We all have experienced a loss at some point in our lives, but the feeling is more intense when we lose a loved one, which triggers the natural response of grief. I hope that by the time you finish reading this post, you have some knowledge and confidence on how to accept your feelings and express your grief.
Even though I have written this post for anyone bereaved, I hope that those supporting the bereaved will also find this information equally helpful.
The simple truth about grief is that we grieve because we love. Death would not break our hearts if we did not love. Grief and love are so deeply interwoven—the greater our love, the deeper and more profound our grief.
I am the type of person who takes notes when someone is speaking or sharing ideas with me, especially when what's being communicated is new to me. I do this because I like to keep my mind as light as possible, and I also don't trust my brain to remember it later on.
Have you ever wondered what people like me write? I can't speak for everyone, but let me share some things I write in my notes.
Not everything I write makes sense. Sometimes, I doodle or make comments or suggestions or pen down my different views.
If I allowed you to look through most of my notes, you would find this acronym "YBH" written in many notes. This means "Yes, But How?"
I write this acronym, especially when I agree with the person speaking, but perhaps didn't expand on how to implement the thoughts or when I can't see how to relate the discussion or presentation to my circumstances/life.
If you have followed the previous blog posts closely, you might have observed that my grief healing journey began when I learnt to accept my feelings and expressed my grief.
As a result, I have been an advocate against suppressing the emotions of grief. I am rooting for those of us bereaved to learn to accept our feelings and express our grief.
I was re-reading the recent post on Why Expressing Your Grief is Essential to Your Healing Journey and felt inspired to expand on accepting your feelings and expressing your emotions of grief with words.
If you're not expressing your emotions, you are suppressing or repressing them.
Why is suppressing emotions bad?
Many people use emotion management strategies such as suppressing emotions or simply attempting to force emotional thoughts and feelings out of their minds.
Emotional suppression is an emotional management technique that tries to control uncomfortable, overwhelming thoughts and feelings.
Many studies have shown that we can experience short-term mental and physical reactions when we suppress our emotions. Suppressing negative feelings may also have a negative impact on your long-term wellbeing.
Clinical psychologist Victoria Tarratt suggested that "Suppressing your feelings can cause physical stress in your body and can influence blood pressure, memory, and self-esteem."
According to Tarratt, there is a higher chance of diabetes and heart disease in the long run. Avoiding feelings can also contribute to "memory, aggression, anxiety, and depression problems."
Denying our emotions further strengthens them. If you suppress your feelings, you will end up bringing much more stress to your life in the long run.
What are the barriers to accepting our feelings and expressing our grief?
Below are four of my thoughts on why we sometimes find it hard to accept our feelings and express our grief.
There's a generalisation that women accept their feelings and express their grief better than men because women focus on feelings, senses and meaning. In contrast, men focus on facts, reason and logic.
Whether religious or not, leaders, influencers, celebrities, etc., have a tall responsibility for their lives being watched by many. This responsibility may make them feel pressured to be stoic. One question they may wrestle with is "As (a person of the status, e.g. faith leader, influencer etc.), should I think, feel or express these thoughts?"
Your religious lens
I suppose when you read this heading, you asked, "Is faith a barrier in accepting our feelings and expressing our grief?"
We can sometimes be too quick to dismiss our feelings because we feel they are not Godly feelings, so those emotions are wrong. They don't deserve to be felt, let alone acknowledged. Those feelings are there for a reason.
You may be quick to deny your emotions under the guise of strong faith. You may indirectly suppress your grief.
I am not suggesting that you should not be full of faith. Still, before you swat or dismiss the feeling, I advocate that you first acknowledge it before dismissing it.
Limited Emotional Vocabulary
Emotional vocabulary is simply about how we associate words with our feelings, which gives us the ability to identify, label and understand our feelings and others.
One of the top five questions that almost every bereaved person gets asked, second to “have you eaten?” is “how are you?”
Visualise this scenario with me for a moment. Imagine I rang you on the phone. Let's hope you're not like some people I know who have their phones beside them and yet still miss the call.
When you pick up my call, I say, "Hi (your name), how are you?" what's your response likely to be?
My most vital guess is that you will respond with "I am ok" or "I am good" or "I am fine thank you", or if you're like some of my friends, you may say ", I am blessed and highly favoured" or "I dey o."
What we tend to do is to carry on with the conversation.
Can you guess how many emotions a person can have?
It's somewhere near 34,000.
Do you know that most of us have a minimal emotional vocabulary of about ten emotions?
They are angry, sad, bad, decent, great, irritated, anxious, happy, stressed, tired. It is also worth mentioning that words like fine, good and bad are not emotions, but we use them anyway.
I think those of us who are bilingual fall into one of three categories, we either:
Think in the mother tongue, speak in the mother tongue, or
Think in the mother tongue, speak in English, or
Think in English, speak in the mother tongue
Those of us whose first language is not English may find it hard to accept our feelings and express our grief. Because our mother tongue may not have the words to describe emotions and feelings.
Equally, some words may describe emotional pain in our mother tongue that we struggle to find the correct adjective to describe the feeling.
Which words are used to describe emotions in your mother tongue? Could you please share it in the comment section?
How can I Accept my feelings and express my emotions better?
The following three principles have played a significant role in helping me accept my feelings and express my emotions better.
Identify your feelings and emotions.
To identify my feelings, I usually start by asking myself, "Tolu, how are you feeling this very moment?"
What sensations/feelings do I have?
What part of my body am I experiencing it in? In my chest? What about the throat or the stomach?
What thoughts am I having that could mean how I'm feeling?
Is there something that contradicts your thoughts or feelings?
Here's is what I do next
I note the emotions that I am conscious of:
I go a step further to identify which of the feelings is prominent and
Try to determine what may have triggered the feeling
I usually do this exercise either when I am walking or in a space that is free of interruption.
I developed a better self-awareness, grappled with, named and came to terms with the cocktail of grief emotions through Robert Plutchik's wheel of emotions. Robert Plutchik (1927–2006) was a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
The tool provides a visual representation of primary emotions, showing the varying degrees and nuances of different feelings.
Accept and process the feelings.
It's challenging to tolerate complex thoughts and emotions; I learn that feeling your feelings will not destroy you.
We tend to criticise ourselves for experiencing the feeling. Life events such as the death of a loved one will trigger a cocktail of emotions. Emotions don't obey logic. They are what they are.
Although we may choose which feelings to attend to, we do not determine what to feel. Our mission should be to find them and give them room to breathe.
To process, one must be able to remain with and embrace one's feelings. I would suggest you approach this phase with a sense of transparency and curiosity to the emotions by asking yourself some further questions like:
Do I have any judgement about my thoughts/feelings?
Is there something inside of me that wants to suppress or step away from these feelings? Why is this so?
Is this feeling (s) unacceptable?
Why do I believe it's unacceptable?
Express the emotions of grief
Emotions of Grief are like a pressure cooker: Pressure increases without release. Then, once released, the intensity is reduced.
Grief is not rational; it is great pain in one's heart, spirit, and centre of being. It demands to be felt, experienced and expressed. It numbs feelings, reduces spontaneity, and isolates.