So often when working with people who have experienced wounds, be they emotional, mental or physical, the person I am working with will say things like, “I should really have got myself together already,” or, “I don’t understand why it is taking me so long to get over this,” or even, “I must be boring you by now with this.” In Western culture (and yes, there is a “culture” involved in the Western lifestyle) we are often taught to “buck up” and to “walk it off” instead of being given input that is actually useful. It does not matter if we have been in a car accident, or beaten up on the schoolyard, or lost our parent or loved one to death, or even lost a job through which we self-identified, the pain and the struggle are REAL.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote about the Five Stages of grief. I will not go into explaining what those are right now because anyone can Google that. What I will say is that I do not think that it was ever her intent that people would use that information to hound or belittle one who is grieving. Some people are told things like, “Okay, so you are in the stage of denial, soon you will go into the stage of anger. Talk to me then.” They are not accepted for where they are at right here and now in the moment of their grief and their pain.
I like to meet people where they are at. I find that it is much more useful to do that than to expect them to fit into some preconceived notion of where they should be or who they should be. Many have told me that this is something that they truly appreciate about the work that I do. I meet them where they are, and from there I help them to find their way to where they actually want to be.
Often I think that people lose sight as well of the aspect of compassion when dealing with people in their healing journey. After all, if they have never experienced what the one on the journey is experiencing they will never know how to respond. But if they come at life in general with a grain of compassion, then that is what will lead them to doing and saying what is actually helpful to the one who is healing. And a big part of that is allowing that person time to heal. It is, after all, their time, not ours.
But those who are healing also need to let go of the not-so-helpful demands around healing and allow themselves the time it takes to heal. When someone tries to push the healing to happen faster for themselves, they end up re-injuring themselves. All healing takes time. And we really cannot play the comparison game when it comes to healing. That is not useful at all. So what if Tom healed faster than I am healing? So what if I am healing faster than Betty? Who cares? The point is that everyone can heal and will heal, given the time it will take that individual to do so. And the rest of us need to just get out of the way of that process. Gandhi said, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.” I think that we all need to implement this as a rule of thumb. Because to speak too soon or too harshly will only hinder the process altogether.
They say (in the department of “they”) that time heals all wounds. This is not necessarily true, but time is an essential part of the healing process. Time itself simply distances us from the wound. That allows us to decompress from the shock of the wound having happened to us. Immediately following a wound we will be initially in shock. Then we will often feel fragile. Then we will enter into those 5 stages of grief that were mentioned previously. But those stages are not written in stone. They will happen not in any particular order and will often repeat themselves until the expression of the wound is experienced. Once the wound is fully expressed (that is to say, released) then the wound will be fully healed.
I have noticed that there is a bit of a difference in how different genders will heal. I know that there are many genders and gender identifications, so please bear with me here because I am going to revert back to the 2 gender system for this observation. You can extrapolate from this the information and see where it fits for you, your gender and your gender-identification on your own. Otherwise it will get way too complicated for far too many people to understand. So here is what I have noticed. Women will often, with grief, lean more towards the feelings of hopelessness, broken-heartedness, and depression. This will have them fully embracing their feelings of fragility. They are, however, far more proactive than men when it comes to getting themselves through these things because they know that others are relying on them (most often children etc) to get it together. Men do not embrace the fragility aspect very well. This is because our culture in the Western world has hard wired them to deny those feelings. So they will, in order to deny them, lean more towards the feelings of anger/rage, keeping themselves as active as they can and keeping their tears for the middle of the night with no one in the world around to comfort them. Because they will be in denial it will often take them YEARS to find a therapist to help them through this stuff. In the meantime they are far more likely to re-marry if they lost their spouse than a woman would be. They are actually shooting for what they associated as “normal” for their lives. This is not to say that the feelings for their next spouse are not real. They are. But the speed at which those feelings get accessed actually will come from a place of deep hurt instead of a place of joy. This can affect the functionality of the next relationship. Sometimes men will also marry faster so that they have an active partner to help them raise their children. This is mostly due to the fact that in the Western world men are told constantly that they are inadequate as parents, which is a total lie.
If there is adequate time to heal, some of these more complicated aspects would not be a factor in our lives when we are grieving. But it is not just the time. It is also the willingness to do the emotional work. The willingness to say, “I need some help here” and to seek that help from counsellors and therapists and such. I am so relieved when people come to me with their grief because it means that they are ready to do some work for their own healing.