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Why we suck at grief

My family recently experienced a tragedy, and tragedy and death tend to bring the worst out in people. Am I right?

All of the unheard, unsaid, unhealed yuck comes bubbling to the surface and either words get said, or people pull back, or someone intentionally acts to hurt other family members. How we deal with death and crisis reveals a lot about how self aware we are, how emotionally mature we have grown, and especially how our ability to see another’s experience as valid has developed, which comes to some almost naturally, and for others, it takes a lot of inner work and healing to get to.

No family is perfect. No family is without traumatic moments. The hard part is that no family member has the same response, no one is at the same developmental age or stage, nor do they have the same perspective on any event in question throughout the life of the family. This means that every member has a different story about what happened, how it affected them, who is to blame, and what the result was. Some don’t even remember some events. No one has a clear picture, it's all clouded by individual limits to objectively seeing the whole picture. “Toxic” seems to be a buzzword right now, overused and almost useless anymore- like a word you say over and over until it's lost all meaning, but we all hold some toxic behavior, some more than others. In a movie, we can see the various perspectives of the heroes, the victims, and the villains. In fact, I find it interesting that many screenwriters are telling the stories behind the famous villains of our favorite hero movies recently. This adds another perspective to our collective consciousness and our ability to see the villain as a hurt human. In real life though, we are often playing one of these roles. If you find yourself placed any of the roles, you have a choice to remain in the role, playing the game to enable the conflict and drama, or you learn to hold boundaries and jump out of the triangle - ensuring that you will become or remain the villain in someone’s mind, but you will no longer be bound to their expectations of behavior. True freedom!

As a child, your ability to understand certain things is very limited, and the ability to process them in a healthy way depends on whether or not you had emotional mature and available parents or caregivers to aid in that process. If that was not available to you, then it's likely you could use some counseling or hypnotherapy to reprocess those moments (sometimes unconscious) in order to heal, grow, and stop the cycle of generational trauma. A good indicator that you could use some inner work is if you find yourself and anyone else you struggle with in the conflict triangle; the hero, the victim, or the villain. If you are playing any of the roles in any situation, or all of those at different times, with different people, you are caught in the drama and won’t find peace until you are able to jump outside of the triangle and see yourself and others for who they really are. First, you have to be willing to tell the truth. It's the most courageous and difficult thing to do, but once we do it and continue to do it, our ego becomes less in control and we become freer humans, able to be fully present and available to our important relationships.

In the case of tragedy, death, or crisis, it is super easy, in our grief, to blame-shift for the hurt we hold and the things left unsaid or undone. It is easy to find the villain, to play the victim, to search for a hero or proclaim yourself to be one (for those who struggle the most with insecurities). Can we hold space for ourselves and others as we process? Can we show grace to those who seem to be the most aggressive in the face of loss? Are we willing to face our part in any hurt and offer true apologies? Can we accept apologies and extend forgiveness? These are all truly at the heart of it all and the answers to them really will determine the future of the remaining relationships. I think we all could get a whole lot better at this.

~Nicole Nepa, MS, CLC

Rising Phoenix Life Coaching

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