When one considers grief, they traditionally imagine the death of someone; however, grief is felt and exhibited in all aspects of life. Ultimately, it’s a response to loss that is personally deemed significant in any form and often presents as overwhelming emotional pain and distress. It can be your emotional reaction to:
- Jobs/Careers: Leaving a job or quiting
- Home: Selling a home, eviction, house fire
- Relationships: Ending a relationship or being broken up with
- Pets: No longer able to keep them, running away, death
- Parenting: Inability to conceive or carry a child, misscarriage, choosing adoption, choosing not to be a parent
- Community: Ending of a group, program, or community you were involved in
And the list goes on. These examples show how the concept of loss can still be connected to choices we make and not only events outside of our control.
The five stages of grief is a theory developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross that suggests we navigate through five stages of grief after loss. The stages are not always linear and a person may even jump back and forth between stages. .
- Denial- This where we minimize pain and suffering, have difficulty adjusting, and cannot imagine life without what we have lost; so, we choose not to. We are still attempting to understand what has happened and make sense of the loss, yet ignoring it typically feels easier, despite the pain that remains a reality.
- Anger- This stage encompasses us making an effort to adjust to a new reality, one we acknowledge but that we do not desire. Anger is commonly identified as a secondary emotion because it is presented externally to mask emotions that may feel more vulnerable, such as disappointment, concern, fear, or embarrassment.
- Bargaining- We enter this phase where we are willing to do anything to have our sense of normalcy back. We look into what can be sacrificed or traded and this stage tends to show up as promises we are willing to make with a higher power. It tends to include feelings of helplessness and despair.
- Depression- In this stage bargaining begins to feel less like an option and we begin to settle into reality. Our emotional distress presents as symptoms associated with depression and leads to feeling isolated and lonely.
- Acceptance- When we encounter the acceptance stage, we are no longer resistant to reality, despite not enjoying what it may include. The emotional and mental struggle lessens significantly, although still present.
One area we don’t discuss is grief related to a perceived lifestyle or way of living. What does it look like when one grieves the way they thought their lives would look or feel at a certain period of time? How does one cope with feeling they “should” or “shouldn’t” have obtained what they may consider meaningful milestones? Perhaps you aren’t married by a certain age, haven’t had children, or don’t own a home. But who determines the checklist of significant events and milestones? Does it actually mean anything if these boxes aren’t marked?
Our realities don’t often align with the “acceptable” ways of living that we have mentally adopted, both spoken and unspoken. We find ourselves frustrated, feeling we have failed in some aspect, and ruminating on what we believe we did not do or what we do not have. Areas of resiliency are often overlooked or ignored and the focus is strictly on what we believe is a measurement of failure. This contributes to anxiety, depression, difficulty with sleep, eating, and struggles with mindset.
Mental liberation often requires acknowledgment of grief related to an expected lifestyle or way of living, even if it is not actually a lifestyle that you wanted for yourself. Grief is incredibly complicated and not always attached to something we want. It can be attached to not meeting our perceived expectations. For example, perhaps someone may grieve not having their parent’s approval after choosing a spouse or career that they love but their parents do not approve. The grief is connected to the parents disapproval and not the career. We often grieve the expectation and not the actual event itself.
Here are my tips to transition towards mental liberation related to grief that is connected expectations:
- Take time to understand what expectation you believe you did not meet
- Forgive yourself for judgment
- Acknowledge your feelings and concerns
- Take time to understand where or why that expectation developed
- Identify what the expectation signified for you
- Note other aspects of your life present that signify what you were looking for in #5
- Give yourself permission to meet your values through different methods
It is one hundred percent understandable to feel disappointed in not having or experiencing something that has been mentally stored as having significance. Acknowledging grief is one of the first steps toward moving towards acceptance and being able to curate and craft the next steps of your life. If you would like support in crafting your path, join me at Liberated Vision. Remember, you can apply meaning to anything. I hope you choose to find meaning in what you have that brings you joy. Until next time, friends!