What is chronic grief and how do I know if I am suffering with it?
Here are some of the symptoms:
1) Depression, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning
2) Being unable to sleep, tossing and turning all night
3) Feeling like nothing really matters, “What’s the use?” is a common expression
4) Always expecting the worst, like “When is the other shoe going to drop?”
5) Over reacting when you, a family member, a close friend or a pet has a medical symptom
6) “Awfulizing” which means when you hear any news, you commonly take it to the very worst outcome before even having the facts
7) Not trusting others to help you, especially medical personnel, therapists or other family members
What Are the Causes of Chronic Grief?
Most of us can handle one or two losses in our lives and especially when we have a good strong family or social network of support. For many, chronic grief can begin early in life and take many forms. It is very difficult for small children to lose a close family member, a loving teacher or even a family pet. In past years, it was the accepted practice to “shield” children from the fact that someone has died. We have worked with a woman, we’ll call her Deborah, whose mother died when she was only two years old. Her father and grandmother did not know how to talk about it to her and so they didn’t. A big cloud seemed to be hanging over the household and Deborah cried a lot, but didn’t even know what she was crying about. Except that her mother was not there.
One day her mother was there and then the next day she was in the hospital and then she never came home. She could intuitively sense that something was very wrong, but no explanation was given, no comfort offered and this huge family secret began to escalate. The more she asked, “when is mommy coming home,” the more uncomfortable the adults became. So she learned to just push down her feelings, not ask questions and pretend that everything was normal when it wasn’t.
As Deborah got older, things became more and more confusing especially when she was shuffled around from one relative to another. Her father, feeling distraught and lonely, left her with her grandparents and went off in search of another woman. So then young Deborah not only lost her mother but her father too. Deborah was left with her grandparents who were also grieving over the loss of their daughter, were quite depressed and not able to cope with the needs of a young child. They were often distant and impatient.
Several years later, the father came home with a new wife and took Deborah, now about five, to live with them. So here is another loss for this young child when she is suddenly taken from her grandparents. Because of the confusion and unprocessed grief, Deborah herself was moody and was having difficulty in school. Her new stepmother, being older then most mothers with a five year old, was quite impatient with Deborah and considered her a nuisance that got in the way of her relationship with the father.
The chronic grief built up inside young Deborah really exploded when the family dog died. She cried for days and days, uncontrollably, which put everyone on edge. Since the father and grandparents had never really dealt with their grief over the death of Deborah’s mother, they kept telling her to stop crying. They gave her sweets to try to cheer her up and then began bribing her, “If you stop crying and begin acting like a happy little girl, we will buy you a new doll”, a new dress, and on and on.
So there is now a long list of unhealthy behavioral patterns which began the moment her mother died and continued throughout her life. These unhealthy ways of handling grief turned into chronic grief and then disease.
Destructive behavioral patterns develop when grief goes unrecognized, untreated. When these deep feelings of loss are pushed down out of conscious awareness, they are then somaticized, expressed in the body.
These deep feelings of loss and grief do not go away but rather are alive as energy in our bodies. This energy looks for someplace to go in the body. For Deborah it was pushed down into her stomach, where she suffered from many physical symptoms. As a child she had stomach aches, as an adolescent cramps and severe PMS, and later on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Deborah spent many hours in doctors offices and taking bottles and bottles of different medications to try to fix what the doctors did not even understand.
Deborah also developed an eating disorder due to her father, grandparents and step mother using food and especially sweets to try to suppress her deep feelings of grief. She would sneak cookies, candy and other sweets as a kid and even began stealing to get more. This made her chubby and she began to feel self-conscious when other children teased her. Deborah began the dieting yo-yo syndrome early in her teens as her body began to develop. Once the teen-age hormones wreaked havoc in her already over-stressed system, she learned from friends how to throw up and lose weight faster. This also momentarily relieved the pain in her stomach from the IBS.
Another pattern of coping was to medicate her feelings with shopping. Since the family kept trying to bribe her as a child, she continued to bribe herself. During college, with her full-blown eating disorder, she also began drinking and smoking to numb the pain. During exams one year, she was arrested for shoplifting and this information was sent home to her father. He did nothing about it, as was his usual pattern.
So these patterns of lying, stealing, eating junk food and throwing up all served to keep Deborah running from herself and her pain. But when, in college, her dog died, she could no longer use these coping mechanisms and she was diagnosed with a full blown depression and hospitalized. She had to drop out of school. She finally found Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy to treat these self-destructive patterns.
How Does Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy Work?
Through the hypnotherapy, we were able to regress her to her original grief and the loss of her mother. In her sessions, she immediately had access to these long repressed emotions and energetically released them from her body. We have long ago discovered that simply talking about the feelings may help the client understand what initiated the destructive patterns, but certainly does not release them from the body. Even just crying, as many people may do in the therapy office, does not go deep enough to release the symptoms they have become in the body. Because suppressed emotions are stored in the deepest parts of the subconscious mind, that is where we need to go to unlock them.
Hypnotherapy can heal the body as well as the mind and the spirit. In order to do that, the person will regress back to the original traumatic events. In Deborah’s case that was to the very day that, at age two, her mother was very ill and was about to go to the hospital. Deborah was then given a pillow to represent her mother, and as a regressed child, actually repair the damage by telling her mother the things she never got to say. She speaks as the young child would, and because she is actually regressed back to that age, she can release from her body the unexpressed emotions. She is no longer required to push down these strong emotions and thus they do not need to cause her physical and emotional pain any longer.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (author of On Death and Dying) worked with dying children, many of whom were diagnosed with cancer. She taught us that there are seven stages of grief. A very important part of that grief process, is releasing the anger which is very common with loss. Some people may say, “Oh I’m not angry, I loved my mother.” The incorrect assumption that many people make, including many therapists, is that when we love someone we cannot be angry with them. This is a completely false assumption! Healing from chronic or any other type of grief , the question must be asked, “What are your resentments?” This often begins with, “I resent that you left me. How could you leave me???” Anger is energy and if left unexpressed, will be stored deep inside and will eat away at the body and ultimately cause disease.
In Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy we use techniques we learned from Kübler-Ross to release the resentments from the body. We always encourage people to release these deep emotions physically, such as yelling in a pillow, using a bat or boxing gloves onto a punching bag, or the latest is an anger ball (used in many gyms) and thrown onto the floor with an energetic verbal release. This is great for children as well as adults.
In this way the body is allowed to expel the poison of unacknowledged and unprocessed traumatic experience. Relieved of the lingering effects of that poison, the body begins to repair whatever damage was done. Often we refer to that damage as stress-related illness, which in Deborah’s case grew from stomach aches to severe PMS to irritable bowel syndrome.