It’s over – Why Can’t I Stop Thinking About Them?

Coming to terms with the end of a relationship can be like trying to find your way out of a labyrinth. No matter how long or short the journey was, each twist and turn leaves its mark. It can take months, or even years, to navigate the complex emotions and thoughts tied to our memories of someone who once played a role in our lives. Whether it was a profound romantic commitment, a casual interaction, a friendship, or even a fleeting encounter, the echoes of shared moments often linger, reminding us of the paths we once walked together.

Silhouettes of man and woman facing in opposite directions, man in background woman in foreground

You may find your thoughts dominated by persistent questions such as “Why can’t I stop thinking about them?” “How do I move on from my ex?“Why can’t I get my ex out of my head? You may even find yourself manufacturing reasons to initiate contact with them.

This experience can be particularly challenging if the relationship ended unexpectedly or wasn’t clearly defined. Relationships marked by instability or cut short in the infatuation stage can leave a lasting impression. The rollercoaster of exciting and passionate emotions experienced during these times can lead to a cycle of reminiscence, which may be challenging to break.

Why is it so difficult to stop thinking about him, her or them?

If you find yourself constantly thinking about someone, you might be experiencing ‘romance addiction, where you use fantasy thoughts to escape your life and its challenges. Movies, books, music, and advertisements constantly inundate us with unrealistic notions of love and relationships. If you grew up with parents who didn’t love you unconditionally or even neglected you, these idealised and thrilling (yet ultimately false) versions of love may seem very appealing.

Some causes of not being able to stop thinking about someone include:

  • Loneliness and a lack of other relationships
  • • A lack of healthy relationship models to learn from
  • • Insecure attachment styles
  • • An unresolved end to the relationship
  • • They have qualities you envy or appreciate or disown in yourself
  • • Having something in common, particularly a significant life event or traumatic experience

The past is past – why can’t I stop thinking about them?

We tend to romanticise the past. Humans are naturally nostalgic, and we often unconsciously manipulate our memories to seem better than they were. Consider the last time you went on holiday. You will likely remember it through the picture-perfect lens of laughter, delicious meals and quality time spent with loved ones – forgetting inconveniences such as delayed flights, lost belongings and finding sand everywhere long after returning home.

This selective memory also applies to relationships. We may look back at old photographs, recalling joyful moments and emotional highs and glossing over disagreements or incompatibilities. We are more likely to do this when we feel sad or lonely, and the contrast between our current state and our idealised version of past events can make memories feel all the more alluring.

Man sitting on windowsill with head on crossed arms, looking sad

The sensations of being in love can be intense and even addictive. The rushes of pleasurable hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin, coupled with the excitement of getting to know someone and developing romantic feelings, have been shown to affect the brain in the same way certain drugs do. For many people, a relationship ending can evoke feelings similar to withdrawal, and revisiting memories of that time with that person can temporarily help satisfy these cravings.

How can therapy help with moving on?

These persistent thoughts can often be linked to unmet needs, past traumas, or attachment patterns formed early in life. Breaking free from this cycle enables you to develop healthier relationships in the future. If you are struggling to move forward independently, an experienced counsellor can help you navigate the complex layers of grief, longing, and unresolved issues, guiding you towards deeper self-awareness and emotional resilience. By working with an experienced therapist, you can uncover these underlying patterns and begin to process them healthily.

Professional therapeutic support provides a safe space to explore and understand the emotions and attachments that fuel these thoughts. In addition, counselling provides practical tools and strategies to manage and reduce the intensity of your thoughts. This addresses the immediate distress and helps empower you to reclaim your sense of self. By helping to reshape your narrative, therapy allows you to integrate the experience of the past relationship into a broader understanding of your life’s journey.

How can I stop thinking about them and move forward?

While reflecting on past experiences, including relationships, is a natural part of life, it can become problematic if this begins to impact your present. Dwelling excessively on the past can stop you from fully engaging with the here and now and investing time and energy into healthy, lasting bonds and habits.

Tips to help move on

• Minimise contact with them. This may be difficult if you share children, work together, or otherwise can’t avoid seeing them entirely. However, decreasing the time you spend with them can help to reduce how much you think about them.

• Avoid seeing them. Steps such as blocking, muting, or unfollowing them on social media and deleting chat history can be surprisingly effective. Our thought patterns develop through repetition, and constant reminders of them can impede the moving process. You may also consider asking mutual friends not to talk about them when you’re present.

• Stay grounded in reality. Reflect on how you internally describe that person and consider whether it truly aligns with your experiences of them. Speak to friends and family who knew you during the relationship. They can provide a fuller picture of the relationship, including any unhealthy or unsustainable elements.

• Counselling and therapy can provide a neutral, confidential environment to explore your emotions and identify the roots of the lasting attachment. Individual relationship therapy can grant valuable insights into your thoughts and behaviour. Talking therapy can also help you to form healthy boundaries and explore attachment styles, paving the way for healthier future relationships.

• Avoid or remove reminders of them. Looking at old photos, reminiscing over gifts or souvenirs and encountering sensory triggers, such as smell or taste, can all hinder your progress in letting go of the past.

• Accept your feelings. This may sound counterintuitive, but trying to suppress your thoughts and emotions can actually amplify them and create a sense of anxiety or inadequacy alongside the difficulties of moving on. Mindfulness, meditation and other practices can improve executive control, which regulates intrusive or unwanted thoughts. By allowing you to observe and accept emotions without judgment, these techniques can help reduce the intensity of your emotions.

• Create a new, realistic narrative for your life. Whether you write this down, create a vision board, or simply keep it in your thoughts, this new “story should acknowledge the sadness of a past relationship’s end but also emphasise your commitment to creating new, fulfilling experiences and relationships.

• Prioritise self-care. By focusing on your physical, mental and emotional needs, you may find yourself thinking less about another person. This can include active self-care, such as exercising and engaging in hobbies. Alternatively, you might opt for soothing activities such as a long bath or losing yourself in a good book. It’s important to steer clear of temporary fixes such as alcohol or drugs. Although the immediate effects of these types of substances can feel relieving, they ultimately suppress your emotions, which can cause more significant issues in the long run.

full shot woman sitting on a beach

While it is natural to think about people who are no longer in your life, it is vital to recognise when this impacts your quality of life. You deserve to focus on the future rather than feeling anchored in the past. If you find yourself constantly preoccupied with someone who is no longer a part of your life, it is essential to take proactive steps to let go. Love is about connection; ultimately, it can’t thrive as a one-sided experience.

What is Grief: Nurturing the Heart Through Bereavement

What is Grief?

Grief stands as one of the most profound and trying encounters we encounter as human beings. It possesses the power to profoundly shake us, ultimately reshaping our very core in ways that are intricate and difficult to fathom. Given the complexity and diversity within the human species, our responses are inherently distinct from one another. Despite commonalities in our grief stages, our individual experience of these stages is markedly unique.

Take, for instance, a family of siblings who undergo the loss of a mother. While one sibling might progress through the stages of grieving and ultimately find acceptance over two years, another might become immobilised within the “anger” phase for an extended duration, potentially spanning several years.

Amid emotional pain, there emerges a prospect for healing, an avenue for personal development, resilience, and heightened compassion. Over time, we can reach a juncture that offers a sense of relief, whilst recognising that the passage of time plays a significant role in this process.

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What Are The Stages Of Grief?

Despite death being an indisputable certainty, open discussion of it remains limited. Death and the subsequent experiences of grief are often considered taboo subjects within modern society. Think of your personal interactions, how have you navigated conversations about grief or the individuals you have mourned?

The book “Staring at the Sun” by Irvin D. Yalom delves into the human experience of mortality, exploring how our awareness of death influences our lives. Yalom examines the existential anxiety that arises from the inevitability of death, offering insights into how confronting our mortality can lead to a deeper appreciation of life. Loss can be tough to talk about, making it more challenging to process. Even when surrounded by others affected by the same loss, grief can be massively isolating.

The stages of grief, as outlined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, are as follows:

  1. Denial: You might experience disbelief or shock about the loss.
  2. Anger: You feel more or heightened frustration and irritation, often asking, “Why me?” or “Why us?”
  3. Bargaining: You might find yourself making deals or promises in hopes of reversing the loss. “If I could just go back to the moment when…”
  4. Depression: This is when you go into deep sadness and mourning.
  5. Acceptance: Processed grief leads to you coming to terms with the reality of your loss.

This is not an exhaustive list of the emotional stages experienced during grief, nor are these stages linear. However, it can be useful to identify and maintain an awareness of where in your grieving journey you are, and how this is impacting you.

Navigating Healing Through Bereavement

During the bereavement journey, it’s worth considering the steps you can take to provide solace and support for yourself. One particularly impactful approach is the creation of rituals, which hold profound significance for numerous people traversing the process of bereavement.

Heartfelt rituals create a tangible avenue for the expression of emotions while also serving as anchors within emotional turmoil. These rituals offer both comfort and structure, whether through lighting a candle, visits to cherished places, or the cultivation of quiet moments dedicated to reminiscing about your dear one.

An essential facet of nurturing the heart during the bereavement period involves the practice of self-care. Trying to prioritise regular exercise, maintaining a wholesome and balanced diet, and ensuring adequate rest collectively fortify our emotional resilience. Meditation and mindfulness exercises can act as effective tools for the management of grief. These practices enable us to remain rooted in the present, resisting the pull of future anxieties and past regrets.

hands holding the sun at dawn

Engaging with others, even in the simplest ways, catalyses healing. This could include reaching out to family and friends, participating in a grief support group, or consulting a bereavement counsellor. The act of sharing our experiences can dispel the isolating nature of grief, offering a comforting realisation that we are not alone. You can cultivate strength and connection through this collective vulnerability by lending an ear to others’ narratives and sharing your own.

You may also wish to consider channelling your grief into a purposeful pursuit. This might manifest through creative expression, such as writing or painting, or in the form of benevolent actions like volunteering or dedicating time to a cause cherished by your departed loved one. Through such endeavours, their memory lives on, and your life gains renewed purpose and direction.

How Counselling Provides Support During Bereavement

Counselling offers a secure space for individuals grappling with the complexities of grief. Through empathetic listening and effective therapeutic approaches, our team at Leone Centre gently assists individuals in openly expressing their emotions, thus facilitating the grieving process. Our counsellors are here to help you navigate feelings of being overwhelmed. By sharing your thoughts in counselling sessions, you can begin to acknowledge and process the reality of your loss, marking an important initial step towards healing.

Grief counselling also helps you understand and navigate the intricate stages of grief, enabling you to recognise and accept them as integral to your personal grieving journey. Additionally, it assists you in finding healthy avenues to cope with the pain and work through your emotions.

In essence, counselling supports you in processing grief and guides you in finding meaning and optimism amidst the experience of loss. This journey leads to a place of increased resilience and a sphere of healing and personal growth.

How Bereavement Changes Your Life

A final note is to acknowledge that moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting. Our loved ones live on in our memories, the lessons they taught us, and the love they shared. Keeping their memory alive is not an act of dwelling in the past but rather a celebration of their life and its impact on ours moving forward.

Bereavement is a profound, life-changing experience. It’s a journey filled with sadness, loneliness, and a longing that never entirely disappears. Yet, in this journey, there’s also an opportunity for growth, compassion, and a deepened understanding of the human experience.

Grief teaches us to appreciate life’s transient beauty, love more deeply, and nurture our hearts.

In the face of loss, you can transform your grief into a testament of love and nurture your heart to find a path of healing and wholeness.

Healing the Heart: Navigating Grief and Finding Meaningful Connections

Grief is an unavoidable part of any life which includes love, connection, hopes and future plans. Simply put, we do not grieve things we do not care about. The experience of grief could in many ways be defined as a byproduct of love. Psychologist Dr Colin Murray Parkes describes the relationship between love and grief in his book Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life:

“The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment.”

Grief is an experience which is universal not only to humans but also to many animals. Chimps, whales and elephants are just some of the animals which experience sadness and grief in mourning. These tend to be animals with developed social structures which are comparable to human families and relationship networks. So, in many ways, grief can be interpreted as an element which provides depth to relationships.

Grief can be a profound and destabilising experience, and working to process and navigate it healthily is key to ensuring it does not have long-term detrimental effects. Although this will look different for everyone, by centring love and working to explore and even accept your grief, you can see its value as a lasting connection between you and the person, thing or situation you are grieving.

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Following an experience of grief, it could feel scary to form new connections due to anxiety about the potential of experiencing this pain again. This is precisely why finding the best way to navigate your grief is so important. By creating something meaningful from your grief, you can reshape your relationship with it, and help to prevent it from becoming something you fear and therefore avoid. Although grief can be painful, a full and rich life cannot be free from pain.

Defining grief 

There are many different types and causes of grief. You can grieve loved ones who have passed away, moved away or exited your life for any reason. You might grieve a job, a time in your life, or a thing you no longer have access to. And, through all of these, you grieve a potential future you expected or hoped for. This is perhaps the most painful aspect of grief – it takes away the possibilities we were hoping for.

Grief can be experienced in many different ways. It may present:

  • Emotionally – shock, sadness, numbness, denial and anger.
  • Physically – nausea, weakness and lack of energy, restlessness, tightness in the chest or heart palpitations, physical pain, issues digesting or appetite changes.
  • Behaviourally – forgetfulness, confusion, absent-mindedness, being consumed by thoughts of what or who you are grieving
  • Socially – withdrawing from people, being dependent on people, neglecting yourself, relationship issues, increased risky behaviour.

Healthily processing grief

There is no one way to healthily navigate grief. Just as your perspective and experience of what or who you are grieving is deeply personal to you, so is your grieving journey. The tips below may help, but be sure to check in with yourself and ask, “Is this helping me to move towards a place where my grief is bearable?”

On your healing journey, try not to engage a “should” mentality. There is no one approach which should or shouldn’t help you, other than ensuring you are not engaging in activities or behaviour which is damaging to you or others. There is no such thing as perfect grieving, and attempting to achieve this can actually make the process longer and more difficult.

Some tips which may help include:

  • Accepting your emotions: cry, shout, get angry with fate, life, the source of your grief – but also accept when you feel happy, or don’t feel so full of grief.
  • Reaching out to others and accepting support when it is offered. Grief can feel incredibly lonely, but support from loved ones can go a long way to help.
  • Engaging in alone time. Learn to sit with your thoughts, and watch them with acceptance and even curiosity. See where your thoughts take you, and what meaning you can take from them; introspection and reflection can help you to understand and become familiar with your emotions, which may help you to work with them instead of feeling internally conflicted.
  • Moving your body. Although physical exercise may feel like too much at this time, even lightly stretching or giving your temples, hands or feet a massage may help.
  • Talking about it. Talking can be incredibly cathartic, and can help you to clarify how you are feeling. It can also help you not to feel alone with your grief, and to normalise your experience, as we are often presented with one or few presentations of grief, despite the huge variety of experiences.
  • Grief counselling can help you adapt to your loss, manage your emotions, feel safe and supported and normalise your experiences by discussing them in a supportive space.
  • Finding ways to maintain your connection with who or what you are grieving. This could mean talking to others who knew the person or knew you in the situation you are grieving, or using the aspects you miss most to guide your future actions.
  • Engaging in self-care – by looking after yourself, you may find yourself feeling supported from an internal place, building trust in your own resilience. This could include an expression of your feelings such as journaling or a creative outlet, or doing something which makes you feel physically good, like having a bath, going for a massage, or finding another way to treat yourself.

Supporting a loved one through grief

If someone you know is grieving, it can be hard to know what to do or say, particularly if you haven’t had a similar experience. It’s common for people who are grieving to feel isolated and alone, so one of the most important things is just to show up for them in meaningful ways. This might mean:

  • Offering to do specific tasks or taking over responsibilities, such as childcare, cleaning and looking after the home, helping with logistical tasks such as paperwork or organising, or bringing food.
  • Regularly checking in, calling, or visiting them.
  • Allowing them to speak about what they are grieving, and listening intently, as talking about what happened will allow them to process the events. However, they may not want to speak about it, or may not want to speak at all. Simply being present with them and letting them know they are not alone with their feelings is a real and meaningful way of helping.
  • Being consistent with your support in the long term; grief doesn’t follow any kind of timeline or limit, and often the offers of support subside long before the person stops hurting.
  • Reassuring them that their feelings are valid and don’t need to ‘make sense’ or be moderated – heightened emotions are a natural response to grief.
  • Avoid statements which dismiss or delegitimise their grief (such as “You still have so much to be grateful for” or “This is for the best”) and statements which push your faith or beliefs onto them (like “This is part of God’s plan”).

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Grief is the natural result of a connection you had being severed or disrupted, and the complex and often distressing emotions which accompany grief are completely natural. However, by ensuring that you can retain the positive aspects of these connections, you can transform your grief into something which, although still potentially painful, has meaning and will support you in continuing to form connections.

Healing Hearts, Honouring Souls: Coping with the Loss of a Beloved Pet

For many of us, our pets are part of the family, living alongside us for years. Our feelings for them can be just as strong as for other things we mourn, like relationships, jobs and people. When a pet dies, whether due to illness, old age or accident, it can feel just as heartbreaking and destabilising as losing a human we hold dear.

But, sadly, we aren’t always given the time, space and sympathy to heal from their loss in the way we might be for more traditionally recognised forms of bereavement. This is known as ‘disenfranchised grief’ – when your grief isn’t acknowledged or validated by social norms – and can result in a longer or more difficult grieving process.

Many people haven’t experienced living with a pet, or might not have a very close relationship with their pets, and may not fully understand what you are going through. But losing a beloved pet can be an incredibly difficult experience, and this is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Pets bring many of us joy, love, fun and companionship. They can help us to be social and they provide support when we’re going through tough times. It is absolutely healthy to mourn the loss of the relationship you’ve had with a pet.

Outdoor photo of boy holding his dog.

Why is losing a pet so painful?

In short: because you are grieving. The grief that follows losing a pet can be surprising, and might feel a lot like losing a human member of the family or loved one. As author Jamie Anderson said: “Grief is just love with nowhere to go.”

Grief is not simply a feeling, it is a range of physical, mental and intellectual experiences. You may struggle to eat or sleep, or experience symptoms such as headaches, nausea or exhaustion. You may also experience emotions such as guilt, sadness, loneliness and yearning. You could also find yourself feeling partly relieved, particularly if your pet was elderly or unwell, or you may focus on the positive memories of your pet and not feel as much sadness as expected.

It’s also possible you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time thinking about your pet, and whether you could have done anything differently to improve their quality of life or prevent their death. You may suddenly spend more time thinking about death and mortality, and you may find it more difficult to concentrate or remember things.

These responses are all completely normal – there is no “right way” to respond to a bereavement.

Processing your grief

By accepting your feelings without adding to your mental burden by judging or punishing yourself, you enable a healthy healing process which will ultimately help you to work through your emotions. If you’re struggling to come to terms with your feelings, it may help to write them in a diary, discuss them with people in your life who will be sympathetic, or reach out to a counsellor or mental health professional and engage with them in a safe space.

It’s worth mentioning that many people are aware of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), and might expect to experience them in this sequence. This model was developed by Swiss psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross specifically in reference to terminally ill patients. Kübler-Ross has since noted that these stages are not linear and may not be experienced by all – so while it can be useful to identify and come to terms with your emotional states, you shouldn’t expect to experience them in any particular order, or to occur or end at any particular stage.

Pet loss and vulnerable family members

Losing a pet can be particularly difficult for children, and this may be the first bereavement they have experienced. This is a good opportunity to teach children about grief and bereavement in a healthy and supported way. Telling them that their pet has run away or been given away isn’t helpful – it takes away the opportunity to learn to process grief and can lead to feelings of resentment and mistrust after discovering the truth. It may also prolong the grieving process, as the child may be mourning the loss of their pet whilst still expecting them to return. So while it’s not necessary to give details they might find troubling, try to be as honest as possible and avoid phrases such as ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘gone away/ home’, as this may lead to expectations that the pet will wake up and return, or could lead to children blaming themselves for their pet’s disappearance.

European toddler plays with a cat at home in a bright room

Losing a pet can also be very difficult for older and senior adults, who may have lived alone with the pet as a companion following the loss of other family members or spouses. It’s possible that losing a pet may also remind them of past losses, and prompt thoughts about their own mortality.

If there are members of your family who are likely to be particularly sensitive to this loss or impacted harder than the rest, it could help to spend extra time together during the mourning period. As well as reinforcing your family bonds and honouring the love you all shared for your pet, this could help you to collectively process your grief.

Healthy grieving

Our responses to grief and bereavement are hugely personal, and depend on a wide range of factors surrounding our attachment needs, upbringing and coping mechanisms. There are, however, steps which are generally considered useful in the immediate, intermediate, and ongoing stages of grief.

In the hours and days after your pet has passed, you may find yourself experiencing a huge range of emotions, as mentioned. The best thing you can do at this stage is to simply allow yourself to feel.

Accepting your emotions

When mourning the loss of a pet, the first step is to accept that this is a mourning process, and will take time to move through healthily. Again, grief is a natural sign that you have loved and cared for something or someone you have now lost, and ultimately, this is a testament to the love and closeness you shared with your pet. Try not to have any expectations of yourself– grief doesn’t follow any particular pattern or sequence, and you may experience the same emotional states multiple times.

Accepting how you feel and acknowledging your pain in healthy ways, such as allowing yourself to cry or feel sad, will help you move through the painful emotions more quickly. Repressing them or telling yourself you are responding irrationally is likely to make the healing process longer and more difficult. Accepting and sitting with difficult feelings can be incredibly hard, and it may feel easier to repress or ignore the feelings, particularly in the beginning when the pain is particularly difficult. However, bottling up your feelings will only make you feel worse in the long run. The lows are likely to feel worse in the beginning and begin to lessen in intensity with time. By sitting with them as much as you can, you are likely to find this process is eased along.

Expressing your emotions

You may find that speaking with others about your experience helps. You could try reaching out to a local or online community of pet owners and sharing your emotions and experiences. Animal welfare charity Blue Cross offer a free and confidential pet bereavement service which you can access by phone, email or webchat. They also host and moderate a pet loss support community on Facebook.

It could also help you to do something creative such as writing or making art which helps you to express how you are feeling. If you are struggling to speak to friends or family about your feelings, speaking with a mental health professional such as a counsellor allows you to express yourself in a compassionate, judgement-free and confidential setting.

Memorialising your pet

When some time has passed, you may find yourself wanting to honour or commemorate your pet. You could hold a ceremony for them, perhaps with a burial of their collar or an item they loved, or taking time out specifically to think or talk about them.

Happy Gay Couple in Love Having Healthy Breakfast and Playing with their pet cat

Creating, buying or planting a memorial could also help you feel as though you’ve created a lasting reminder of your beloved pet and give you a physical place to go to or look at when you want to feel near to them.

Getting a new pet

In the longer term, you may be considering getting another pet. It is important not to rush into this or attempt to replace your pet in order to offset the grieving process. It may feel as though a new pet may help you cope better with your loss, but doing this too quickly could delay or complicate your healing process.

How counselling can help with pet loss

Accessing mental health support for bereavement is not a new concept. It’s generally accepted that going to counselling or therapy is a common response to trying to cope with the emotional turmoil of grieving. But the wide range of responses to pet loss, which unfortunately includes statements such as ‘It was just a cat/ dog’ and ‘You can just get another one’, means that it may feel like accessing support for pet loss is an overreaction. Ironically, statements like these often lead to bereaved pet carers feeling as though they cannot express the full extent of their emotions to friends and family.

Counselling provides a compassionate space to explore your grief and find healthy ways to move forward. It can also be very helpful for couples and families, to ensure that there is no misunderstanding or misplaced blame between members who are experiencing the same tragic event in their own individual way.

Grief is an inevitable part of loving

Our pets can play a huge role in our lives, and losing them can be difficult in ways that the people around us, or in our wider network, may not be able to understand or sympathise with. But grief is a natural state which follows the loss of anything we value, and it makes perfect sense for this to include the pets who we love and spend time with every day.

A lack of understanding can feel isolating, and it’s important to be able to speak about your feelings in a non-judgmental and empathetic setting, where you can feel safe to express yourself. Above all, treat yourself kindly and recognise the fact that you have suffered a significant loss.

The Weight Of Culture In Grief: How To Honour Your Unique Experience

The journey of grief is a deeply personal and individual experience, shaped by a myriad of factors, including culture. The way we express and experience grief is influenced by the traditions and norms of our cultural backgrounds, which can create a unique and diverse landscape of grief experiences.

Culture In Grief

It’s important to remember that there is no one right way to grieve, and cultural expectations should never hinder us from honouring our own unique experiences. In this article, we’ll explore how culture influences grief and offer tips on how to honour your own unique grief journey, regardless of cultural norms or expectations. Whether you’re navigating grief in a familiar cultural context or facing the challenge of cultural differences, this article will offer guidance on how to find your own path forward.

Examples of rituals across different cultures and traditions

  • Christianity: Funeral services, vigils, rosary prayers, last rites, and the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
  • Islam: Bathing the deceased, wrapping the body in white cloth, funeral prayers, and reading the Quran.
  • Judaism: Sitting shiva, a seven-day mourning period, funeral services, reciting Kaddish, and the tearing of clothes as a sign of mourning.
  • Hinduism: Antyesti, a funeral rite involving cremation or burial, offerings of food to the deceased’s ancestors, and prayers to Lord Yama, the god of death.
  • Buddhism: Prayers, meditation, and offering food to monks on behalf of the deceased to gain merit and help them on their journey to the afterlife.
  • African traditional religions: Libations, pouring of water or alcohol to honour the ancestors, and elaborate funeral ceremonies involving music, dance, and colourful clothing.
  • Taoism: Ancestor veneration, the burning of incense and offerings, and the recitation of scriptures to help the deceased’s soul find its way into the afterlife.
  • Sikhism: Kirtan Sohila, a prayer recitation before sleeping, and the distribution of langar, free community meals in honour of the deceased.

Honouring Your Unique Experience

Honouring your unique experience of grief is essential to your healing process. It’s important to communicate your needs and preferences to family and friends and create your own rituals and expressions of grief that align with your personal beliefs and values. Here are some ways to honour your unique experience:

  • Communicate with family and friends: It can be challenging to communicate your needs and preferences when you’re grieving, but it’s important to do so. Let your loved ones know what kind of support you need, whether that’s emotional support, practical help, or simply someone to listen to. If you don’t feel comfortable expressing your needs directly, consider writing a letter or email.
  • Create your own rituals: You don’t have to follow traditional cultural rituals if they don’t resonate with you. Create your own rituals that feel meaningful and authentic to you. This could be lighting a candle in memory of your loved one, planting a tree in their honour, or creating a memory box.
  • Express your grief through art: Art can be a powerful way to express grief and honour your loved one’s memory. Consider writing a letter to your loved one, painting a picture, or creating a collage.
  • Take care of yourself: Grief can be physically and emotionally exhausting, so it’s essential to take care of yourself during this time. Get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly. Consider engaging in activities that bring you comfort, such as reading, taking a bath, or listening to music.

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Seeking Support

Seeking support during the grieving process is essential, but it can be challenging to find the right kind of support, especially within a cultural context. Here are some resources that can be helpful:

Support groups

Joining a support group can be a helpful way to connect with others who are experiencing similar challenges. There are many grief support groups available, including those that cater to specific cultural and religious communities.

Therapy

Grief / bereavement counselling or therapy can be an excellent option if you’re struggling to cope with your grief. A therapist can provide you with tools and methods to help you manage your emotions and develop adaptive processes.

Cultural or religious leaders

If you’re looking for guidance on how to navigate grief within a specific cultural or religious context, consider reaching out to cultural or religious leaders in your community. They can provide you with insights and guidance on how to honour your unique experience of grief while still adhering to cultural or religious traditions.

Integrative Therapy Helping with The Grieving Process Whilst Ensuring That Culture Is Honoured

Integrative therapy can be a powerful tool in supporting individuals who are navigating the complex and often overwhelming experience of grief. This therapeutic approach recognizes the unique cultural context in which grief is experienced and provides a safe and compassionate space for individuals to explore their emotions and feelings. By integrating various therapeutic modalities, including transpersonal therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and mindfulness-based approaches, integrative therapy can support individuals in their grief journey while honouring their cultural identity.

One of the key benefits of integrative therapy is that it allows individuals to explore their grief within the context of their cultural beliefs and traditions. This is important because cultural norms and expectations can significantly impact how an individual experiences and expresses their grief. An integrative therapist will take the time to understand an individual’s cultural background and use this knowledge to tailor the therapy to their specific needs.

In addition to addressing cultural context, integrative therapy can also help develop adaptive processes and skills to manage grief.

Ultimately, integrative therapy is a powerful tool for supporting people who are grieving while honouring their cultural identity. By providing a compassionate and culturally sensitive space for individuals to explore their grief, integrative therapy can help individuals move through the grieving process in a healthy and healing way. It’s important to remember that everyone’s grief journey is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting individuals in their grief. An integrative therapist can help individuals find the approach that works best for them while honouring their unique cultural identity. Therapy can also be sought in a couples counselling or family therapy context.

Conclusion

In conclusion, grief is a universal experience, but cultural expectations and norms can heavily influence how we express and cope with grief. It’s essential to honour your unique experience of grief, even if it doesn’t align with cultural expectations or norms. Communicating with loved ones, creating your own rituals, expressing your grief through art, and seeking support are all essential steps in the healing process. Remember that there is no one right way to grieve, and it’s okay to challenge cultural expectations that don’t resonate with your unique experience.

What is Family Bereavement Therapy?

Family Bereavement Therapy

When it comes to going through a bereavement, it can be an extremely lonely and overwhelming time in someone’s life. Grief is a life changing experience and whilst not wanting to feel alone, talking about how you feel can be just as challenging. Sometimes more so when it’s with those closest to you. Losing a loved one can cause a family to feel incomplete. Although you can’t take away someone’s pain during a bereavement, learning how to talk about your loved one and support each other through grief is important. Family Bereavement Therapy can offer a successful way to help a family process coming to terms with loss and the unpredictable feelings associated with grief.

Family Bereavement Therapy

Families and bereavement

Bereavement is the process of emotions we experience after the death of someone we care about such as the feeling of loss and grief. There is no time frame when it comes to grieving and there is no right or wrong way to act or feel as a bereavement can affect people in many different ways. During a time of grief, it is normal to experience a range of emotions, these emotions can come and go with no warning and can be easily triggered. These can include the below:

When it comes to the death of a loved one, family members experience a different range of emotions and process them in their own time. How a person processes a bereavement can vary depending on the below factors:

  • Relation to the deceased – different relations will have experienced a different connection. Closer relations may find a bereavement much more emotionally challenging.
  • Age of passing – coming to terms with the age a loved one passes can be a struggle. Losing someone young can invite feelings that their time was cut too short. Losing someone older can mean adapting to living without someone you have known all your life.
  • Cause of death – how somebody passes is tough whether that be a sudden death, suicide, murder, or terminal illness. Knowing how a person spent their last moments can also have devastating effects on a person.
  • How family members are coping – witnessing close family members struggling with loss whilst trying to cope with grief themselves can be distressing.
  • Age when grieving – all ages young to old will grieve in their own way based on their life experiences and age-related mental processes.
  • Mental health – Mental health and whether a person has previously suffered with anxiety and depression can play a big part in how they grieve.

Grief can be a trigger of mental health, and this can be a very challenging combination.

Family and friends can be an incredible support system when it comes to learning how to handle living without a loved one. It can be a great comfort knowing someone knows what you’re going through, however it can also trigger distance and disputes. These arguments can be caused by past incidences, passed one’s belongings, money, and guilt. Experiencing a support system suddenly becoming unsupportive can worsen and extend the process of grief as it can feel like a secondary loss when falling out with other loved ones.

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Is family bereavement therapy for me?

Communicating with your family is key. Communication – or lack of – can worsen situations when experiencing a bereavement and add tension to an already difficult time. Family therapy can help people to discuss their feelings with one another when going through the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – without judgement or bias.

Family bereavement therapy goals are to:

  • Offer a safe space to help the family to express their thoughts and emotions.
  • Explore the family dynamic and individual feelings to help identify issues and resolve emotional distress.
  • Learn as a family to adapt to life after a bereavement.
  • Help towards a better understanding of each other.
  • Identify your family’s strengths and weaknesses such as caring for one another or having difficulty confiding in one another.

Helping your family through such a difficult time can also be an invaluable way of dealing with your own grief. Open discussions with the help of a counsellor can allow people to speak freely about their feelings and allow other family members to understand their emotions and give support. Identifying and communicating disputes and supporting balanced and honest discussions can be an extremely helpful approach for a family.

A recent 2022 research study on the benefits of Family Bereavement Therapy concluded that families had found the therapy both beneficial and meaningful. The parents and children said they found having the opportunity to listen to each other and hear each other’s experiences was especially helpful. Family members also thought giving the child/children the opportunity to learn more about grief, ask questions, and talk about their own feelings as well as practicing communication techniques opened up the sharing of individual experiences and feelings.

What is Bereavement Counselling?

Bereavement Counselling?

Bereavement comes in many different forms. It can be grieving the loss of a person or animal, who has passed or who is no longer in our lives because of a relationship breakdown or change of circumstance. We can also enter into a state of grieving whilst going through a transition period such as changing career, location or how we perceive our reality. All are valid.

At Leone centre, we recognise that each individual experiences grief and transformation in their own unique way, a bereavement counsellor will sympathetically help you with grief counselling techniques

The symptoms of bereavement and loss are therefore vast and layered. Perhaps they would be better expressed through a painting, a dance or the naked, searing truth of silence. It is an overwhelming feeling of grief or nostalgia that takes you under its wings and asks you to dream a while, in the sacred emptiness that the loss creates.

This feeling is often a painful opening of a portal, which eventually brings renewal and a deepening of compassion into our lives.

Throughout the process we may feel emotional despair, plummeting sadness, loneliness, emotional detachment, guilt, anxiety, anger and frustration.  An influx of inspiration may come and an earnest reminder of what is really important. It is also common to seek relief from the hurt through numbing agents such as drugs, alcohol or constant socialising.

Bereavement Counselling

Bereavement Counselling can be a guiding anchor to help integrate the shifting tides of your loss into your life, in the healthiest way available. Leaning on the support network of friends and family, who are perhaps a part of the circle of grieving, is often very helpful. Introducing a trained counsellor into this network, can provide an emotionally stable setting for your grief to be fully expressed and witnessed.

Are there different types of grief?

Yes, imagine a mosaic of interconnected emotions, the image as a whole is the grief and each tile represents the multitude of various experiences grief creates.

Here is a list of some examples:

  • Abbreviated grief – A child grieving the loss of someone they don’t know very well
  • Absent grief Parents who put their own grief aside in order to support their children
  • Anticipatory griefA person who has lost their independence and/or ability
  • Complicated griefWhen grief is persistent for a prolonged period of time and begins to interfere with day-to-day life
  • Cumulative griefGrieving multiple losses in quick succession
  • Delayed grief – When there is a significant gap between the initial loss and the bereaved person’s reaction to it
  • Disenfranchised griefWhen the death of their loved one or the person whose death they mourn is not acknowledged, possibly due to stigma
  • Distorted griefA death which was caused by medical error or ignorance – I.e. the doctors failing to spot vital signs/symptoms or dismissing patient’s complaints altogether
  • Masked grief – When a person is unable to recognise out-of-character symptoms and behaviours as reactions to their loss

Coping with Grief

Coping with grief is not a straight line journey. Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined 5 stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Misinterpretations of the stages of bereavement may leave a bereaved person questioning ‘Is it normal to feel this way?’ Which can lead to further distress and exacerbates loneliness.

Gregory details,  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model was based off her work with terminally ill patients and has received much criticism in the years since. Mainly because people studying her model mistakenly believed this is the specific order in which people grieve and that all people go through all stages. Ross now notes that these stages are not linear and some people may only experience some or none of them.

Navigating Grief

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one who has recently passed and you’re feeling an acceptance, this does not indicate that you are ‘grieving incorrectly’ or that you won’t start to feel a sense of denial in the future. Similarly, if you are grieving the end of a relationship and you felt acceptance 5 months ago and you are now feeling anger and resentment, it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong. It just means that you are human and you have had an attachment to a person or feeling and you are navigating your way into a new reality.

Stages of Grief
Stages of grief as emotional process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression or acceptance as part of emotional and psychological process

How long does grief tend to last?

How we manage periods of transition and change will impact how a bereavement affects our life. That being said, even if you tend to deal with change very well, there is no amount of preparation that will speed you through or step you over the inevitable pain that comes from grief. The two go together, just as pain and joy go together.

“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.” – Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score

How to tell if grief has become depression?

There is a fine line between depression and grief. Different cultures around the world have kept ceremonies alive which honour and celebrate death as a transformation. In the absence of guidance on relating to death, we can feel bewildered when we experience loss. Unconscious social expectations of how to handle grief, can result in a cutting off from the pain held within the body. In these cases, grief may progress to depression.

What type of therapy is good for grief?

It is also possible to experience depression due to treasuring the emotions surrounding your loss, because you identify them as the link which is keeping your connection to the deceased alive. There is no set time to go through a grieving process. It is highly recommended to seek Bereavement Counselling to help normalise the complexity of your feelings and understand your emotions, so that you can begin to welcome in a new way of being.

Grief Is Not Just About Death

Grief is about more than the individual who has died.  Bereavement Counselling can help.

The consequences that befall those left behind are the real toll of any death, whether expected, unexpected, traumatic, or peaceful.  Another way of thinking about this is that, for every single individual who loses their life, there are often dozens, sometimes hundreds of people significantly impacted by the removal of that person from their life.  The effects are cascading and can be long-lasting.  

For instance, longitudinal studies have shown that the effects of the traumatic loss of a parent can have long-term consequences on an adolescent’s life chances.  One study of 126 young people affected by the sudden death of a parent notes that “bereaved youth had more difficulties at work, less well-elaborated plans for career development, lower peer attachment, and diminished educational aspirations.”

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Michelangelo’s Pieta’

Grief is about Loss and Change

Such cascading effects can occur across families, friendships, and workplaces, as well as extending through time.  And it’s not only death that can have a profound impact.  Grief is often defined more widely than simply a reaction to physical death.  

It’s about abrupt loss – the removal of one state of being and its replacement with a profoundly different one, which we cannot easily adapt to.  You can feel grief for the loss of a relationship, a home, or a way of life.  Or even for something more amorphous and abstract like stability, hope or youthful dreams.

Unlike other forms of trauma, grief is something that we are all almost statistically certain to experience.  To have a life where nobody you care about dies is to live without intimacy or to die young, both tragic outcomes.  Since nobody can reasonably avoid bereavement of one sort of another, grief counselling begins by making it clear that the bereaved individual’s suffering is nothing to be ashamed of.  It’s something we will all experience when we pursue a fulfilling life.

Grief is Varied and Complex

There’s also no one “right” way to grieve for a loss.  Some withdraw into themselves, other run away from their feelings.  Some become angry or bitter, others depressed or numb.  All of these are valid responses to an unprecedented situation.  Bereavement counselling, such as that offered at the Leone Centre, begins with the recognition of those unique responses to traumatic change.  

Once grieving is acknowledged, it can be processed and integrated into a forward-facing life.  If you don’t manage to integrate the feeling of loss properly, grieving can become pathological.  Sometimes this is termed “complicated grief.”  It occurs in around 7% of the bereaved, according to one study, and feelings of guilt, prolonged rumination and avoidance can become prevalent.

Bereavement can also be unpredictable and changeable over time.  If a widow is the only one not openly weeping at the funeral, this does not mean she’s not suffering, nor that she won’t break down when nobody is looking.  We all have different coping mechanisms, some of them more socially acceptable than others.

When there are issues that prevent a feeling of closure from being attained, or when there is a sudden severance from the familiar, grief can be inherently complicated.  Seeking the assistance of a Bereavement Counsellor can be hugely helpful.  Crucially, unlike friends, family or colleagues, a counsellor has no “skin in the game”.  They can be wholly objective and will gently allow you to open up and get all those difficult feelings out in a neutral environment without blame, shame, or negative consequences.

Bereavement in a Pandemic

The global pandemic we are presently emerging from (we hope) has created something of a secondary pandemic of grieving.  Most obviously, there are the families and friends of over three million victims of the virus.  At a conservative estimate, that’s tens of millions of people worldwide who have experienced the death of a loved one from COVID-19 in the last year.

bereavement counselling

National COVID Memorial, Lambeth, London.  Image: MyLondon.com 

Furthermore, there are many people grieving the loss of careers, social lives, ambitions, and hopes.  We’ve seen divisions in society deepen, exacerbated by the polarizing effects of social media and the endlessly gloomy news cycle.  Watching the daily death toll climb, as reported in “helpful” infographics on Facebook or the evening news, can’t help but contribute to a growing sense of loss for the freedoms and lifestyles we enjoyed in our comparatively carefree pre-pandemic lives.

Even the Harvard Business Review identified, as early as March 2020, that a pandemic could result in an explosion of grieving.  In the words of author David Kessler, as reported in an interview with HBR, “The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us, and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

A Sixth Bereavement Stage?

Famously, we pass through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, as first described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, in her seminal book On Death and Dying (1969).  

Kessler co-authored a follow-up with Kübler-Ross, On Grief and Grieving. Then, following Kübler-Ross’s own death, he described a final, positive grieving process in his book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Dying.  That sixth stage is meaning.  By admitting the value of what has been lost and what it contributes to your life as you move forward, sense can be made of the transition.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, we attempt to create meaning from the sacrifices and losses which surround us.  This onward striving is what makes us truly human.  After all, we can only live our lives in one direction and change is inevitable.  How we cope with that change is not so fixed, however, and this is where bereavement counselling comes in.

Bereavement Counselling can help you make this last transition into meaning.  Through talking to a counsellor, whether in person or through online counselling, you can find a healthy way of processing your complex feelings.  A safe place of sharing and understanding helps you process the changes you’re living through by coming to a place of awareness, acceptance, and perhaps even meaning.  

Bereavement is inevitable; endless suffering is not.