Exploring the "F" Words - Part 2 Fear and its role in grief
by Russell Friedman & John W. James of The Grief Recovery Institute
In our last article we explored the impact that lack of forgiveness might have on our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. This time we are going to focus our emotional microscope on the possible consequences of using FEAR to guide our recovery from significant emotional loss.
Retained FEAR is cumulative and cumulatively negative. If the griever does not feel safe enough to communicate about their fears, then the fears themselves appear to be real and begin to define and limit the griever. In a play on that old phrase, "you are what you eat," "you create what you fear."
Fear is one of the most normal emotional responses to loss. For example: the fear of the unknown; the fear of the unfamiliar; the fear of adapting to a dramatic change in all of our familiar habits, behaviours, and feelings.
Fear is one of the most common emotional responses to loss. For example, when a spouse dies: How can I go on without them? Or, after a divorce: Where will I find another mate as wonderful, as beautiful?
Those fears are normal and natural responses to the end of long-term relationships. If acknowledged and allowed, those fears and the thoughts and feelings they generate, can be completed and diminish without serious aftermath. As we learn to acknowledge and complete our relationship to our fear, we can then move on to the more important task of grieving and completing the relationship that ended or changed.
But, if we have been socialised to believe fear is unnatural or bad, then we tend to bury our fears to avoid feeling judged by our fellows who seem to want us to feel better very quickly after a loss.
There is also danger in that we have been socialised to express fear indirectly as anger. While there is often some unexpressed anger attached to incomplete relationships, we usually discover that it accounts for a very small percentage of unresolved grief. It is also important not to confuse Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's "stages of dying," which includes anger, with the totally unique responses that follow a loss.
An even larger danger looms in the fact that we develop relationships with and loyalties to our fears. We believe them as if they were real. We defend them with our lives, and to some extent, it is, indeed, our lives that we are gambling with. As we develop a fierce relationship with our fears, we lose sight of our original objective, which was to grieve and complete the relationship that has ended or changed. It is as if we have shifted all of our energy to the fear so we do not have to deal with the painful emotions caused by the loss.
Reminders of loved ones who have died, or relationships that have ended will often take us on a rocket ride to the PAST, where we are liable to dig up a little regret. After thinking about that regret for a while, we might rocket out to the FUTURE, where we will generate some worry or FEAR. The point is that those fears we generate, while they feel totally real, are often the result of some out-of-the-moment adventures. It may be helpful to remember this little phrase: "My feelings are real, but they do not necessarily represent reality."
While FEAR is often the emotional response to loss, in our society, ISOLATION is frequently the behavioural reaction to the fear. If isolation is the problem, then participation is a major part of the solution. Fight your way through the fear so that you will not isolate further. Recovery from significant emotional loss is not achieved alone.
© 2002 Russell P. Friedman, John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at Editor@grief.net or by phone USA (818) 907-9600 Canada (519) 586-8825