Grief is a small word that conjures up big feelings. It is more than sadness or missing someone and instead can be the intense feelings of numbness, disconnection, and hopelessness that come with a profound loss.
Grief often feels as if it will last forever. When you are grieving it may seem like your life will remain stuck in a terrible cycle of mourning. There is no timeframe or expiration date on grief. Some people mourn for years after they experience a loss while others move on quickly after a couple of months. The truth is that grief doesn’t have a timetable, it is a process that every individual moves through at their own pace.
When you are deep in grief it may feel like your life is never going to be the same. It can be scary to be knocked so far off of the path you thought you were on in only a matter of moments. Recognizing your lack of control over your life can bring about an intense sense of anxiety. You may fear that you are losing your mind and that no matter what you try, the outcomes of your efforts are still unpredictable.
Grief can also rob you of the relationships that remain in your life. As you work to move through the grieving process it is normal to feel numb to the people and situations that surround you. It can be difficult for those who love you to know how to support you and your relationships can start to feel strained. Not only does living your life stuck in the grief cycle feel incredibly painful, but it can also feel lonesome, leaving you disconnected from yourself and others.
For one recent client, grief had a profound impact on the way he lived his life. This client lost his wife due to illness, and upon her death, he felt like he had lost his whole world. He felt alone and as if he had no one who understood him or whom he could count on.
People in the client’s life often told him to just “get over” his wife’s passing and to start getting on with his life. But the client felt stuck in his grief for over five years, admitting that he just couldn’t find a way to move on. Eventually his health and other relationships suffered, and he found himself feeling completely hopeless about having a future that could ever compare to the one he had before his wife died.
Now the truth is that a lot of people who experience the loss of a loved one struggle with feeling hopeless. This client sought help because he wanted to feel “normal” again and to start looking at life like something worth living.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely struggling with your own version of grief. If you can tune in to this client’s journey, you can see how others have overcome their grieving process and find the inspiration you need to be happy – even after a loss. When you take similar steps, it is entirely possible to navigate your grief and move forward.
The Hopelessness of The Grief Cycle
Before scheduling a session, this client told me his life felt hopeless. He felt stuck in his loss, and like he couldn’t move past the idea of living without his wife. He was lost and depressed and often missed out on the good parts of his life because he couldn’t bring himself to admit that there were still people and things to enjoy. He felt sad and lonely and questioned the meaning of his life and if he still had a purpose now that he was without the one person he cared so much for. While grief felt comfortable and necessary for the client, getting stuck in the process impacted his ability to feel happy and connected.
At his worst, the client felt detached and closed off from the people in his life. He often struggled socially because had a hard time communicating with his friends and family because the only things he could talk about were his wife and his grief. He no longer knew how to relate with others who were able to go on with their lives, and he had a hard time relating to their joy. The client didn’t see the point in doing what he loved any more.
The client told me that right before he decided to schedule a session he finally got sick of feeling sad and stuck. He had lost the last five years of his life and it seemed like things were getting worse not better. The main motivation for him coming to therapy was the fact that he often didn’t want to get out of bed.
So, when the client came to his first session, I worked hard to make him feel safe and comfortable. We worked together to establish a therapeutic relationship and I focused on making him feel comfortable and learning what he wanted to get out of therapy. By the time the client left the session he began to feel a little more hopeful.
As we continued therapy, the client knew that he wanted to feel alive again and not as if he had died with his wife. We created a plan to help him come to terms with his loss, accept his reality, and incorporate both into his new life. He also wanted to reconnect with loved ones and to decrease his sadness around those who had found a way to move past his wife’s death.
Using EMDR and More In Treating Clients Stuck In Their Grief
Once the client and I had established a strong, positive therapeutic bond, we began to work on more deeper-seated issues surrounding his grief. We used EMDR to process the loss of his wife and any of the memories or emotions he had repressed surrounding her passing.
We often discussed what it was like to visit her in the hospital while she was sick and taking care of her when she couldn’t care for herself, both of which were subjects he couldn’t talk about before therapy. EMDR helped him process his feelings of guilt around the belief that he could have done more to help or save her. We also processed the lingering question of why this happened to her and not him. He attended therapy weekly and slowly started to feel better.
The client told me it was really important for him to know he was making progress, so we developed a way to measure his improvement. This included establishing what was holding him back from healing from his wife’s death and determining ways he would know he was feeling and interacting with those he loved better.
When I practice with clients stuck in the grief process, I prefer to use insight-oriented therapy and family systems therapy along with EMDR. Evidence shows this blend works well to help clients get out of the patterns that are keeping them stuck. My favorite way to get results for grieving clients is to use a combination of therapy techniques that allows them to move at a pace that is right for them and begin to implement changes slowly overtime so they do not feel overwhelmed.
After several weeks of therapy, it was obvious that the client was beginning to incorporate the new skills he was learning into his daily life. The client started to look forward to things in life and even though they were small at first, for the first time since his wife had died, he felt hopeful for his future. The client also told me he no longer felt guilty when he caught himself enjoying the company of others. He was able to take pleasure in their company without being afraid of building a bond with them or losing them like he did his wife.
The client knew he was ready to move on from therapy because he was able to incorporate grief into his life. He had fond memories of his wife and was able to acknowledge his strong love for her. He was also able to admit she was gone and look forward to his life, even though that meant having to do so without her. By our final session he was able to talk about being widowed without breaking down emotionally.
Moving Through Your Own Grief
Although you might be feeling stuck in your grief and afraid that your future will be bleak and empty forever, you have the potential to reengage with life again.
Looking at another client’s healing story can help you recognize what is possible for yourself. Now that you have seen another client’s journey of healing from grief, you can recognize a possibility for yourself to also feel happy and connected again.
EMDR therapy can help you overcome your intense grief. To start moving beyond the loss that’s holding you back, please contact me to ask any questions you may have or learn more about my approach to grief therapy.
Suzi Sena, EdS, LPC provides individual, couple, and career counseling to clients of Connecticut Integrative Counseling, LLC.