5 common misconceptions of grief

Like many painful emotions, we don’t talk much about grief. Grief is the emotional experience due to any type of loss. Being the experience-that-must-not-be-named (yes, I just made a Harry Potter reference) gives rise to lot of confusion and misconceptions about what grief actually is, so I’d like to take the chance to debunk some of these ideas.

1. “It’s the same as depression” 

While they can often be experienced simultaneously, grief and depression are not one in the same. Depression, as an illness, is chronic, cyclical, and diagnosed based on intensity, severity and duration. Depression can exacerbate grief, but someone experiencing grief is not necessarily depressed, and vice versa. Support from a mental health professional is key to distinguish grief from depression.

2. “You know it when you feel it”

Unlike various diagnoses, there’s no typical way grief shows itself. Steps have been postulated, but really there’s no one thing that strikes you and says “hey! I’m grief!” Rather, it’s when overwhelming feelings that are hard to pinpoint, it’s the ”I feel like __ and I don’t know why”, that is often an indicator of grief.

3. “Keep it to yourself”

As a topic of conversation, you might assume no one wants to hear about grief - it’s depressing, why would you want to bring others down? However, pushing others away and keeping your experience to yourself only perpetuates the idea that grief is taboo, something that shouldn’t be out in the open. People grieve differently and that’s okay, but if we never discuss our own experiences of grief, the distance between us will only widen during a time when the opposite is critical.

4. “It’s just about death”

This is a big one. Grief does not necessarily mean someone died. Though it’s usually associated with death, again: grief is the emotional experience to any type loss. Sure, the grief over losing your favorite tee shirt is not the same as the grief over losing, say, a childhood home, but it is a loss nonetheless. Because of the taboo nature of talking about grief, when we lose something that’s not so overtly horrendous, like the death of a person, we are further disenfranchised, alone in our experience, believing our feelings are somehow wrong and irrational. Grief means the loss of something meaningful and valuable, and that can be any number of things depending on your life circumstances - they are all valid.

5. “It’s linear, with a timeframe and an endpoint”

Everyone grieves differently. There are certainly emotions that accompany grief like sadness, anger, etc., but, really, there is no one way to grieve and there is no one correct way to deal with grief. When you lose something important, something that has shaped you, the impact will come up at different points in your life and for different reasons.

Once you experience a deeply painful, life-changing loss, it becomes a part of who you are - the tough part is learning how to be okay with that. The most healthy way to deal with grief is to understand it’s role in your life; to learn how to integrate it into who you now must be as a result of this loss, whatever that loss may be.

Grief & Loss

On empathy & the election

I could take infinite directions in writing about the election. There’s endless material out there about self-care, and staying grounded during a time of such uncertainty, and even more about the incredible weight that this election carries for policies in mental health.

In considering the voice I add to the conversation, I keep coming back to the most frightful aspect of this election season, at least for myself, and that is empathy and its general lack of presence this season.

So, what is empathy and what does it mean to experience it?

As with any quality, there are those who have a greater empathic capacity than others, but we cannot allow it to be non-existent, for this is a matter of relating: relating with respect.

In order to be there for another, you must recognize the other’s story - whatever it may be - as valid. It’s impossible to feel understood when what you are trying to say or express is belittled, mocked, or minimized (even if it is minimal, trivial, or even irrational).

A major lesson that shaped me as a person, and as a therapist, is that everyone’s sadness matters, no matter where it comes from. No sadness, or any emotion for that matter, can be compared to another’s to be deemed more important.

Obviously, in the scheme of life there are certain sources of emotion that are more serious than others, but here, I’m referring to the emotion - the emotion is always valid.

To put judgment, and even your own ideas, to the side for a moment and listen to a person in front of you, identify what it is they’re feeling, even if that means having to ask - that is empathy.

The lack of the above is my pain point this election season, and I hope we can, in our own ways, whatever may happen tomorrow, be more mindful of tuning into our capacity to empathize with each other.

Elite Daily Interview

The awesome publication Elite Daily recently came to my office to discuss the recent trend in scary clown sightings across the country, and even abroad. They were interested in gaining some insight around this phenomenon in terms of who these people are, and the possible motives behind using creepy clown costumes to frighten and terrorize the public. 

Thanks so much for the feature, Elite Daily! 

Check it out: http://elitedaily.com/news/why-people-are-dressing-like-clowns/1665392/

Feel Your Feelings

As a society, we have a tendency of brushing our feelings to the side in order to appear more stoic, productive, or in control, but when we do that - minimize or ignore our emotions - we do far more harm than good.

Lifetimes of bottling up or shutting down result in ongoing, chronic stress, which, according to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), lowers your immunity and “digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems stop working normally.”

This means that ignoring our feelings has terrible implications for our physical health, so it’s important that we learn how to incorporate them into our daily lives.

So, how, you may ask, can you welcome your feelings without completely losing control of your life and sanity?

1. Get acquainted

Our culture leads us to believe that emotion is incompatible with success. This often leads to our estrangement from our own selves. When we avoid our feelings, it becomes hard to even distinguish them from one another. We can’t tell the difference between feeling sad, anxious, or angry - we just know we feel overwhelmed and we don’t want to feel like that anymore.

This may require some data gathering - take note of your typical reactions to various situations. Ask yourself: When do I withdraw? Overcompensate? Lash out? When do I get physical symptoms like increased heart rate or shortness of breath? You’ll notice that you too have patterns. 

Learning about your patterns with emotions, will help you recognize them when they arise giving you the power over them and not vice versa.

2. Know your patterns, know your needs

Let’s say, for example, you notice that you have a tendency of shutting down when you’re angry. This probably means that immediately talking about it shuts you down even further. Knowing that you need space when you feel angry will allow you to communicate that with the people in your life.

If you can do that, they’ll be far more likely to give you the space you need, than if you perpetually turn them away and ignore the situation without ever expressing your need for space.

The more insight you have into your relationship with your emotions, the easier it will be to not only lessen the emotion’s hold on you, but also easier to figure out what it is you actually need in those situations, and to ultimately fulfill those needs in healthier, more effective, ways.

3. Give yourself permission: this might be the most important one


Think of your feelings as a little kid who’s begging for a snack. The more you ignore them, the louder and more annoying they get. Same thing with emotion - the more you ignore your feelings, the more power they have over you. 

Not only do the feelings worsen, but they become terribly confusing because you’ve never given yourself the chance to say: “Okay, I feel this way. I see you, I understand why you’re here, so what is it that you need?”

Doing this creates a little bit of distance between you and the feeling, so it doesn't overtake your entire being - you are not anger, you have anger, and you are entitled to it.

Once you tell the child begging for a snack that they’re going to get one once they finish their homework their whining will wean. Once you actually acknowledge and validate that your feelings exists they will be far less overwhelming, allowing you to actually be able to deal with them.

The moment you allow yourself to be sad, angry, whatever, you will be free of the immense effort you’re putting into NOT feeling that way.

To say to yourself, “you know what, I’m sad about this. This really sucks.” is so much healthier and better for you than to keep denying yourself the right to those feelings.

With all the guilt and shame that comes from simply feeling a certain emotion, giving yourself permission to feel is incredibly liberating.