Sunday, February 27, 2011
Dealing with Unresolved Grief is Key to Healing Your Heart After a Breakup—or Any Loss
So you’ve had a bad breakup? Or a loss of another kind. It’s hard. It hurts. But here’s some hope and insight.
One of the most essential lessons I learned in my season of desert darkness was the importance of grieving losses—going through not around the pain. I learned that “unresolved grief is the major underlying issue in most people’s lives.”
Unresolved grief? I knew I was sad and hurt from my last breakup. I was surely in pain. But it had never occurred to me that I had “grief” and it had to be resolved. Wasn’t grieving for getting over a death?
In the ensuing months, I came to learn that grieving was for all sorts of losses. It gave me a name for the permeating underlying sadness I’d been feeling for months.
Why do people avoid processing emotional pain, especially when emotions are strong? For one thing, as Mr. Griffen said to Annie in the movie We Are Marshall, “Grief is messy.” Mascara runs down your face when you cry, your eyes get puffy and your nose gets red. Your emotions fluctuate like the highs, lows and unexpected turns of a roller coaster ride. It’s not pretty.
But then again, neither is a rainstorm in springtime when the roads flood and the mud slides. But grieving, like spring— the shoulder between the dead of winter and the glory of summer—lasts only for a season.
Maybe you’ve seen people who try to hide their pain. They put on a pretend smile when inside they are dying emotionally. Like a like a duck gliding along the surface of a pond, they seem calm and unruffled, while underneath they’re paddling like mad just to stay afloat.
If you are going through a bad breakup--or any sort of loss in your life--an you want to get over it, it’s important to know what grief is, why it’s important to process it, how to go through it.
What is grief?
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Grieving? For a breakup? What’s the big deal? I mean, you just pick up the pieces and move on, right?” James and Friedman give us some important basics, “Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind.”
Grieving is okay. It’s necessary. It’s not just for the loss of a loved one through death, but for other losses as well. “The problem,” they continue, “is we have all been socialized to believe that these feelings are abnormal and unnatural.”
The pain won’t just go away if you ignore it. In fact, it is widely known that holding back emotions or not dealing with them can lead to increased physical stress and even physical illness.
A loss of significance—a big loss—can get stuck in your heart if it is not processed. When your self esteem falters, and you feel like it’s always midnight, and you hold it all in, the pain can pile up like emotional garbage. It clogs the drain, blocking your emotions as well as your movement forward into healing and wholeness.
Stuck pain can also lead to unwanted behavior. You’re constantly sad or bitter and it keeps you at arm’s length from other people, so you feel alone. You don’t feel like yourself, so you end up saying or doing things you don’t really mean—like blaming others or lashing out in unwarranted anger—and hurt others.
It’s been said that if you don’t grieve well you grieve all the time. While you may put on a good front for friends and coworkers, inside the lingering sadness remains. That’s why it’s so important to grieve losses—to unblock your frozen heart so you can feel better, find joy, and live a life of emotional freedom, serenity and love.
Here are a few things to remember:
Grieving a loss is not a linear process. Processing loss can circle around a few times or wash over you like an ocean wave. Eventually the waves that once pounded you so hard will have less and less impact, and finally recede.
Everyone heals in their own way and their own timing because love and loss is unique for each person.
Acknowledge your loss. Whether you left, he left, or it was a mutual agreement, something that was there is now gone.
Ask for help. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you do what you cannot do on your own. With His power, emotions expressed will begin the flow, unclogging your blocked heart. In time you will get unstuck and move from the darkness of loss and pain into the sunlight of restoration and wholeness.
Let yourself be sad. In his book, Broken, Tim Baker says, “Sorrow is entirely underrated.” I have to agree. “Sometimes,” he continues, “we feel that crying is showing weakness and that real Christians, if they’re truly saved, would never feel sorrow or cry…” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Tears are a cleansing emotional release from a wellspring deep inside of us that need to get out. Tears are part of unblocking our inner stuckness and pain. “It is as if we have to cry so the pain has somewhere to go, and that somewhere is out of us,” said Baker.
What do you need to release today? Will you release the pain, release control, release your need to be right, release the other person from what he or she did to you—or didn’t?
Recognize what you’ve lost and what remains. It can be helpful to make a list of your losses. Losing a significant love relationship is a loss, but you may have also incurred other losses during this time.
For instance, the loss of companionship and friendship, time spent with that person, and the loss of affection and physical touch. It could mean the loss of a dream of a life together with that person. There’s also the loss of trust, loss of control, and the loss of self respect or self esteem.
Dig in to God’s word. Writers of the Psalms, like David, often cried out to God with disappointment, sadness, longings and doubt. Then, after ranting and ravings, he’d remember God’s goodness and faithfulness in bringing him through his trials. He wasn’t afraid to express how he really felt, yet found, in the “but God” moments, a transition from tears to trust, from sorrow to celebration or from heartbreak to hope.
Pray. No matter what your circumstances, prayer is powerful. Prayer changes things. And it changes us.
Grieving losses is difficult, but not impossible. As night falls and darkness settles in you may feel hesitant or afraid to walk on. But take heart. Grieving, like night time, will not last forever.
Remember, you’re just passing through on your way to better days. Much better days.
Prayer by prayer and moment by moment healing comes. With the light of Christ to illuminate the way, things begin to change or you change, or both. You start to reorient your life around other events, places, or people and in time you return to a happier version of yourself with less sadness and more joy.
God redeems loss and pain and heals the heart to love again.
Lord, my heart is broken. Will you help me to get beyond this pain and move forward into joy? I need Your healing power and love to get me through. Lord, I choose to give you my pain, sadness, loss and loneliness. I cast my cares. Be near me Lord, in this dark season and always. Through this loss, I am thankful for what remains—-my health, my friends and family, and mostly You. Thank you for your care, comfort and close presence. Lead me, moment by moment from sadness to joy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jackie M. Johnson is an author and freelance writer in Colorado. Her hope-filled and encouraging books include "Power Prayers for Women," "When Love Ends and the Ice Cream Carton Is Empty" and "Powerful Prayers for Challenging Times." Jackie also writes the Living Single blog on Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk website.