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Endings Need to be Grieved

Unaddressed Grief Impacts the Body as Aches, Depression & Fatigue

by Deah Curry, PhD


Those unexplained body aches that seem to shift, the persistent sadness, that low energy you thought was due to not getting enough sleep, could have roots in grief. When we don’t recognize the endings in our lives, it’s common for the emotion of those endings to be expressed through the body, posing as physical symptoms. In clinical terms this is called somatized grief.

Most of us think that grief occurs only in the aftermath of a loved one’s death. But grief can strike in relation to the non-death events like ending of relationships, job loss, moving to a new location, chronic illness, even birthdays that are perceived as the loss of youth (this is why a lot of us have trouble turning 30, or 60).

Milder grief symptoms can be experienced with the ending of intensely satisfying activities like high energy weekend workshops, dream trips, or ideal summers. The let down afterwards is a mild form of loss. Symptoms might include feeling disoriented, anchorless, sad or irritated, and lonely or wistful for the return of what has ended.

This summer’s publication of the final Harry Potter book may provoke a grief response in children as well as adults, not only if some beloved characters die in the battle between good and evil, but also because the vicarious experience of joining in the intense adventure will never again be able to be had for the first time. Psychologically, the culmination of this literary phenomenon, along with the endings that unfold in the story itself, will stimulate for some of us a surprising sense of loss, possibly accompanied by anger.

Loss is a psychospiritual trauma that can be felt in varying degrees. It can be an assault on one’s sense of security, safety, and belonging such as when the loss is one of divorce. It can also be a challenge to one’s dreams, hopes, or sense of personal identity such as the occasion of changing careers or professional retirement due to aging or medical difficulties. Any profound change in life, expectations, and assumptions as we have known them can be experienced as a loss to be grieved.

When the Grief is Ignored

I don’t know anyone who is comfortable with feeling disappointment, reviewing their losses, or dwelling in the sorrow. We live in a culture that tells us to buck up and move on, as if grief should be over in a week. This is rarely the case. But we try to comply, and the emotional energy of the grieving being done by the heart and spirit will insist on being expressed physically if not allowed emotional outlet.

Some people navigate grief relatively quickly and don’t understand those who move more slowly. Sometimes we are just not ready to let go when others think we should; that can keep us locked in grief. Eventually our spirits will get enough of grief and start to come out of it. Allowing each person the amount of time they need to grieve is very important.

When we can’t or won’t express it verbally through conversation or journaling, or artistically through creative forms, or energetically through physical activity, the grief lodges itself in the body where it disrupts sleep, appetite, concentration, decision-making, and interest in pleasurable activities. It mimics depression, creating fatigue, insomnia or over-sleeping, weight loss or appetite increase, and adding stress to the cardiovascular system. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is grief and what is depression.

Release, Re-Source, and Renew

Grief might be thought of as stagnating qi, an energy state in which the life-force isn’t flowing harmoniously, and if not corrected will eventually manifest in physical illness, chronic fatigue, and mysterious aches and pains. In the psychospiritual sense, this energy state can be shifted by learning to release, re-source, and renew.

Release means letting go of the attachments we have to getting our needs met by that which had ended. It doesn’t mean not feeling sad for a while, nor does it mean deciding that what was lost doesn’t matter. It’s facing the reality that it can no longer serve us as it did, and changing the desire that it could.

One way to release is to acknowledge the role the lost relationship, experience, or status played in our lives, and give gratitude for that in some tangible, meaningful way. For example, think about releasing grief while you’re taking a shower or even washing your hands. Making release a conscious intention can help you let it go with the water down the drain.

Re-Source means to turn our attention to new ways of getting our needs met. This may include seeing ourselves differently — perhaps as more capable, grounded, or free to move forward in our own lives. It might include empowering ourselves to take greater risks in asking for what we want and exploring new experiences. It might even encourage us to ask for help from friends and family. Talking about these things helps us see new possibilities and new sources of strength.

Renew means to re-establish a sense of meaningfulness in our lives through activities and interactions with others that nurture our growth and spirit. This stimulates life-force energy and eliminates the impact that stuck grief has on the physical body. A systemic effect is created, changing things in our whole being as the body is freed from patterns that no longer serve us.

Anytime a loss is deeply felt, grief can be the lingering response. Releasing our emotional attachments, re-sourcing healthy strategies for new growth, and renewing our spirit can successfully process grief, and prevent transient symptoms from adversely impacting the health of the body and mind. We can start with thinking about the losses we’re grieving and allow how we hold those events and our relationship to them to slowly shift. Sometimes all it takes is the right amount of time and some gentle focusing on our feelings.

 

With 17 years experience as a psychotherapist, the perspective and tools of a life coach, and 9 years experience teaching about grief and loss, I’ve helped many people release, re-source, and renew after loss. For appointments and Kirkland WA, location call 425-814-9083 or send email to DrDeah@deahcurry.net. For more details see www.DeahCurry.net

 

 

 

 


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