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Those Troubling and Lingering Emotions: Anger, Guilt, and Shame

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“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”

—Abraham Lincoln

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison

and expecting the other person to die.”

—supposedly a Buddha quote

Anger, guilt or shame can become lingering emotions felt when losses were troubled by difficult circumstances. We want a quick fix – one we don’t have to work with. Understanding our emotions can help us find a different response.

In my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, there are two appendixes. In Appendix A, “Complex Grief Emotions,” I offer additional information on how to work through anger, guilt, shame and fear. Here is a quick overview of the first three.

Anger

Anger, like all emotions, has a purpose. It helps us survive and motivates us to take appropriate action and make important changes. Left unchecked, however, anger can become corrosive and problematic. Reacting without restraint will inflict additional pain and suffering on ourselves and others.

While venting or acting out might release some of anger’s energy in the short term, it does not take away the source of your anger. If anger is your typical first response to unpleasant situations, you may have an anger problem.

Here are three things to remember about anger:

  1. It is okay to be angry.
  2. It is not okay to hurt yourself, someone else or anyone’s property.
  3. We are responsible for what we do with our anger.

Anger activates our fight-or-flight response to danger. Losses can trigger a similar response; we want to protect ourselves against the injustice of what happened, and we lash out or attack in some way.

If left unaddressed, anger will build deeply held resentments that become toxic to our emotional and physical health.

Guilt

Those Troubling and Lingering Emotions: Anger, Guilt, and Shame | focuswithmarlene.com

Guilt is what we experience when we believe we have acted against our beliefs and values resulting in some kind of harm.

Guilt is important because it helps us know when corrections need to be made. Looking backward, we reprimand ourselves, “If only I had done this or that” or “if only I had been more available.” We can become brutal in the self-blame game. At some point, reconciliation and forgiveness is required.

While reflecting is important, it serves no purpose when we maintain an ongoing dialogue built on guilt, shame or remorse.

Remaining in a state of blame only adds another intense layer of pain to our grief that does not accomplish anything.

Working through guilt is working through the multitude of questions associated with the many “why’s, what if’s” and if only’s” and putting them permanently to rest. These unanswerable questions continue to leave us feeling angry, guilty, frustrated and helpless.

Expanding and reframing what happened gives us a different perspective.

  • Could I really have done anything different?
  • What information do I have today that I didn’t have back then?

Shame

Shame is feeling guilty. It is a painful emotion caused by an awareness of doing something wrong. It diminishes our sense of worth and esteem. Guilt and shame work hand-in-hand with anger.

Guilt helps correct behaviors. Feeling guilty indicates we may have done something wrong that requires making amends. Guilt, along with shame, helps us say we are sorry, and that we regret our actions.

But when faced with an unfortunate or untimely loss, we may be plagued with a guilt and subsequent shame that is misplaced, prolonged or not even appropriate to the situation.

When we feel guilt disproportionate to any actions we may have taken, or may not have taken, our guilt becomes poisonous. Inappropriate shame for perceived transgressions will affect our self-esteem, creating a diminished sense of self because we find no way to correct what was done.

We doubt our ability to be caring individuals.

We might have an unrealistic high sense of responsibility for others.

Guilt and shame that have been blown out of proportion and remain unresolved will erode our ability to live productive and fruitful lives.

Coming to terms with our loss means we come to terms with ourselves as human beings.

If the guilt is appropriate to the event, such as driving drunk and hurting somebody, then we need to use that guilt to turn our lives around. If possible, say you’re sorry. Then take actions to make amends as well as change the direction in your life.

Hanging onto feelings of guilt and shame, nursing them in order to do penance, doesn’t change anything; instead it keeps us from moving forward. Forgiveness enables us to take positive action instead of remaining in a past we cannot change.

If feeling anger, guilt and shame towards yourself, challenge the depth and degree of what you are experiencing. Remind yourself that we make the best decisions we can in any moment in time. Anyone can look backward and see things we didn’t see in the moment.

Next week we will look at forgiveness.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Unresolved Conflict in Our Losses

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast,

it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking.

It is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.”

—I Cor. 13:4-7 NIV

When any longstanding conflicts are dumped onto our grief and loss, they add another layer of conflicting thoughts and emotions. Unresolved issues between you and the deceased can initiate feelings of shame or guilt. You may not have had a chance for reconciliation or resolution before death.

If losses were the result of random acts of violence, accidents, suicide or any unforeseen death, we may be left with a multitude of unanswerable questions and feelings of anger, confusion, guilt, anxiety, fear and remorse.

If you had been a victim of past abuse, abandonment, rejection or injustice; or lived with years of misunderstandings or conflict with this person who has now died, you will be left with a multitude of incongruous emotions. It might seem as if death has cheated you from finding resolution.

  • What happens to all that anger and resentment?
  • How do you process it all?
  • Does it get buried with the person or will you continue to carry that bitterness with you?

Death doesn’t automatically release us from any anger or resentment we may have.

We will suffer tragedies that are associated with someone’s lack of responsibility or carelessness.

Coming to terms with injustice, tragedies and losses of any kind, whether in our past or present, first requires acceptance. Hanging on to our losses and injustices is like carrying around a huge suitcase full of rocks and stones. It keeps getting heavier and heavier and robs us of our ability to move forward.

Discover a new way

Unresolved Conflict in Our Losses | focuswithmarlene.comNo matter what has happened, to get beyond grief, we need to come to terms with what has happened. Coming to terms means we stop denying, fighting or struggling with what can’t be changed.

We correct what is correctable and then make a deliberate choice to let go of the conflict and bring forward what is good. As with any grievances we might have, however legitimate they may be, if we hang onto them, we are the ones who continue to pay the price.

Acceptance doesn’t mean everything will suddenly be back to normal or okay. It simply means we stop fighting and arguing about how cruel the world is or how badly we have been treated. Life is not fair. We can grumble and moan and rant and rave, but we can’t change history; we can’t change what others have done or what we have done.

By making a conscious and deliberate choice to let go of resentment, we can experience a different outcome.

As we let go of bitterness, we will be able to see things for which we can be grateful. There is some good that can come out of the worst atrocity. We are changed when we rise above the injustice of the world. Instead of attacking and seeking revenge, we can develop a compassion and understanding for others who may also be struggling. Seeing the pain of a neighbor, we can reach out with a word of understanding and comfort.

In any moment in time, we choose how we respond to life.

Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist, Jew and survivor of the concentration camps of WWII wrote:

“To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.”

Man's Search for MeaningIn his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he shares that even in the horrendous conditions of Auschwitz, “What alone is the last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”

We will be challenged to live our faith and values in the face of death and losses.

We will be challenged to let go of unresolved conflicts that keep us stuck in an endless cycle of discontent. We choose how we will respond to life – both in our past and in the future.

We will be challenged to make decisions that go against our desire for payback.

But it is in those challenges where we grow and become more of who we are – a child of God and someone who desires to live a life of hope and faith. No matter the struggle, we can grab hold of that love extended to us by God and work through the knots and tangles of living.

It may be difficult to work through unresolved conflicts by ourselves. If you are struggling, seek the assistance of a trained therapist. While we might not find all the answers to our questions, it is important to ask them. It is in in the asking where we can address the resentments that stick to us like glue and find a way to put them to rest. When we become stuck, our grief is extended.

Next week’s post will explore a little further these troubling emotions. You will also find more detailed information in Appendix A of my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Endings Leave A Bit of Ourselves Behind

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

There are rituals in many cultures that take us from one stage of life to another. Coming of age ceremonies or rites of passage symbolize leaving childhood to enter adulthood.

Sometimes the rituals are physically demanding – others are simply a public recognition and celebration after instruction. Religions also have symbolic ceremonies to represent a major transition such as Jewish Bar Mitzvahs and Confirmation in the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches.

We leave something of ourselves behind in our endings as we move into the next stage of life.

Even if we are enthusiastic about a new beginning, the ending can be bitter-sweet. We wait with anticipation for that first child, only to discover in becoming a parent, that we are not free to come and go as we please. Life has been altered forever.

We may finally have reached that long-awaited retirement, only to experience restlessness and lack of purpose. It is necessary to redefine who we are at each stage of life.

We rarely think about what we are leaving behind when making a new beginning. Even if the new role was planned, such as becoming parents, we seldom realize what was left behind.

To fully appreciate a new beginning, an ending needs to be completed.

Significant losses are endings that close one chapter of life to start a new one. They are not usually an ending of choice. But we can’t put our energy into constructing a new future until we let go of the past. It’s not forgetting what you loved and enjoyed but looking beyond it.

Losses strip away the familiar and the reality we now face can look dark and dismal, where doubts and fears unexpectedly rise like monsters. Transitions are a pivotal point. We can hang on to the past or move forward.

Years ago, I attended a weekend college class led by guest lecturer, William Bridges, who wrote the book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes.

Bridges defined three stages in making a transition: endings, a neutral zone, and finally a new beginning. He addressed the everyday transitions we make but seldom think about: getting married, becoming a parent, retirement, etc. Each requires leaving behind who you were in order to embrace a new identity.

The task of endings is to clarify, express the feelings we have, and let go.

In the “neutral zone” our focus shifts from the past to discovering who we are today. It is a time of reorientation. This can be a very unsettling place laced with anxiety and instability as we close the door on what was familiar and look at the unknown.

Bridges talked about the need to make a solitary journey into the wilderness to redefine what is important, what we are leaving behind, what we are bringing with us and still struggling with. In the wilderness there are no distractions from life, and we have the opportunity to wrestle and come to grips with our expectations and assumptions and make sense of where we are in the world.

While this time might seem unproductive, it really is gaining a better understanding of what we are bringing with us. It is a bridge between the old and the new – a time to be alone, but not necessarily lonely. It is a time of putting together a different perspective of who we can become.

As we transition from who we were to who we can become, we need to take a solitary journey into “the wilderness,” a time to spend alone, to reflect. As we redefine who we are today, what is important and why and what we want to take with us. As we do, we walk away a stronger person. A good friend of mine has taken many backpacking desert trips alone. At first it was to discover more about who she was. Now she just enjoys the solitude.

Transitions – that shift from one reality to another.

Endings Leave A Bit of Ourselves Behind | FocusWithMarlene.com

As humans we want to move immediately from an ending to a new beginning. We don’t want to feel the pain of loss or the uncertainty of the future. We are uncomfortable not knowing where we are going. We want to be doing things – anything.

So, we quickly bundle up our “baggage” in our backpacks and head out the door trying to recapture what we had before. If we do not spend some time in reflection, and skip directly to creating a new beginning, our beginnings may not be as successful as we’d like.

Life is full of transitions that require time to process. Someone said it takes about 18 months to 4 years to complete a major life transition. In today’s world of instant responses, we want our life processes to happen immediately.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Living Life with Enthusiasm and Optimism

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

We are defined by many things in life: our relationships, our roles, our handicaps.

What defines you?

My youngest son was an artist. He started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil. Even the simplest stick figures he drew had character and substance. His creativity seemed to flow out of him like water from a pitcher. He would draw for hours.

He loved to draw faces – faces that so expressed the characteristics of the individual that it never required anything more – you saw the whole person in the face.

Within the expressions, there was passion, confidence, longing, sadness, robust strength, humor, wisdom, and understanding. Even today as I look at his drawings, I marvel at the depth of disclosure in his drawings that revealed so much of the human spirit and soul.

My son was born with a handicap – he didn’t have the muscles to hold up his head.

Although children are born with the absence or lack of specific muscles, his was unique. He grew up in a brace specifically designed for him. Although there was some weakness to other body muscle groups, his fine motor skills were never affected.

But amazing as was his creativity, was how his handicaps never deterred or defined him. He learned to walk, run, swing from a rope, climb and ride a bike. He beat out a rhythm on a set of drums and played trombone in the school band. He joined the cub scouts and acted in school plays.

He wore this brace until he reached puberty and scoliosis threatened to cave in his lungs. After undergoing a lengthy surgery that fused his back and required a rod implant to help hold vertebrae in place, he endured another brace for a short period of time as he entered high school. Less than a year later he went to England with the Drama class.

Don went on to college and continued to make his living as a storyboard artist, concept illustrator, character design and sketch artist in one of the toughest industries – the movie and entertainment world of Los Angeles.

He wrote and produced some films and worked with different mediums within the film, TV and entertainment media. He never considered himself handicapped, and neither did his friends. His life was framed by what he could do – not what he couldn’t.

After pancreatic cancer took his life, and after sharing his art with friends and family, I chose pictures to frame that best represented his creativity. They hang throughout my home, reminding me of his extraordinary talents. But they also remind me of how he defined his life and how we can do the same.

We can frame our lives in such a way that handicaps recede, and talents are developed. Or, we can frame our lives without a belief that we can ever enjoy satisfaction and happiness.

How do you picture yourself within your circumstance?

As I wrote in a previous post, frames can either accent or detract – they can highlight a central theme or object or reduce its importance.

Don’s life was framed with optimism, enthusiasm, an impish sense of humor and quiet determination. He never thought of himself as handicapped and neither did his friends.

I have read and continue to read memoirs of people who have overcome incredible odds to create satisfying and happy lives. They are stories of people who weathered adversity, faced incredible hardships, lost limbs or faced on-going limitations. One such story was of a young man born without arms and legs who created a world-wide ministry of helping people overcome the odds they may have been facing. You witnessed his infectious enthusiasm for life and confidence when you watched him speak.

Reframing puts a different interpretation around your life.

It expands your field of vision to see opportunities and possibilities. It challenges a negative mindset and looks for creative ways to resolve problems. It helps define us with confidence instead of no hope.

When everything seems to be going wrong, it is so easy to start grumbling. We criticize and complain about this and that, finding fault with our past or anybody or anything in the present that we think may be making life difficult for us. Yet, how much do we really have to complain about?

Adopt a mindset of acceptance rather than resistance.

Reframe your circumstances, and then look for options. Sometimes they may be limited. Sometimes our only option is to choose how we respond to something we have no control over. But we are still given that choice.

Choose love – choose life – choose an attitude of optimism.

Whatever you choose to focus on, that is where your energy will go. That energy force can be either positive or negative.

We can choose to find meaning in the middle of conflict and chaos or respond with anger and resentment. We can choose to retreat into fear and anxiety in threatening situations or step out in faith and confidence.

Related posts that feature Don and his artwork


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

What Transforms Your Life?

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

Every day, we observe the wonders of our world and the transformations that happen throughout the seasons.

Who hasn’t been renewed and refreshed by a cooling summer’s rain or been moved by the beauty and quiet serenity of an earth blanketed in mounds of downy snow or snowflakes that shimmer like diamonds in the winter sun?

Who hasn’t witnessed the peace of a countryside bathed in the light of a full moon?

And what person hasn’t marveled at stars so dazzling and vivid, it seems we could reach up and touch them? At such times, nature is silenced and time suspended.

And yet, the snow is only frozen water, and the sun, moon and stars are nothing more than hardened, desolate, uninhabitable rocks and dangerous gasses.

Misfortune and hardship can take us out of what was predictable and comforting and place us in unfamiliar territory.

We don’t know what to expect and are temporarily thrown off balance. It changes our perception of what we think life ought to be.

Our future looks dark and dismal and the world of sunshine has become colorless and grey. The refreshing summer rain becomes an intrusion on outdoor activities. We see the falling snow as a hazard to driving; and we don’t even notice the sky full of twinkling stars as it is overshadowed by flashing neon lights.

What Transforms Your Life? | FocusWithMarlene.com

Our night-time activity is so encompassing we never stop to look up and see the beautiful full moon or observe how it turns the earth into an exquisite and ethereal landscape. The beauty of the world has suddenly been transformed into a nuisance – annoying and irrelevant.

  • What transforms your world from one image to another?
  • Has the world itself changed or have you changed? And does it matter?

Disasters can so alter our perception of life that we no longer see blessings or anything of beauty or goodness. It’s as though we put on dark sunglasses that completely obliterate anything positive and encouraging. And in our desire and haste to find a new comfort zone, a new predictability, we look for the quickest solution that comes along, good or bad.

In the midst of our world that has been turned upside down, it is possible to pause, take off those dark glasses and see God’s creation and beauty that surrounds us every day? In that pause and reflection, we are reminded that God is still with us and in charge. He has not abandoned us and continues to reach out to us in many ways. In that pause, we become aware of the kindness of a stranger, the helping hand of a friend, or the encouraging words of the Psalmist.

The mystery of life is constantly unfolding around us, from the green shoot pushing up through the dirt to the developing baby spiders clinging precariously to the edge of their web. We brush them aside as a nuisance before we have had time to consider what it would be like without them. But to experience that wonder, we first need to observe.

Good things can come out of tragedies, misfortunes and adversities.

As we pick up the scattered pieces of our lives, we can reassemble them into a new, broader and more comprehensive picture. It is where we develop the muscles and strength to live a more meaningful life.

We will struggle with our losses. We will hesitate to start again because we are not sure what we want to do. While a new possibility may excite you, you are not sure whether it will continue to hold your interest.

So, grab a cup of coffee or tea and think about where you are right now.

  • What can you bring to your landscape to transform it into something refreshing, positive and relevant at this point in your life?
  • What are some things you have always wanted to do but never had the time?
  • Can this be the time to experiment?
  • Can you identify the things that energize you?
  • What is stopping you from doing any of these?

I am sure you have explored this before, but I encourage you to do it again. Start a My life Planning Notebook and write down all the things you see yourself doing. Include the hopes and dreams you had as a child. Be expansive – don’t prejudge. Just write them down. Later you can go back and begin to prioritize or eliminate.

Marlene Anderson


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

A New Mind Shift – A New You  

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

How do you see yourself?

Are you despondent and dreading the future, unable to see anything positive to look forward to?

Losses can make everything seem gloomy and hopeless and we resign ourselves to this fate moving forward.

But we can change that picture.

We can reframe what is happening in order to see something positive. Let me share a true story with you.

Years ago, I worked for a company that provided training to injured workers in chronic pain to help in their recovery and their re-entry to the workplace. They had been injured on the job, resulting in their inability to continue working in that same capacity.

As part of their rehabilitation and recovery program, they were required to attend two weeks of all-day classes. They were not very happy at having to attend; in fact, some were downright hostile. Yet after one week, we began to see a dramatic shift in attitudes, mind-set and possibilities.

It was amazing to watch this transformation from hopelessness, despondency and despair to one of possibility, hope and motivation.

Some didn’t let go of what had happened. They were angry at the injustice of it and did not want to hear about ways they could reframe and work with their circumstances. They hung onto their grievance and left with the same bitterness they had when they arrived.

But it was those who took the information presented and applied it, where we saw what attitude and a different mindset can do to greatly improve any situation we find ourselves in.

One Woman’s Story

A New Mind Shift - A New You | FocusWithMarlene.com

While there were many people I came to admire, one lady in particular resonated with me. Her injury left her unable to continue in her job and restricted many new job options. Her benefits would soon run out. She was a single mom living in a tiny one-bedroom house and the enormity of her losses was severe. Life seemed grim and hopeless.

After the first week, she returned to class glowing after the weekend off. She was not the same person who left on Friday. She shared with the class what had happened to change her outlook. She went home and thought about all the information we had taught in class and decided to apply it to her situation. The first thing she did was reframe how she looked at her current existence.

She went through her tiny cramped house, room by room, looking at it with a new perspective. There was only one tiny bedroom. She decided to give that room to her children and make the living room her bedroom. During the day it was a living room, but at night it became a cozy, spacious bedroom.

She positioned the sofa bed in front of the fireplace, and when she crawled into her “bed” that night, she lit a small fire in the fireplace and snuggled down to watch the flames and thought to herself, How many people do I know who have a fireplace in their bedroom?

She helped her children make her old bedroom into their special space. They were happy and she was happy. In fact, she told us she slept soundly for the first time in years.

What had changed? Only her perspective.

During the remainder of that last week in class, she actively sought out information about re-training and potential jobs. She was excited about the possibility of a new job opportunity through a training program she was in that actually paid more than her previous job.

Was she going to have to struggle?

Yes.

Would it take hard work?

Yes.

Would she still have to live with limiting conditions?

Yes.

But she would be bringing into that space a new outlook, a new perspective that held possibility, options and renewed energy.

The world you live in has been drastically changed because of your loss.

You are challenged as never before to be innovative, creative and flexible. The old beliefs you have about yourself can seriously impact your ability to move forward if you let them.

Your loss may seem catastrophic and the end of the world for you. But there is within you that capability to take what you have and create something new and exciting from it. Out of the ashes of one disaster you can create the promise of a new beginning, if you are willing to re-invent yourself, grow and change.

Marlene Anderson


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

8 Steps to Begin Living Again

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


One of the questions people ask when they attend support groups is, How can I enjoy life again when I have just lost the most important thing in life?

As we continue this series on recovering from losses, we will address not only healing and recovery, but rebuilding.

Recovering from a significant loss is never easy. If you lost your spouse, child, parent or best friend, that loss takes center stage and everything else is blocked from view. You may have resumed the daily tasks of life but find no pleasure in them.

Recovery includes the need to not only accept and let go but think about your future. But where do you begin?

You can’t begin to imagine the possibility of happiness in the future without your loved one. You might have accepted, but you can’t envision anything positive to look forward to.

Reframing

If you were choosing a frame for a picture you had taken, you would experiment with different sizes and colors of frames and mats that would complement and highlight the main feature of that picture.

How we choose to frame our lives at any point in time can have the same effect. There are many snapshots of life that are special. Right now, the spotlight is on what you lost and it’s not very inviting. But if we expanded the frame and increased our view, we would see hope and possibility as well as sorrow and discouragement.

Reframing begins when you step back from despair and get a glimpse of what is available.

When your face is pressed against a stone wall, all you see is concrete, until you step away and notice the surrounding fields, trees and blooming flowers.

Reframing gives you the opportunity to step back from the stone wall of impossibility to see the possibilities of being happy again.

When faced with any loss or tragedy, our beliefs about what we think we can and cannot do are brought into focus. Reframing allows us to review and evaluate those assumptions and accommodate for change, even radical change. When we only see our limitations and negative evaluations, we don’t see a bigger picture of what the future might be.

Looking at your loss in a larger context allows you to step away from the stone walls of anger, stress, pain, sorrow and hopelessness. When you do, you begin to see blooming flowers and blue sky and know that life hasn’t ended. It allows you to grieve, but also rebuild.

Here are 8 steps to help you begin again:

8 Steps to Begin Living Again | FocusWithMarlene.com

1. Acknowledge and accept all aspects of your loss and all the feelings associated with it.

Make a list of emotions that keep you stuck. If you are feeling resentful, anxious, fearful, hopeless, or a never-ending sorrow, write it down. Don’t evaluate or put any value judgment on them right now. You are simply acknowledging that they are keeping you trapped in grief instead of healing.

2. Write beside each emotion the thoughts that preceded it.

For example, there is nothing to look forward to, or I should have done more, or why did he have to die? These thoughts reveal beliefs you hold about yourself and your situation. What are your thoughts telling you about your past that keeps you from believing in yourself?

3. Challenge thinking that looks backward instead of forward.

Thoughts that keep you focused only on your pain will continue to keep you feeling helpless and hopeless. We can recognize that life can be unfair without turning it into a bitter story. That will only make your grief worse.

4. What have you achieved in the past that took you through difficult times?

What strategies did you use? Maybe it was an attitude of, yes, I can. Maybe you said to yourself, I won’t quit. Maybe it was a fierce determination of, I will find a way. I can ask for help or go back to school, etc. Which strategies can you use again?

5. Make a list of your strengths, skills, talents and abilities.

Maybe you are someone who is decisive or reliable and trustworthy. You might feel a great compassion for others. These characteristics and traits are important to recognize. Is there an opportunity to improve or develop new skills that can increase your confidence? Explore all available options – no matter how small or trivial they may seem.

6. Practice mindfulness.

Resist ruminating on what you lost or what the future might bring. Focus your attention on what you are doing in the moment and what you can do in the future. No matter how seemingly insignificant, find one positive thing to work on every day.

7. Resist the urge to hang onto resentment associated with your loss.

Let it go. We can’t move forward until we let go of the past – all of it. Begin to look for those kernels of blessings and gratitude.

8. And finally, ask yourself, what benefits am I getting from remaining fixated on my loss?

What am I avoiding by remaining angry, bitter or resentful?

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Reframe to See More of Your Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

From childhood on, we are creating beliefs about ourselves and our world based on the interpretations we make. We make assumptions and expectations that form a framework from which to appropriately respond to life. These frames of reference motivate and guide our thinking, our emotional responses, and our behavior.

How we frame our world creates meaning and helps us navigate the ups and downs of living.

Enlarging our frame of reference

If our frames of reference are small and limiting, our lives will be restrictive, negative and inflexible.

If we enlarge our frames of reference, we see a bigger picture and have a better understanding of occurrences that are causing pain and anxiety.

Reframing takes what life has handed us and gives us the opportunity to respond differently. It allows us not only to transcend difficult or traumatic life situations, but to find humor, purpose and joy within them.

Reframing and acceptance go hand-in-hand

Reframing requires acceptance; accepting what has happened in order to find new ways to see the world and respond to it.

Reframing and acceptance go hand in hand. With acceptance, we choose to look at our problems differently. It is a way of thinking that can be applied to any circumstance and can become a pivotal point that takes us from what we can’t do to possibilities, options and choices.

Reframing sheds more light on the problems we are facing and outlines what possible outcomes there might be.

What does that look like in real time?

Years ago, I helped a health organization write a nine-week class on chronic illness and pain. The program helped people accept their debilitating and chronic illness so they could work with it. Along with strategies that could be applied, our research for this project included true stories of people who had overcome enormous obstacles to carve out a new life.

Flying Without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing, by Arnold BeisserOne of those resources was a book written by Arnold Beisser, Flying Without Wings:  Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing.  

Arnold was an athlete and tennis champion who contracted polio after completing medical school to become a surgeon. Life was just unfolding when this tragedy struck. As he lay in his iron lung, unable to move, he struggled to find purpose for his life.

Gradually he began to reframe his circumstances. Even though I could not move, I could actively engage with whatever was around me through the play of senses.” 

He began to use his imagination to creatively look at his world in a new way. He defines the baby steps involved in changing how he looked at his new reality.

“I had moments of great pleasure and satisfaction when I became absorbed in observing minor details and becoming an active observer, rather than a passive one . . . Eventually, I could pass a very interesting time looking at the ceiling, noticing small details and changes.”

As time went on, he began to see his situation differently. I could be more than a helpless victim, and I could have a part in determining my life and what shape it took.”

He lived in an iron lung for three years before emerging as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair.

He did not allow his tragedy to disable him. He went on to become a psychiatrist, an administrator, an author, and fell in love and married a woman he met while still in the hospital.

He lived – he did not remain a helpless victim. He took the pieces of his life, reframed them and learned to live again in a new world.

No matter what the setback or situation, there are many things we can do to reframe our circumstances turning it into something positive.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Accept Your Loss and Reclaim Your Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

Memorials are over – people have gone home – life goes on.

Or has it?

Life might have resumed for others who have gone home to their families and familiar routines. But your life has been drastically changed. Life doesn’t just “go on” for you.

Redefining life

No matter what tragedy or loss you have encountered, it has drastically disrupted your life. Before you can establish a new normal, you need to first let go of what was.

To let go, you need to stop struggling. There is a natural resistance to accepting the ending of something valuable and important. When you continue to resist, however, you risk getting stuck in sorrow, sadness and depression; and maybe anger and resentment.

Acceptance is where you stop fighting the reality that exists: my spouse has died, my child is dead, my teen is into drugs, my marriage has ended, and I may be out of work.

It is where you stop denying and resisting and start working with it. It may be painful. You might have lots of unanswered questions, uncertainty, hesitation and doubts. But if you run away from them, you won’t be able to work through them and create a new life that has meaning and significance.

Acceptance is not the end. It is the beginning.

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comIt is where you take the ashes of your loss and start over. Letting go does not diminish what you had, and acceptance doesn’t mean you are giving up or resigning yourself to no happiness in the future. It just frees you to consider options.

While grieving the death of my husband, I wrote in my journal, Acceptance this morning is not a promise of a new beginning. It is a bitter pill added to the string of losses I have been asked to accept: my husband, my home, my source of income, etc.”

But as I worked on the concept of acceptance, I was able to pick up the pieces of my life and construct a new beginning that had meaning, purpose and contentment.

Working through unpleasantness is never easy. You may want to withdraw and isolate yourself, so others won’t see your brokenness, fears and vulnerabilities. As you work through the tangles of thoughts and emotions, and decisions you need to make, you will discover you are stronger than you think, more flexible and resilient, and deep down have a desire to live again.

Reasons for not accepting

We don’t want to accept because we don’t want to feel the pain, loneliness, uncertainty, fear and anxiety caused by this loss.

Through acceptance, I can come to terms with my situation. I don’t blame anyone or myself. It isn’t saying that someone got all the breaks and I didn’t.

Acceptance simply acknowledges that life isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect and neither is anybody else.

Each of us will experience losses and unwanted changes that will require acceptance, letting go and starting again.

Life is a process – a dance.

Accept Your Loss and Reclaim Your Life

It is never static, never the same. It is constantly evolving and changing. It is movement – we are going somewhere. It requires flexibility and the ability to move through and beyond our losses. Rebuilding begins with acceptance, letting go, reframing what happened and making new choices.

Acceptance does not mean:

  • I have no worth. Instead, it enables me to discover it.
  • I am powerless. Instead, it helps me use my power more constructively.
  • I stay in this spot forever. Instead, it allows me to look for better options.
  • I have no rights. Instead, it allows me to use my rights in a productive way
  • I am a victim to whatever happens. Instead, it frees me to take charge.

Integrating our losses takes time. It may seem as though we are making no progress, but positive change is happening. We may be required to make that choice of acceptance more than once as we step out in faith.

Where are you right now in your grief process?

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Are you feeling stuck or are you ready to move forward?
  2. What part of your loss are you struggling with? Remember, your loved one is always with you in your memories.
  3. What doubts, uncertainties, anxieties, or fears are keeping you from moving forward.
  4. What decision is required of you right now? Make a list of potential problems you may be facing and prioritize. Take the number one priority and begin working with it.
  5. What specifically do you want to remember and take with you? Perhaps it is a special way of doing things that was shared with your loved one. You might want to return to favorite places or make that trip that wasn’t completed before. For me, it was responding more to the humorous side of life as my husband did.

Learning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Will I ever Experience Joy Again?

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

I asked a friend recently who attends a grief and loss support group, what one thing that people attending wanted – one thing they hoped for.

Her answer: to experience joy again.

For anyone who has lost a significant person in their life, that question is high on their list of doubts and uncertainties.

Will I ever be happy again? That person I lost had been an integral part of my life and my identity. When we were together, I felt whole and complete. It was where I found pleasure, joy and the most contentment and happiness.

If that person had been your spouse, your loss now included facing the trials of life without your loved one by your side. Your marriage didn’t always mean everything was rosy. You had your arguments and disagreements, but then you came together to consider options and plans for your future. Instinctually you knew that was what life was all about. It was that comfortable resting spot – you were not alone even when separated by work or travel. That familiarity complemented and completed both of you in some way.

If your loss was a beloved child, son or daughter, they were the reason you got up each morning. They gave purpose to your life, a reason to sacrifice and watch the wonder and surprise in their eyes as they explored their world. It was more than a love – it was a parent’s deepest satisfaction and motivation, to watch their child grow and develop.

Loss is not just the removal of someone who was important to us – it is the loss of everything associated with that person and the life created because of them.

I believe that in death we begin to identify and appreciate what life is all about. It’s the relationships we build, the values and principles we choose to live by. Death becomes a turning point to reflect and define what is truly important. As you work through your loss, accept and let go, you discover a strength you didn’t know you had and acquire the courage and confidence to rebuild.

So, can you ever experience happiness again?

Yes, you can. As you break out of the chains of loss and despair and allow yourself to be transformed, you will experience new hope for your future. Grieving is about letting go and shifting your focus from what was to create a new normal. It is here where you begin to live life again and experience joy and happiness.

Will I ever Experience Joy Again? FocusWithMarlene.com

Just as bare branches on trees sprout new leaves in the spring, so our lives can sprout new ways to live again. You may only see dead branches right now, but there is life deep inside you waiting to sprout new growth.

This is the time to prepare for that growth; a time to remember all the things you have accomplished in the past and know that you can do it again. It is taking all the things you are learning through this change and applying them in reconstruction.

Does it dishonor your loved one to enjoy life again?

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comIt might seem sacrilegious to suggest that we could enjoy life again because somehow it might dishonor our loved one or minimize their importance. It doesn’t. In fact, it does the opposite. I believe they would want us to move forward and find happiness. We never lose our loved ones – they are with us forever in our memories and we can continue to draw strength and appreciation from the relationships we had.

Whatever your loss, there are elements that can make the grieving process more difficult, such as coming to terms with tragedies that make no sense, understanding acceptance and letting go, reconciling and forgiving, taking charge of difficult emotions such as anger, guilt and shame, developing an internal positive dialogue, and writing letters of goodbye.

Coming Next

Next week, we’ll talk about acceptance and reframing. What does acceptance mean and how can it help me take back my life?

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson