The first task in the overcoming grief program is to identify and process the inaccuracies you’ve been told about grief. While I specialize in teen and young adult parental loss, this task works for all types of grievers and is explained in a way that isn’t specific to parental loss.
Most of us have been taught that grief fits a perfect set of stages, that it will get easier, and that there is something wrong with your “recovery” if you wind up grieving for longer than 6-12 months.
This simply isn’t true, and this exercise helps uncover a list of grief inaccuracies that has led us to believe those things.
Identifying and processing grief inaccuracies allows you to:
- Identify what grief really is and understand it’s complexities
- Find out how these inaccuracies have formed your beliefs about grief
- Better understand how these inaccurate beliefs have hindered your grief journey and grief processing
- Feel the emotions you need to feel in order to process your grief
The founders of The Grief Recovery Institute, who wrote The Grief Recovery Handbook, identified “5 pieces of misinformation” about grief which shed light on why, as a culture, we aren’t equip to deal with death or loss:
- Don’t feel bad.
- Replace the loss.
- Grieve alone.
- Just give it time.
- Be strong for others.
(You can read more about these here.)
In addition, Megan Devine (author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK and founder of Refuge in Grief) states, “Our culture sees grief as a kind of malady: a terrifying, messy emotion that needs to be cleaned up and put behind us as soon as possible. As a result, we have outdated beliefs around how long grief should last and what it should like like.” … “Even our clinicians are trained to see grief as a disorder rather than a natural response to deep loss.”
(The above image is my journaling page for this task when I was overcoming 12 years of unresolved grief after the death of my mom.)
Now, given all that information, here are the steps that I have my clients take to identify and process the grief inaccuracies they’ve learned:
- Read the 5 pieces of misinformation about grief that are listed above and in The Grief Recovery Handbook.
(I strongly recommend you buy the book – this book is one of the best resources to processing your grief.)
- In a journal (or on a piece of paper), write down which pieces of information apply to you and your beliefs around grief.
(For me this was all 5 pieces of misinformation + one more they happen to mention in The Grief Recovery Handbook of keeping busy.)
- Take 5-10 minutes to think of and write down additional grief inaccuracies that you believe.
(Mine were: Just let it go, move on, thinking or crying about it won’t change anything, it happens to everyone, and don’t talk about it because it makes people uncomfortable.)
- Now that you have a comprehensive list, reflect on it and identify the stages in your life that these beliefs were formed. You can choose to write these down or opt not to.
(When I reflected on this I noticed that my belief of “thinking or crying about it won’t change anything” was something I learned as a young child, my belief of “just give it time” I learned as a middle schooler, and my belief of “be strong for others” I learned when my mom died.)
- Lastly, identify the impact that this list of inaccuracies about grief have had on your life. These impacts can be things like retail therapy, not allowing yourself to feel any emotion, or even avoiding new relationships because of how fearful you are of death and loss.
(This is the hardest part of the task. I wound up having to pause on this step and finish it later because of the flood of emotions that hit me after realizing how I wasn’t even close to understanding the impact my grief was having on my life… And that’s okay.)
I hope this task helps you take the first step to overcoming the debilitating pain of your grief and better understand grief inaccuracies that our culture has embraced.
If you’re interested in downloading a PDF version of the steps to write your answers in, you can download it at the bottom of this page.
If you’d like to dive deeper, schedule a 30-minute grief discovery session and I’d be honored to help you along your grief journey.