As we are collectively looking back on a year full of stress, disappointments, discouragement, pain and loss we can all agree that looking forward to a new year seems to hold much promise. If ever we were going to be impacted and feel the energy of the collective consciousness, 2020 has been that year. The evidence is in memes, graphic tees, toilet paper ornaments and other ‘novelty’ items. Collectively we are tired, we are sometimes angry and we are……. grieving.
It is not a new concept to realize that all of the events of the past year have put us into the process of grief. We see the characteristics of grieving in the behaviors of our neighbors as well as ourselves. The denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and guilt that have been expressed are because of the changes and losses being experienced in what seems to be a never-ending pattern. Although grieving is a very natural process, being unaware of our relationship with our grieving can prolong it.
How Can I Identify My Relationship with Grief?
In order to identify your own relationship with grief, it is important to learn what causes us to experience it. Many are familiar with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Stages of Grief which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance (I refer to them as characteristics because we do not experience them linearly as we expect with stages, moving from one to another. We often jump around, experiencing each of them until we reach acceptance.).
What many may not know is that there are a multitude of life experiences that can trigger these emotions. For example, ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant and finding out that they are out of your ‘usual’ dish. Initially, you may experience a moment of disbelief (denial) and then feel upset about it (anger). You may say to yourself, “I bet if I would have called earlier, they may have not run out…” (bargaining) and then you may feel disappointed (sadness/depression) before accepting that they do not have what you want and choosing a different restaurant or a different dish.
This generally happens so quickly (sometimes in the matter of seconds if you are ordering food over the phone) that you do not take notice of the series of emotions you just experienced. This is very similar to what many all over the world have experienced in 2020. It may seem challenging to find anything that has remained the same this year among all of the changes. From jobs, schools and how we buy groceries, it feels like everything is different.
Where does Blame come from & How Does it Impact Healing?
Each of the characteristics of grieving comes with behaviors as we respond to the emotion. The characteristic “bargaining” brings forth the urge to blame. We either blame ourselves, another person/group or the situation for how we are feeling. In the case of what many of us are experiencing this past year, we have decided to just blame 2020 itself. While it may temporarily alleviate some feelings of stress or anxiety to throw blame, it ultimately extends the healing process. When we cast blame during the grieving process, it gets us stuck in the characteristic of bargaining.
Actually, we can look at it like this; entering the cycle of grief is like walking into a Fun House that is not so fun and the door gets locked behind you. You walk past mirrors that reflect to you images that elicit feelings of denial, anger, bargaining/blame, sadness/depression and guilt. You want to escape because it is very unpleasant and this is what leads to unhealthy coping during grief. Casting blame is like standing in front of the mirror of bargaining. The longer you cast blame, the heavier your feet get and therefore it feels more difficult to move on. The good news is that there is a key and you have the ability to grab it at any time and let yourself out. The key is acceptance. By accepting things as they are, you are able to move past the denial, anger, bargaining and guilt. There may be times of sadness that still present themselves but reminding yourself that you have accepted the situation will help those moments pass.
Acceptance vs Giving Up
It is important to note that accepting a person or situation as it is does not mean that you agree with it or that you are giving up in any way. Much like the situation with the take out menu, acceptance just means that you can move on and focus on something else in life. Acceptance is about realizing that we do not have control over anything but how we respond to a situation and that one area of control is very powerful. If we can accept 2020 with all of the uncertainty, loss, disappointments and pain that came with it, we can enter into 2021 with a solid knowing that we have a choice in how we navigate the next twelve months and beyond.
*If you are struggling with feelings of grief, reach out to a trusted source for support. There are many individuals who are trained in ways to help you navigate this process.
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