Storytelling has been a part of every culture since the dawn of man, even before the advent of the written or spoken word. Early cave dwellers told their histories through petroglyphs painted or carved on rock walls and, later on, oral histories were passed down from elders of the community to be remembered and retold to the younger generation.
Throughout the history of the world, there are many examples of storytelling to teach lessons, for example, the Bible and other religious books are compilations of stories on how one should lead a good life. Even the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution tell of a formerly oppressed populace who felt the need to tell their story of freedom through the specification of laws to protect their rights.
In actuality, we live our whole life in stories. We listen to each other’s stories as well as tell stories to ourselves and to others – both in our everyday conversations, as well as when a momentous event occurs. And, generally speaking, whether it is our own story, another’s story, or that of the latest bestselling book or blockbuster movie, most of us enjoy a story with a happy ending.
So, why do we tell stories? In times of joy, there is a relatively simple answer. We want to spread and share our happiness, pride and love.
On the other hand, if you have experienced great loss of any kind, telling your story, and hearing the stories of others, is a powerful way to help heal and cope with grief. Sharing your story with others aloud also allows you to hear how it sounds, as opposed to only listening to it in your head. Out in the air, so to speak, you are able to evaluate where you stand in your own grief process by gauging the responses of the listeners.
As a species, humans have a tendency to participate in negative self-talk. As a result, it’s sometimes surprising the reactions you may receive when telling your story; for example, something you may regard as a huge negative about yourself may be invisible or even be seen as a positive by an observer/listener who holds a more objective perspective.
And although stories can help you to gain perspective, validate your feelings, and let you laugh and cry with each other, there is a downside to retelling it too many times. One of the pitfalls is that you may end up living your story rather than living your life.
For example, you may eventually become quite comfortable telling your story of loss. You know the words and the emotions, and it feels safe to remain there. You may feel if you stay still in your life, or don’t “rock the boat” you have finally steadied after much effort, you can minimize discomfort and lower your chance of experiencing more loss. In other words – you are stuck, and it feels like a workable way to operate. Being mindful of this fact will allow you to be vigilant against allowing yourself to become stuck in your story.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me – it is healthy to stay in your story during the healing phase of mourning. However, consider that just as the wise sages of long ago told stories to teach a lesson, let each time you tell your story become a chance for you to grow, empower yourself, and move you forward – even if it is only one baby step at a time. Keep in mind that this may involve you seeing and telling your story from a different perspective, for every day you come to understand more about life, death, and loss.
Reframing Loss and Grief
Mourning and moving towards the resolution of grief is generally a time-consuming and gut-wrenching proposition. However, the length of each person’s grief journey is a purely personal decision. It is important to know in your heart, though, that it should not go on indefinitely. At some point in time, you have to start looking forward rather than backwards. This also does not happen in one fell swoop. It’s gradual, and one day you will turn around and realize how far you have really come.
For now, try imagining that your grief is a big brick wall that reaches from the sky to the ground and spreads so wide you cannot climb it or go around it. The only way to deal with grief is to move right through it and experience all the pain (and surprising joy) you encounter along the way.
As a reframing exercise, when working on your grief, consider the following statement.
Every event in life is neutral. It is the individual who brings the emotion to the event and categorizes it as good or bad.
As an adult, it is perfectly within your rights if you want to go on being bitter, mad at the world, and generally miserable because of the situation in which you find yourself. Conversely, you can use your experiences to propel you to a new life. It is always your choice on how to “label” a situation and whether to move towards a healthy or an unhealthy resolution.
Perception always comes into play, for you can look at your problems (or your place in life) as insurmountable and something to fear, or you can say – “Oh goody! Another problem to solve!” Just think of the power with which you can infuse yourself when you figure out a successful course of action.
If you take the necessary time to process your emotions, it is possible to come to view an event as both the best thing and the worst thing that ever happened to you and, thus, render it neutral.
Your “event” of loss has already happened. Although you probably wish you could change the outcome, it is virtually impossible to accomplish that feat. If you cannot change the event, then your true power lies in how you reflectively respond to it – rather than reflexively react.
By reflectively and appropriately responding to your situation, you still take the necessary time to feel and process your emotions; however, you always think through your options before reacting impulsively to an oftentimes temporary set of circumstances.
Continue to claim your power by moving through and reframing each set of circumstances you encounter in a positive and healthy manner in order to be able to embrace new ideas about how to live a full and healthy life.
Will You Be Victim or Victor?
Do you feel like a warrior sometimes? Challenge after challenge confronts you. You feel misunderstood, or even feared, because of your life circumstances.
It seems that others are afraid they might catch the grief/loss bug, so each day feels like an uphill battle where you fight to regain a solid footing against the slings and arrows of life.
This is not a unique situation, for most are concerned with their own survival and shun uncomfortable feelings.
Life can be a battleground, but you also have a choice on how to respond (rather than react) to your circumstances. You can fall victim to them or be victorious over them. It is all in your perception and attitude.
It’s imperative to let go of the Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) that can eat you alive – those messages, perhaps, given to you by others that rumble around in your brain and cloud how you look at yourself.
Clearing your mind and focusing on what you know to be fundamentally true about yourself (and disregarding messages that box you in) gives you the freedom to be your authentic self.
What are some first steps to accomplish this feat?
1. Examine the most prevalent emotion(s) you feel; your biggest problem(s), and how you present yourself to the world because of these.
2. What effect are the answers to question #1 having on your life?
3. Why do you feel this way? If you have experienced a loss, the simple answer might be that you feel alone and vulnerable. In this situation, it’s natural to feel sad, lonely, frustrated, etc., but moving forward through loss requires you to take responsibility for your emotions and, if you don’t like the way you feel, to make positive changes.
4. Determine whether you are willing to take the aforementioned responsibility for your feelings or if you have gotten too comfortable having a victim mentality.
5. Figure out concrete ways, options, and/or alternatives to feel better and move forward. Taking these steps requires the courage to look deep inside and admit your weaknesses and fears. Facing both of these is the first step to overcoming them, for how can you begin to “feel better” if you are not aware of what is truly causing you to feel that way.
Rumi states, when you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again, this is certainly not like we thought it was!
Tear away those veils you may have erected as a self-protective mechanism so that you can face your greatest fears and move through them.
Once you allow yourself to take this step, Rumi goes on to say though we seem to be sleeping, there is an inner wakefulness that directs the dream, and that will eventually startle us back to the Truth of who we are.
Embracing Your Emotions
I believe in order to truly work through any sort of loss, you must first whole-heartedly embrace the gamut of emotions you’re experiencing.. Live them; breathe them; examine them; and steep yourself in them. And as you sit mired in the muck of how you may see your life right now, YOU can decide how to pull yourself up and out of it.
When you think of the word embrace, the picture that might come to mind is a pleasant one – perhaps, two loved ones with their arms clasped around one another. Let’s look at how Webster defines the word and see how it can be applied to loss and grief.
Embrace means to clasp in the arms (as mentioned above). You must put your arms around grief – wrestle with it; figure it out; and eventually champion over it.
Embrace means to take up (especially readily). Perhaps you do this hesitantly, but you must take up your grief and work through it or you will not be able to move forward in the new life waiting for you to embrace.
Embrace also means to take in or include as a part, item or element of a more inclusive whole. In grief, you can introspectively examine your emotions and thoughts and decide which are appropriate and which are inappropriate. Next, you can determine which are going to work for you in your new life. Lastly, you will decide which to keep (embrace) and which to discard.
To embrace, when looked at in this light, is hard work and will most probably cause you to feel sad. However, in order to move through your grief (relieving yourself of sadness), you must first examine (or embrace) your grief.
After all, you cannot get rid of something at which you have never looked or held. So, welcome the onslaught of your turbulent emotions because this is the first step towards working through them.
About The Author
Ellen Gerst is a Grief and Relationship Coach, author and workshop leader who helps her clients and readers to change their perspective in order to move gracefully through life circumstances to find renewal. She encourages a holistic approach and feels it’s important to make the mind/body wellness connection to facilitate forward moving action towards one’s goals.
Ellen is the author of several books on both grief and relationships, as well as many other subjects. Titles include: Understanding Grief From A to Z; Suddenly Single: How To Move From Loss To Renewal; 101 Tips and Thoughts on Coping with Grief; Figuring Out Life and Death: Musings About Suicide; and Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story. For a full roster of her books, visit her website at http://www.lngerst.com/purchase-books-on-relationships.html Connect with her on Facebook at http://bit.ly/cxpiZ0