Grief is a response to a personal loss. Pity is a response to a loss by someone else. I include pity under the category of Grief because pity is actually stimulated by the reminder of one’s own loss. Incidentally, pity is a stimulus for Compassion which I have placed under Love.

How do you feel Grief? Most people my age are familiar with the Kübler-Ross model of the grief cycle and its stages labeled denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The fact that this model exists at all indicates a problem with Grief that is more fundamental than simply knowing how to do it.

The Pitfall with Grief

The problem with grief is not that people do not know how to feel it. Often they do not know when to feel it. Even more often, they simply do not want to feel it. So they choose some other negative emotion that will replace Grief, but which also accomplishes nothing. I have seen people react to loss with Contempt or anger which is always directed one of two ways: either at someone else or at oneself. Anger toward others provokes retaliation and guilt, which complicate the loss. Anger toward oneself causes depression which deepens the loss.

In fact, the main reason that I began to produce is that I saw people using the wrong emotion to process a stimulus. Responding to loss with anger is only one example. Fiction is loaded with stories of some young man who responds to a rejected offer of courtship with deepened love and devotion toward the person rejecting him. Rejection is a loss and should be mourned not loved. I have seen people respond with Contempt or hatred to a situation that required pity or even compassion which is on the opposite end of the spectrum of Contempt.

Let’s Explore a Few Examples

Let’s say my twenty-year-old son tells me that he is attracted to men and wants me to meet his partner. [Actually, I don’t have any children. This is only an example.] Regardless what joy I feel for him at having found love, I am still going to be anxious for him. Why? Because homosexuality is still considered offensive by much of society and even more so among men than among women. So what am I to do with my anxiety? Should I respond with Disgust toward a society that considers his love offensive? Would my Disgust change society? No. I actually should direct my emotions toward Grief and, more specifically, pity. My son will probably face a lifetime of mistreatment by those who consider homosexuality offensive. This is a loss. I can do nothing about it except mourn it. Grief is the proper way to feel loss. Mourning is the only available coping skill. The mourning process will free up my mind to experience the positive things in his life and to continue to love him and to feel joy for his relationship.

Another Example

Grief is often misdirected as anger and Contempt. Job loss is one prime instance of this. A laid-off employee often blames his boss, some other employee who was a better suck-up, or even the President and Congress of the United States for some reason. Job loss is a loss. Period. No other emotion will process the loss. The only available coping skill for Grief is mourning. Mourning introduces a mature point of view to the process, the point of view that everyone experiences loss. No one’s loss or mourning is any more or less painful than anyone else’s. In other words, mourning is an equalizer.

Once mourning is begun effectively, then the mature process of rebuilding can begin. Proper mourning can make the search for a new job more effective. No interviewer wants to hear how angry you are at your former employer or at your former co-workers. Companies never offer a job to someone who will obviously turn against them as a coping skill.

A Word about Mental Switches

I have learned the technique of “mental switching” from a couple of different teachers. This involves making a mental image of the problem and then converting the image to something else that is positive and pro-active. This technique works wonderfully for fighting off things like headaches or craving for certain foods or cigarettes. It can even work for anger in a high-stress situation like a car crash or a fist fight. Generally speaking, however, it should not be used for Grief.

I can perceive a situation in which a person is unable to stop grieving. In such a case, a mental switch under mild hypnosis may provide some relief. But under normal circumstances, Grief must be faced and allowed to run its course.

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