yourself. If you skip class when you feel that lower back stiffen, that head clutter, oh, and that neck ache, you’ll have to start over when you finally come back around.

It’s been six years since my mother died and my understanding of that loss continues to evolve. I still get sad from time to time. I still laugh at silly memories. I still tell stories about her. I still say I miss her when I really want to talk to her. I fought very hard to overcome the loss, to understand, to learn from it, to become a better person because of it as a way to honor my mother; and although I had amazing people help me along the way, I was my own best supporter. It wasn’t pretty and I wasn’t perfect at it. I made mistakes. The only key to my success was sticking with it even when I wanted to ignore the feelings and tune out in front of the TV.

But here’s what I learned: Be true to yourself. Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Be honest. When you’re struggling to find answers, slow down and take a moment to do something spiritual for yourself. Sitting quietly. Writing a stream of consciousness, drawing a painting.

Struggling for motivation to reflect? Enjoy this visualization exercise designed to help you creatively define your grieving process.

Creating Your Own Grieving Process: Visualization Exercise

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