What is grief (having a broken heart) really about?

QUESTION: What is grief (having a broken heart) really about?

Don: Reality.

Grief--having an emotional broken heart--is the natural process of coming to terms with the way things actually are now compared to the way they were. You can expect things to be a certain way, for example, "We will always love living in this house." Then, reality happens, and you have to move because of financial changes. "This is the best dog we will ever have," and then reality happens, eventually you get a new dog, and you feel torn up inside. "We will be together forever." Then a partner suddenly dies. Grief is the natural process of coming to terms with the difference between expectations and the reality of what really occurs.

You will know where you are in your grieving as you note the degree to which events that are happening right now, actually feel like now, instead of being compared to the past. Another indication of where you are in grieving is the degree that you have imaginary conversations in your head about what should, could, or would have been happening, instead of what is actually occurring. Simply, the degrees between what your mind is expecting or insisting that isn't actually so.

Four specific reactions hold the pain of grief in place: (1) unresolved or unfelt resentments, (2) regrets, and (3) appreciations, and (4) unexpressed emotions. The Grief Recovery Method focuses on transforming resentments into actions of forgiveness, regrets into actions of apology, appreciations into actions of expression, and unexpressed emotions into actions of acceptances.  

Through this process the expectations of the mind lose their grip on your awareness, and you become free to see and work with reality--it is what it is--in your daily moments.

The Grief Recovery Method takes you through the action steps to loosen the grip of imaginary conversations of unreal expectations and frees your attention to what IS happening in your life, right now. The resolution of grief is being more free to be present to what is happening in your life right now.

How Can The Technique EMDR Help Me Resolve Grief and Trauma?

Question: How Can The Technique Help Me Resolve Grief and Trauma?


““My progress was going about 10 miles per hour. With EMDR I am traveling 80!” says a psychotherapy client after several EMDR sessions. EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., can often resolve emotional reactions that- won’t-go-away and restore a person to a calmer perspective in daily life situations. After over thirty years of research and development, Dr. Shapiro trains psychotherapists in the use of this profound tool for deep personal relief from troublesome emotional conditions and to help make significant behavioral change.”

Traumatic events, grief, fear of confrontation, divorce, death of a loved one, anger & over-reaction, emotions are felt as if the event is still happening, and no matter how hard they try, they can’t let go.

The clinical term for these continued reactions to long past events is "post traumatic stress.” This term emerged from the experiences of many Vietnam--and now with upon their return to their lives back home after facing traumatic situations: flashbacks (active reliving of a traumatic event), nightmares (disturbing dreams) and night-terrors (bad dreams that continue for a minutes after waking), lack of concentration, emotional numbness, over and under reactivity, and inability to maintain closeness to those important to us. These were common symptoms of many soldiers long after they had returned home and were far away from the battlefield.

During and after World War II, these experiences were described as "shell shock.” After the Korean Conflict it evolved into the term "battle fatigue." After much research into the phenomena of these recurring extreme reactions, it has been found that post traumatic stress reactions also apply to people with less severe but none the less traumatic, disruptive and unexpected critical life events: family tragedies, abusive relationships, domestic violence, common divorce, emotionally and physically abusive childhoods, or any event that produces intense feelings that are too great to resolve at all at one time or difficult pain over a long period of time, and a person never takes time to take stock of the effects of the difficult event(s) and grieve the losses that have occurred.The “unfelt” and “unacknowledged” emotion begins to show up long after event as it interrupts common, daily interactions with family, friends, and coworkers. As one client puts it, "It's a feeling that suddenly wells up in me. One minute I thinking loving thoughts about my husband, and he will do something that is just slightly annoying and I can't stand him. I will suddenly see him as this horrible person I hate, who is out to get me, and he has hardly said anything!" Post traumatic stress causes quick and unexplainable reactions to present moment situations that don't appear to merit them.

Many people today have some form of post traumatic stress (PTS.) In modern life we face so many losses and serious hurts that we often just keep on moving forward to the next thing and try to race ahead and away from the hurts that we have experienced. When a person who has symptoms and pain from hard-to-find causes, doctors and therapists are trained to explore what may have happened a year before. Often doctors and therapists find that it sometimes takes a year after a traumatic event for symptoms of unadvised emotional hurt and pain to appear. With this much time passing, a person may not connect the “anniversary” of a prior traumatic event or time in their lives.

Many pre-modern tribal cultures took much care to allow tribal members, especially warriors, adequate time for the natural release of emotions following any traumatic event. Their survival depended on strong leaders and people able to be totally clear in the moment of danger, and not having past hurt, pain, and revenge feelings imposing on that present moment. Unresolved feelings of grief and anger would distract and make them falter at important times of risk and threaten the survival of the tribe. They would be more vulnerable to putting the tribe at risk as they pursue their personal vendettas spurred by unresolved emotional loss and pain. Rituals, dancing, and carefully orchestrated ceremonies to evoke deep emotion bring this deeply repressed hurt and pain into the present to be acknowledged, released and resolved by letting go of the emotional hurt that can boil over time into dangerous revenge feelings. A potent scenario from the novel Haunt Yo depicts a conflict between the tribal chief and his people. The chief had recently lost his wife and children, destroyed by an enemy war party. Only when he had fully grieved many days in special shelter would his people allow him to take his place again as leader. Without this grieving process, they knew their chief would carry revenge and could risk the safety of everyone.

In modern society, most employees are given one day off if a close relative dies. They are expected back to work as soon as possible, sometimes the same day. We have forgotten the wisdom of honoring and working with the natural emotional process that our human psyche demands after traumatic events. We routinely lock trauma after trauma into our nervous systems. We build tremendous pressure until we find ourselves over and under-reacting to present moment events with both strangers and those people important to us. We are at the effect of unconscious intense feelings that haunt marriages, parent-child relations, and boss-employee battles. We avoid them until these denied experiences force themselves to our attention, by slowly causing troubling symptoms and problems in related and sometimes unrelated areas of our lives.

Although our bookstores and internet sites are packed with the psychological knowledge to deal with everything from divorce to painful childhoods, we all struggle to make consistent changes in these irrational reactions to those closest to us. We know volumes about the diagnoses of our problems and personality traits, yet we all have tremendous problems in relating to one another. Many times the problem lies less in the differences between us and more in our inability to manage to these differences due to the heavy load of unresolved emotional hurt and pain that we carry within us like a quiet, smoking, volcano ready erupt.

My first series of EMDR sessions focused on my post traumatic stress reaction to an Oakland, CA mugging that occurred ten years prior. I did not classify this event as a possible cause of post traumatic stress in my life until I experienced the EMDR method that focused on my the memory of this event. Denial is common with those who have experienced traumatic events. After the assault and robbery, I talked about it in my personal psychotherapy and expressed strong anger, hurt, and rage. At the time I felt better. After a few days I could crawl out from under my bed sheets and resume my normal routine. I thought that was the end of it. Years later I noticed a tension whenever I saw young men who were dressed similar to my muggers. When I drove by the street where it happened, I felt tense and would take extra time to drive far around the site where I was assaulted and robbed. Over the next ten years, I labeled my reactions as normal. I learned to live with my adrenaline rushes and lingering fears whenever I walked at night, even in safe well-it areas. Ten years later, during my first EMDR sessions, I felt the intense terror I had repressed pass through me. I felt great relief. After the third session, I noticed that when I turned off the light before I went to bed, I was not afraid.

I was amazed. I wasn't aware that I felt constant fear. I only became aware of it when what I thought was “normal” was not there anymore. It wasn't normal, but every night for ten years, it was very familiar. Other benefits of my sessions of EMDR included the cessation of a recurring nightmares, night terrors, and the elimination unrealistic fears and rushes of adrenaline when seeing young men who dressed like the muggers. After a series of EMDR sessions I could recall the entire event without the former numbness and fear. I could drive by the site without fear reactions. I stopped avoiding driving by the site. It became a memory of an unfortunate event that was over. As if waking up from a long bad dream, the upsetting symptoms stopped intruding in my mind and body during both day and night.

Many clients report similar results after psychotherapy with EMDR. It is important to note that not all post traumatic stress events can be concluded in several sessions, though some can. The severity of the symptoms, the degree of trauma, as well as the age when the trauma occurred, affects the length of therapy required. EMDR does, however, often speed up the therapy's pace from what many therapists and clients have grown accustomed. Clients who have struggled for years with unresolved grief of a loved one, bouts of anxiety, panic, depression, nightmares, and recurring emotional outbursts have noticed that, after EMDR, their automatic, anger, sadness, fear-induced reactions are greatly reduced and in many cases gone. Their minds and attention can move onto other concerns.

After one client sat down from speaking her mind in a business meeting, she realized her panic attack was not there during the meeting as before. For the first time ever, she not only spoke at the meeting, but addressed a long-standing problem that had bothered her. In short, the post traumatic stress emotion that was locked into her nervous system, causing the symptom, generalized fear when talking to a group of people, was no longer there. She was able to address the conflict that she was actually facing, instead of being haunted by reactions to events that had long passed but still lived in here mind. Clients who are successful with EMDR often notice their changes after they realize they are without the symptom. They no longer have to exert their will to hold back or down strong emotions. The “old” emotional punch is no longer there. People respond more to their present environment and react less to the ghost-like fears that haunt them from the past.

Many approaches to personal growth use affirmations and the engagement of will power. I have often used these methods and found them helpful, but difficult to maintain. These methods alone produced what I call "white knuckle change." I had to hang on tight to my thought and will power to keep my changes. With EMDR, the changes fall into place naturally. I "find myself" responding to others in appropriate ways. When someone hurts me I say, "Stop!" When I am sad I feel it. When I need to confront someone, I do. Personal boundaries start to appear where they belong. I feel my aliveness.

Therefore, psychotherapy with EMDR allows us to stay with the present moment by releasing the unresolved, locked emotion that keeps us out of touch with our self. Instead of fighting phantoms that are projections of our past, it restores our ability to respond naturally to the present moment versus "white knuckling" it with dysfunctional behavior or battling it with positive thinking and will power. The self is allowed to blossom and act without interference from past trauma.

Research is now in progress to understand why EMDR is so effective with emotionally-event-based trauma. Several theories abound, but none are conclusive. One popular theory holds that EMDR taps into an already existing healing mechanism in the brain that is also activated by REM (Rapid Eye Movement) dream sleep. When a person is dreaming, his or her eyes move about under their eyelids as their dreaming works to manage and process the anxieties of past experiences. People who do not sleep for days suffer more the mental instability that come from the lack of REM sleep than from physical exhaustion. Their unresolved anxieties and emotions affect their mental stability. EMDR may be tapping into the REM phenomenon while awake, and healthfully release pent up emotions that are locked into the nervous system.

When trauma is locked into the nervous system, a fearful judgment or belief holds it in place. The trauma-based  belief about my mugging situation was, "I don't know how to stand up for myself." I knew this was correct, because when I thought this phrase in connection with the mugging, I felt extremely nervous. Upon completion of the psychotherapy with EMDR I could think "I don't know how to stand up for myself" without such a reaction. My new self-judgment became "I know how and when to stand up for myself and others." Before, when I said this phrase, I did not believe it. After completion, I was amazed to find the phrase felt naturally true. I found that since I have a new sense of personal boundaries and discernment in situations where I need to act for my best interests and the interest of the ones whom I care about.

Dr. Shapiro uses the metaphor of the digestion of food to explain this healing reflex of the brain and nervous system. Food is broken down to liquid, some for growth, some for fat, and some for waste. The body's metabolic system knows exactly what to do with every molecule of food that is consumed. When it is done the food is no longer there. The nervous system is similar in that it knows what to do with every feeling a person has, as long as it not locked up in the nervous system by trauma. The locked feeling is like a piece of food that resists digestion and sits in the stomach causing discomfort and irritation. EMDR unlocks that feeling and releases it to the already existing network of nervous system, that knows exactly how to process every aspect of the feeling until it is used up. This frees a person to be more alive and fresh in the present.

Therefore, psychotherapy with EMDR works in at least two areas: releasing the locked trauma into the nervous system for "digestion," and the replacing of the negative judgment of oneself with a realistic and carefully crafted positive one that draws on the natural human instinct of surviving and thriving.

Dr. Shapiro research of EMDR indicates long-term effectiveness. Her initial work with Vietnam veterans with serious post traumatic stress symptoms is still holding up after more than 20 years.

Veterans in the study report no re-occurrence of the symptoms that were treated. Her research as well as researchers around the world continues. As in any scientific research project the conclusions are far behind the pioneering work clinicians are now doing.

For more information on the current, formal research, you can read EMDR: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. It is interesting to note that prior psychotherapy has been shown to increase EMDR's effectiveness. However, previous psychotherapy is not required. EMDR has been used with children as young as three years of age, as well as teenagers, and adults of all ages. I currently use psychotherapy with EMDR with adult men and women whose issues include codependency, marriage problems, divorce, rage outburst (impulse control issues,) adult's survivors of child abuse, career changes, low self-esteem, panic attacks, depression, survivors of violent assaults including rape, and other problems many of us face and have felt we just have to learn to live with the symptoms. The issues do not have to be dramatic as with violent assaults.

"I have talked myself silly in therapy over the loss of my parents in an accident. With EMDR, though painful to feel, the grief lifted and now I accept there is no going back, and I can move on and face a world without them." Bob D.

"Don's use of EMDR help me move on in my life from losing my young son to violence. I had stayed in my home for over four years stuck in grief. I will never get over the loss of my son, but I don't have to stop living."---Jan. M.

"I have been so angry with my young children that I had to get help. Don's use of EMDR helped me get to the roots of this deeper anger and release it. Now I can tolerate the normal frustrations that come with mothering without the explosive upset on my part." Debbie H.

"My wife is grateful for EMDR, as my temper has gone way down and the continuous underlying irritation is gone in my interactions with my family."---John D.

"I took a curve too fast,and drove my car into a tree. Though I miraculously came out with only bruises, I would feel fear every time I drove around this curve to work and in my dreams. Don's use of EMDR cut into the fear and the deep sadness that was underneath. I can drive around that curve now without fear, but sometimes I remember how fortunate I am to be alive. I also drive safer!"---Anthony B.

"The sadness, anger and fear from my sudden divorce emotionally paralyzed me for quite a while. I was either angry or numb. EMDR helped me peel back the layers of shock and numbness, unhook from my rage, and start accepting my situation in a way I could take care of myself and my responsibilities."---Sally G.

Every body is unique when it comes to most things, including EMDR. The first session will be an evaluation session designed to target the exact issue and its history. The first EMDR session can follow after that, however in some cases, more evaluation is necessary in order to be safe and efficient. Clients report a variety of reactions from the first session where the EMDR method is used. Some have surprising strong emotional reactions, such as tears, fears, or great relief. Other people notice lighter surges of feeling. On occasion physical trembling may occur. If there is severe physical and emotional trauma, especially from early childhood, there can be very strong physical and emotional releases. Symptomatic reactions, however, tend to reduce in their intensity by the end of the session. An entire reduction of intensity may take several sessions. Some clients have noticed little to no feeling response but a change in their thinking patterns. Some clients report a deep and restful sleep and increased dream activity. Others have no awareness of dream activity at all. Some continue to process their feelings twenty-four to forty-eight hours later. If there is concern about what is happening with EMDR, it is always okay to call your therapist and receive additional help.

Everyone's response to EMDR is unique. There is no right or wrong. Psychotherapy with EMDR allows for these variations. Since most persons are not accustomed to rapid emotional releases and changes sometimes elicited by EMDR, it is important to allow time immediately following your sessions to fully relax and fell the effects of what you have just experienced. It is helpful to keep a log and write down your feelings and thought processes afterwards and during the week. This increases EMDR's effectiveness. In the beginning, it is probably better not to start EMDR right before your vacation so if you have distress, you can have another session without waiting. It is advisable not to have your first or second session right before an important business presentation or anytime where you are under great pressure to perform. After several sessions, however, most clients say that their EMDR experiences become more integrated into their daily lives.

The method is effective but must be used carefully in cases of incest, sexual abuse, dissociative disorders (DID,) borderline personality disorders, bipolar disorder and persons in extremely fragile health. It will not work if the person is deriving benefit from their symptom and isn't ready to make changes in their life. EMDR will have partial results that don't hold in cases where the client needs medication because of a biological imbalance. However, when the correct medication is in place, EMDR results tend to hold well. (Note: EMDR is NOT intended to replace any treatment of medical conditions.)

Compared to traditional psychotherapy, sometimes change is sometimes are rapid. "I came into the session hating my husband. I left not only understanding how I was reacting to the old pain from an event a long time ago, I no longer felt the pain." A male client who was struggling with intense anger and depression said, “I felt relief as I watch scene after scene of angry episodes pass. I felt so relaxed afterwards.” Though not all post traumatic stress reactions are resolved in only a few sessions, some can be. Over time, changes do happen using EMDR to unlock the many layers of pain we carry. Once the core or the original pain of the specific trauma is fully released, the symptoms relating to that particular pain are relieved freeing your attention to focus on what is actually occuring now in your life instead of reacting to the past.

As in any therapeutic endeavor, it is important to choose a therapist you like and is well trained in the area of your concern. Ask the potential therapist questions regarding their training and make sure that it is from Dr. Shapiro's EMDR Institute, Inc., in Pacific Grove, CA. Ask the potential therapist whether s/he is a client of this method. Like most therapies, you can only go as far as the therapist is personally willing to take you. EMDR does not replace psychotherapy, but is often integrated into the already existing specialty of the therapist. Therefore, your experience of EMDR can greatly vary from therapist to therapist. It is important to plan financially.

EMDR fees are similar to psychotherapy rates and vary with each therapist. Beginning sessions maybe no longer than fifty minutes. Two fifty-minute hour sessions to deal with early treatment of intense past traumas are not unusual in the beginning. Depending on the issues, clients can return to the fifty-minute hour. Ask you therapist how he or she structures their time and charges. Some clients report they have been in therapy for years, spending thousands of dollars getting some results but not all they wanted. They feel resistant to paying for more longer sessions, and rightly so. After several sessions of EMDR, however, many quickly see the wisdom of the longer session in the beginning, because of the benefit they receive.

Like in any therapeutic endeavor, determines the time and energy required. One client may wish to eliminate the fear of driving through a tunnel. Another client may want to learn to confront their spouse. A person may want to deal with the grief of the loss of a loved one. A parent may want to deal with the out of control anger they have toward their children or their spouse. An adult man may want to work on attitude and relationship problems they have had since childhood. EMDR is still psychotherapy; it will take more than one session. It, however, can help relieve emotional upset and reactions more rapidly than the traditional psychotherapy of which many clients are familiar. It is important to note that intense physical and emotional, and sexual abuse, especially from childhood, will not be healed with several sessions. This work will still require a commitment to on-going therapy, but it should move more rapid in terms of noticeable results than without EMDR.

Whatever the length, psychotherapy with EMDR pursues the loosening and release, where possible, of the problematic symptoms so the choice of new behaviors that work for you and not against you can happen. Effective psychotherapy with EMDR can release you from the haunts of the ghosts of your past and assist you in creating a life full of new choices and responses to the world that exists, today.

How Can I Stop Negative Imaginary Conversations In My Head?

Question: I am trying to recover from a painful divorce, but I can’t seem to stop the agonizing conversations that I wished I had had with my ex. I don’t want to open up this can of worms again, but I do want to stop these imaginary thoughts about the past that go endlessly round and round in my head. How do I stop this?

Don: Stop worshiping the volcano of pain.

Imaginary conversations with people from the past are symptoms of unresolved emotional pain from those situations that are stuck in your subconscious mind. This is one of the main symptoms of resentment and is part of the grief process. Real conversations with real people make imaginary ones go away. Your situation doesn’t allow an actual conversation with the person, but there is another way to resolve the cause of the emotional pain and the subsequent, imaginary conversations: Counseling with The Grief Recovery Method.

This process uses several action tools to root out the unresolved resentment, regrets, and unexpressed emotion to deal with them out loud with the counselor. These steps are listed in the book, The Grief Recovery Handbook

This process is NOT the same as Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief, but about the action steps a person must take, in some shape or form, for the emotional pain to release. Counseling with the Grief Recovery Method guides you through the steps. ·Most people report feeling physically lighter, an internal sense that the power of the memories are less or gone, and a dramatic reduction or a cessation of those painful imaginary conversations that popped up both day and night.

Anne Bercht writes, “Getting to the truth put an end to my obsessive thoughts.” This is the key. When you can get to the truth in conversation with another person, your obsessional thoughts will reduce or cease. ·However, the truth is not just observable facts. The truth you can work with in counseling is the emotional truth of how you really felt and feel now about a past situation and the steps in the Grief Recovery Method that allows the volcano of pain to ease. What begins to occur instead of imaginary conversations in your head about the past, will be the actual concerns of your day!

Every round of imaginary conversations that you have is not releasing the emotional pain, but just stirring it up and stoking it, causing you more and more discomfort and suffering. Step by step speaking out loud the emotional truth, not to the actual person, but to someone listening without judgment is the heart of resolving the emotional pain of your past.

The counseling method works with divorce or any loss where you feel unresolved and can’t seem to let the thoughts about it or the emotional reactions about it go. ·

After my divorce was final I still have painful conversations that still go around and around in my head about  conversations that I wished I would have had with my ex.  I don’t want to open up this can of worms again with them, but I do want to stop this round and round endlessly painful imaginary conversation about things in the past. How do I stop this?

Psychotherapy with The Grief Recovery Process can help free you from the cause of your emotional pain in any situation of loss and grief. Let go of the wish for a different or a better yesterday. Feel like yourself again.

What keeps me stuck in the emotional pain of my divorce?

QUESTION: What keeps me stuck in the emotional pain of my divorce?

Don: Your hand is stuck in a vending machine.

“My daughter's arm is stuck in a candy machine. Please help me!”

This is the starting scene in the old rescue TV Show from the 1950’s. The fire department engines show up by a candy vending machine where the little girl has her arm stuck up in the vending machine with a frantic mother trying to comfort her little crying daughter. The mother reports, “I just turned my head for a moment, and she tried to reach up into the machine to get a candy bar, and her hand and arm are now stuck and I can’t get her free. Please help us!”

The chief fireman studied the situation carefully with the two big guys with axes and the jaws-of-life ready to roll as they anxiously looked on at the mother clinging to her little girl. The chief fireman kept staring at the vending machine and the little girl. He calmly walked up to the little girl, knelt down and whispered something in her ear. The arm quickly and smoothly came right out of the opening in the vending machine. The little girl collapsed into her mother’s arms and all sighed a great relief.

As the firemen put all their unused equipment back onto the truck, the fireman with the ax asked the chief, “What did you whisper in the little girl’s ear?”

The chief replied, “Let go of the candy bar.”

This story illustrates the painful process of grief that is present with the heartache of divorce: you desperately hang on to what you want that you just can't have. You wish earnestly for a better or a different past.

Negative imaginary conversations of what you should have said, could have done, would have done if you had had a chance, play in your head. Your mind just won't let go of what you can't have. This is what causes the emotional pain. The bad news is that it is not as easily solved as the TV Show and the little girl. The good news is, there is a way to let go. There are specific actions you can take to get relief from this pain and feel like yourself again. This is where counseling can greatly help if it has a solid Grief Recovery focus on processing: resentment with acceptance, regrets with apology, unexpressed gratitude with expression, and unfelt, hidden emotion with expression. The expression is not to the other person, but out loud to a counselor with compassion.  This process gets the imaginary, negative spirals of awful out of your head and heart, out in front of you for release and inspection. This powerfully healing process helps you become more and more aware of the present moment of what you life is truly about, not back then, but right now. 

Psychotherapy with The Grief Recovery Process can help free you from the cause of your emotional pain. Let go of the wish for a different or a better yesterday. Feel like yourself again.

This step by step process helps you let go of the candy bar.



Can grief stop you from starting or developing a new relationship?

QUESTION: Can grief stop you from starting or developing a new relationship?

Don: Grief can stop you from being present to the relationship you already have, as well as stop you from starting a new one.

The pain of grief keeps a portion of your attention and awareness preoccupied until the loss is faced. Though you can push grief down, to the side, or ignore it, in reality there is no getting around it. You have to, at some point, experience it. Until then it is a part of you, keeping you unavailable to those around you. This is often expressed with the phrase, "He is here but he isn't."  

When you experience great loss (change) of any kind, especially family members to death or divorce, the grief process begins and occupies quite a bit of your attention.

Until the emotional and physical realities that the loss has caused are acknowledged, FELT (experienced), accepted and to some degree forgiveness has happened, you are simply not fully emotionally present in your life. Your mind is fighting the reality of the loss.

The positive outcome of going through the action steps of grief recovery is that you begin to experience more of the present moment and are better able to tend to what is actually going on in your life now. Imaginary conversations in one's head, as if the loss has not happened, are gone or at least only appear now and then when triggered by something that reminds you of the loss.

So the experiences of grief happen without your control, consuming, for a while, most of your attention. 

If you are already in a relationship and you have a significant loss, you will be less emotionally available to your partner until the grief is experienced. If you are not in a relationship, grief could keep you from making efforts to begin one until grief is faced. 

This is true both with death or the broken heart of a divorce.  However, some people actually start a new relationship to avoid and cover up the pain of the grief experience. If grief is not faced well, the relationship you begin will start on a very unsteady footing, because you are not fully emotionally there and not able to really be close. The new relationship will be based more on the thrill of hormones and the relief of avoiding the grief. Eventually, the grief will have to be faced in this new relationship. 

The same is true with pets. Many people quickly replace the pet to avoid the loss experience only later to regret bringing a new pet in so quickly. These actions cover up, delay, and make grief more of a problem instead of a process to go through. However, with the right corrections, grief recovery can happen even when it has been massively avoided. There is hope.



Can A Relationship Make You Feel Physically Tired?

Question: I am tired all the time these days and my relationship gets worse and worse. Could there be a connection?

Don: It takes a tremendous amount of energy to pretend something is true, that isn't.

Though it is important to get a doctor's evaluation on physical tiredness and symptoms, trying to make something work by pretending to feel, think or act in ways that go against how you really feel is exhausting to the body, mind and spirit.Why?  The body, mind and spirit work best when freed to deal with things the way they really are. The mind is simply a tool to help you survive and thrive.  When it is put in "pretend" mode to survive, that goes directly against how you feel and really think, it takes more physical and emotional energy to distract your awareness from the reality of your situation.  This "pretending you do when you really don't" directs the mind to extend its "operation denial" to more and more areas of your awareness as the natural stressors of a relationship continue to happen.  

Eventually much of your available daily energy is being used to hide the truth from your own awareness--this is also known as depression and dissociation-- with less and less energy for the simplest of daily tasks. The problem is the unrealistic image that you hold inside your mind of how you want things to be that aren't. So, if you want to feel relief from this tiredness, face your "pretending" and answer the following questions with candor. Better yet, quickly write down your answers and read then read them out loud to yourself:

• How do you really feel about how you have become in this relationship?

• Who have you become that even YOU don't like anymore?

• What actions are you taking toward yourself that are uncaring and dishonest? Toward your partner that are uncaring dishonest?

• What conversations need to be taken to clear the air about how you really feel and really want for yourself and your relationship? 

• What expectations are unreal and what are more realistic given how things really are at this time and place?

• What is your partner trying to tell you that you refuse to consider that does has some truth in it that your are resisting?  HOW is what your partner telling you about your behavior true in some way that is part of the problem?

• What images of yourself, your partner and the relationship need to be unpacked and changed to match what is really needed and possible in this relationship?

• What do you need to do now to be true to yourself--how you  really feel and think--that is reasonable and mindful?

Expecting something to be actual that isn't, creates emotional  fatigue, compartmentalizes your awareness that leads to deception and wounds your heart deep inside.  Facing the reality will hurt but will also feel like a great relief. It takes less physical energy to face the truth about something than to pretend.  "Pretending" is only a temporary drug-like effect that creates more hidden pain while draining your body and spirit of vitality.

When the emotional dust and necessary confusion settles from this revelation of the way things are, it is surprising sometimes that there are new more energizing options available that are possible that were covered over, hidden, by the "pretending" something about our relationship-image and self-image is true, when it isn't.

To heal your broken heart requires that you acknowledge what you have pretended to be true that isn't. Only then can decisions about what is actually going make you feel more energized and alive be made.  The recovery phase focuses on becoming a person that YOU like in your life and your relationship. Hard choices about real things that matter opens new doors of aliveness.

How long should you wait to replace a pet that dies?

QUESTION: How long should you wait to replace a pet that dies?

Don: Joining me in answering this question is Debi Frankle, long-time grief recovery counselor.

So Debi, how long? 

Deb: It takes time for your heart to be really ready to open to a new and different pet.Everyone is different, but it is important to feel complete with the emotional relationship you had with the pet you have just lost. 

If you are not really ready to move on, you run the risk of "replacing" your last pet with the new one, and you will be hanging onto something from the past pet. You will miss out on enjoying the uniqueness of your new pet. You will be stuck in emotional pain.

Don: I remember when my dad built one of the first riding lawn mowers in the early1960's, he made a seat especially for my loyal friend, Spot, to ride on with me to mow the yards. When I was around nine, Spot became too old ride, and I wished I had a younger dog. When he died in an auto accident, I felt so guilty, thinking that I had betrayed my best friend and companion. Within the next few days I found a young stray dog and adopted him. I remember feeling so surprised that I did not have the same feelings for him as I did for Spot. To top it off, he was so young and mischievous that he wouldn't stay still enough to ride on the tractor with me. I was so sad and disappointed about the new, younger dog. So, I can relate to what you are saying: that rushing to get away from the natural emotional process of the pain of the loss sets you up for even more misery. When you prematurely start a new relationship with a new pet you may feel more pain than you had with the original loss. Here I am, 51 years later, still feeling guilty about wanting Spot to die.

Deb: The guilty part is really about something that you wished you would have done differently. It might even feel like you caused Spot’s death by having that thought. Grief Recovery work releases you from the influence of that thought and helps you see the new animal for what it is as opposed to what was expected from the past pet.

Don: You are talking about regrets. 

Deb: Every pet invites a different and unique relationship. To get unstuck from the emotional pain of losing your previous pet, you must come to terms with any regrets you have about the end of your pet’s life. Do you wish you had done anything differently? Perhaps you wish the vet had done things differently. Maybe you worry that you didn't bring your pet to the vet in time, that you left him alone at vet, had no idea he was going to die and left things undone. These regrets reverberate in a griever's heart and keep you from feeling at peace with the loss. The "wouldas, couldas and shouldas” keep you emotionally preoccupied and unable to really whole-heartedly welcome any new and different pet into your life. When a griever takes the time to come to terms with the loss by facing the emotional pain that is there, you can then open your heart to a new pet in a new way.

All pet owners know the joy a pet brings to our lives. Loving a pet can be the closest we get to unconditional love and positive regard. When I come home, my dogs put on a parade just for me. They are always thrilled to see me, greet me, and be with me, and they lift my spirits, no matter what kind of day I have had. It’s so important to acknowledge that unique something that our lost pet brought to us that can never be replicated. Then we will be ready to accept and love someone new.

Don: So our personal timeline of when to buy a new pet is greatly influenced by the degree of unconditional love and acceptance that the lost pet provided for us in their lifetime. Different pets will leave a different hole in our hearts.

Deb: I am often asked why the death of a particular pet has a more traumatic impact than the death of a dad, mother, or best friend. Your grief timeline is greatly influenced by the role this particular pet played in your life. People often say, "I shouldn’t be so upset, it was just a bird or a dog or a cat." It is very important to admit and understand that these relationships with pets are very important and make a huge impact on our emotional lives. Being aware of this one element helps to have patience in giving everyone time to deal with the loss of a pet before another one is chosen.

Don: For a child born into a home with an existing pet, that specific pet is the only one they have ever known.

Deb: And, has often been their best friend. That pet knows all of that kid’s secrets. Knows all of that kid’s fears. One woman reported that her dog helped her through her father's rages and alcoholism. When she was 8 years old, her dog had be moved and kept at a ranch, and they would go to visit him on weekends. Then, for several weekends they didn't go, and on the next trip to visit, the dog came running up to her. She was confused and said to the adults, "this isn't Spot." They said, "Yes, this is Spot." She said that it wasn't and cried. Finally she said, "His spots are in the wrong place." They had secretly replaced the original Spot when he unexpectedly died. They hoped that it wouldn't upset her. They had spent six weeks looking for the perfect replica of the dog and even trained the dog to do all the tricks that they knew she would expect.

Don: So it wasn't that they were out to deceive her to hurt her. Out of a misplaced sense of care they were trying to spare her the pain of her loss.

Deb: Unfortunately, she now had this other loss, this loss of trust in the adults who she had to depend on. She couldn't trust that they were going to tell her the truth. They finally did, which was good.

Don: But the truth of it was that the adults not only didn't want her to feel her pain, they didn't want to feel their own pain. They didn't want to feel their own pain that came with telling her about her real dog's death.

Deb: They were trying to protect her from a broken heart, as well as their own. They meant well. That is what is so confusing about "just go get another one." They put her in a position of doubting her own sense of what was real and what wasn't. No matter what they said or did, her body knew that wasn't her Spot. Their misguided attempts to handle the pain made it worse.

Don: What causes the pain in grief?

Deb: The loss of hopes and dreams. The loss of the expectation that the animal is going to be with us forever. Many times our pets have unconditionally carried us through difficult challenges: illness, divorce, tragedy, and misery.

Don: Many of us, especially children, use pets as a confidante, sharing our innermost secrets, wishes, and feelings with that pet. So, when that pet dies, what is the first thing we should do?

Deb: Memories of a pet’s final days often get stuck in your awareness. It is common to relive the experience over and over to figure out what could have been done differently. It is important to remember the entire experience of this special pet. When I work with a family I have each member tell the entire story out loud of what this animal meant in their life. When did your pet join the family? How did you come up with a name? What was his personality? What special tricks could he do? What did you love most about him?

Don: So, as soon as possible, start an out loud conversations about the immediacy of what happened but also get to the whole life of the pet and its impact on you and the family.

Deb: Yes, this helps to stop the tortuous inner imaginary conversations in your head that loop endlessly around and around causing more and more pain. Telling the whole story helps work with the feelings that are there.

Don: What do you do with the feelings?

Deb: Sometimes apologies need to be made out loud. Sometimes there are things you need to forgive the animal for. Sometimes there are emotions--positive and negative--that need to be expressed that are being held back. Taking action in these three areas, apology-forgiveness-expression, begin to relieve the pain of the loss. The apology of not noticing how badly the pet was doing right before they died. Forgiveness about the many good shoes that got chewed up. Expression of the good stuff and the hard stuff. These actions help the pain to pass.

When my dear golden retriever died, I thought I was ready for a new dog. When we got her home, in tears the first thing I said to my husband was, "This isn't my dog!"  Grief hits us in the way that it really is, not the way we want it to.

Don: Talking about my dog Spot earlier, still brought a tear to my heart and a lump in my throat. People often come to counseling and when speaking of a loss say, "oh, but I am done grieving that loss. A few minutes later tears start coming as we openly talk about the regrets, resentments and unexpressed emotions.  No matter what we think, grief happens the way it does in its unique way with each person.

Deb: The apology piece comes in when we think about all the things we wished we had known. Our animals can’t tell us, "Hey, I am having a side ache here." Many times we have to guess when and when not to take a pet to the vet. Grievers can be very angry with the doctor for not knowing or catching things earlier. Even if we logically know that there was no way to know that doesn't speak to our emotional heart. The apology is often addressing the regret that the heart feels, not necessarily what logic dictates we should feel.  

Don: Unless the heart level is addressed, the pain continues. So on the heart level your forgiveness of the dog eating all the good shoes and the apology that you didn't find out in time are part of the action steps of grief recovery.

Deb: What you do with "I wish I would have" you offer up, "I am so sorry that I didn't." From your heart. "I just couldn't stand to see you in such pain." By acknowledging it, out loud, I stop just carrying it around in my head and hurting in my heart. I get it out and when someone with an open non-critical heart hears it, the pain just starts going down. I become more grounded and complete.

Don: You start feeling like yourself again.

Deb: Yes, you feel more ready to introduce a new animal to the house.  When my new dog was there it was clear that it wasn't my old dog, but I could see the opportunity with my new friend.

Don: Let's return to our question: How long should I wait until I replace my pet?

Deb: So, here is the key: it's a trick question. I say, it isn't about replacing the lost pet. It's about being ready to add a new animal to your home and your life. If you are still asking the question from the perspective of "replacing," you are not ready . . . yet.

Don: So the test question you ask yourself with emotional honesty is: Am I trying to replace my pet at this time, or am I adding a new animal to my home and life with an open heart? Am I ready to see this pet and what it will actually need, especially if it is a puppy or a kitten, or am I still looking at a new pet in the emotional shadow of the pet that I have lost. Barney, the dog I quickly adopted to replace old Spot, was wild and neurotic. He chased cars and would get so obsessed on a car that he ran into telephone poles head on. Spot was more of a smart and patient dog that rode with me with ease. Barney couldn't stay on the tractor seat much less ride with me. I couldn't let Barney out in the front yard or he would be killed, not by a car but by a pole! I grew to love Barney, but he had a long shadow he lived in with me. It hurt more once I realized what I had done instead of waiting as we have spoken of today.

Deb: It doesn't mean you can't recover from replacing a pet, it just means you have more pain to deal with and more troublesome situations to handle. When you wait to introduce a new pet and take the actions of grief recovery, the outcome will be a happier one for all involved.



Hidden Grief Of The Short Sale

Question: Due to an unexpected reduction in our income, my husband and I agreed we have to sell our family home which, unfortunately, will have to be a short sale. I thought we were dealing well with the decision and sale of our home.  But, suddenly my husband is constantly angry and blaming about things other than the house, including me.  What felt like a strong marriage now feels like it is coming a part at the seams. Yesterday,  I was caught completely by surprise when I suddenly started to cry as a friend spoke of selling their house.  I feel like a huge failure.  What is happening to us?---Lost

Don: You are in shock.

Reality has hit you on the head. You can spend your whole life doing all the right things--carefully investing in your house, keeping your credit score pristine, and so on. Then you have to sell at a 

loss, pay capital gains taxes, your credit score ruined, having to start all over again. You can tell yourself that your house is only a house--a thing--but your emotions will tell you otherwise, in a somewhat predictable fashion. You and your husband are experiencing the initial symptoms of grief.

You feel the full impact of the shock at what is happening. The stages of grief described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross were never meant to be applied to every loss situation nor assumed to happen in any particular order. Although not every grieving person experiences each stage, these areas of grief are still helpful in understanding what is happening when there is a sudden, important loss and how to face it.

The initial shock and denial of grief feels surreal, like you are living in a dream or it is somebody else’s life.  You may experience a whole range of emotion, or you might feel just empty and a numb-like calm. Either way, your mind is arguing with reality and saying, “We are intelligent. We didn’t make rash financial decisions and put a lot of money down to buy our home so this can’t be happening to us.”

You can force yourself to think, "Okay, so let’s just move on," but there are more necessary emotional steps that are ahead of you.  If you don’t face these, you will project these emotions onto other situations unrelated to the short sale, and most often the targets will be your job, your loved ones, yourself and especially your marriage. It is important not to get distracted in arguing over the little things, but face the bigger elephant in the room: this feels unreal and yet, it is happening. Start talking about this. Spend time in reflection with it. Write things down in a journal about it. Feel it. This is the way to get traction to the next step. Admit you are here. 

The element of anger and blame. Your husband might be feeling stuck in the reaction of anger. You are looking for something to blame. The “should-a, could-a, would-a” can keep you awake at night as your mind tries to figure out who or what caused this catastrophe in your lives. The mind is looking to find “fault,” and the anger and blame can be at yourself: “I should have done more to prevent this,” your partner, the government, and even God. 

Your mind is angry and taking names. It often starts projecting it on other situations simply to find a release of the powerful natural emotions of guilt, anger, and self-hatred targeting the real estate agent, the mortgage broker, the bank, Wall Street, the husband, the wife, and on and on. To get unstuck you and your husband will need to talk regularly about it and give each other room to vent, and time to stop kidding yourselves, and support to be honest about how you feel. Most likely you will find that you are most angry at the past circumstances that are now out of your control.  

The element of bargaining. Desperation drives your mind to figure out a way to keep your home.  It is certainly important to look at all options possible, but there is a point where there is an endlessly combing over the facts become a way to avoid the emotions of helplessness and hopelessness. When you are able to start feeling those, you are entering the doorway, believe it or not, out of your grief: depression. You are starting to face reality.

The element of depression, has at least two parts. The first of depression is the I-just-don’t-care-any-more phase. This can feel very dark and very empty. It is important to reach out and talk to trusted friends and not over-burden your spouse. Here is where counseling can be of great help to loosen the grip of the pain and spring forward. If you can allow yourself the space and time to actually feel the helplessness and hopelessness, these feelings will eventually give way to a second part of depression, soberness:  “This really is happening and there is nothing I can do about the past.”

The element of acceptance emerges, often slowly. The facts become clearer and the intensity of your emotional reactions and imaginary conversations in your head lessen. The shock, anger, blame, bargaining, and hopelessness give way, and your mind is no longer trying to make reality go away. Here your mental processes yield to what has and is actually occurring now. Though painful, you feel relief.  You have stopped trying to change the past and have surrendered to what you can actually do now. The more you talk, feel, and share, the less the grief process will control your choices. The sixth element slowly emerges from the acceptance, and you are able to be present in your life as it is and no longer have imaginary conversations with yourself as if the loss didn't happen. 

What grief is trying to teach us is simply this: everything changes. No matter how hard and well you try, life just does what life does. It is best to work with and move with those changes that life brings instead of resisting them. 

When you feel the emotions of each element of grief, your attention is freed and refocused on what is most important: your house is not your home. Fire, a hurricane, an earthquake, world wide economic changes can certainly take your house from you, and sometimes there is nothing you can do now to prevent it. But nobody, and I mean NOBODY can EVER take your home. Home is where you choose to put your heart. And if you are reading this and feel a great relief, then you are further along than you realized. If you read this and feel resistance, then you have a few more steps to go. 

May this storm cloud’s silver lining be revealed to you and your husband as soon as possible.  Don't allow circumstances that are out of your control take over what you can control: your attitude. You cannot avoid the storm, but you can work with it, until it passes. You may not have that house, but you still have your life. Make that your home, sweet, home--wherever you are, whoever you are with, and with whatever is happening in your life.