Grieving the Past: Self-compassion, Self-nurture,
by Lesli Musicar, M.Ed., R.P.
If you have had painful disappointments, failed relationships, missed opportunities, or broken dreams, you have good reason to grieve. Too often, our “internal” judge will tell us to “snap out of it" or "stop feeling sorry for yourself." Or, it will remind us of how “others had it worse.” Some feel self-contempt for what they consider to be weakness or self-pity. Others worry about being too self-indulgent. This is how we cheat ourselves out of our natural healing process. We cut off our grief, convinced we're not entitled to it.
Sometimes, people around us will discourage us from grieving. They’ll tell us to “leave the past in the past” or that “time heals all wounds.” But if the past continues to haunt you, it isn’t really in the past at all, it’s in the present. And time does not heal all wounds. So allow yourself your grief, or you’ll end up dragging it with you as an extra burden through life.
The first step toward moving through the grieving process is self-compassion. We have to stop beating ourselves up for feeling down. Just because you feel bad, doesn't mean you are bad. It's a simple concept, but so many of us slip into self-blame for our bad feelings. This especially tends to happen when the grief stems from childhood.
Children blame themselves for the bad things that happen to them. It's how they make sense of the world. So if your losses occurred in childhood, you may be struggling with self-blame, or even worse, self-hatred. In order to heal from these wounds, we need to give ourselves now what we so desperately needed then: compassion and understanding.
Most of us know how to be compassionate and understanding when it comes to others. We are able to lend a caring ear or offer a shoulder to cry on. But when it comes to us, there seems to be a double standard. So we must make a conscious effort to treat ourselves as well as we treat others. Say reassuring and reaffirming things to yourself. Be kind to yourself—do things that feel self-nurturing.
Imagine yourself at an early age. Or better yet, bring out a childhood photo of yourself. If this is when your losses occurred, this is the part of you that's hurting. Attend to your wounded self. Provide comfort by soothing your senses: be it listening to your favourite music, soaking in a long hot bath, taking a stroll around the block, drinking warm milk, wrapping yourself in a cozy blanket—whatever works for you. Just think of what you’d do to comfort a very sad or frightened child and apply it to yourself!
Self-nurturing can also be found through creative expression. And it is an excellent way of releasing pain. Writing, singing, dancing, drawing, sculpting, gardening—anything creative (but not harmful) that can channel painful feelings out of your body can be healing. Let your tears flow. They'll stop on their own (really!). We humans are expressive creatures, so be human!
And finally, try not to be alone. Give yourself the compassionate support of those who care about you. This is often the hardest part of all. Many of us have been so wounded in the past, it's difficult to trust. And when we're in a state of grief, we are at our most vulnerable. So it is the riskiest time of all to reach out. But it is also the most crucial time.
It is an honour to feel needed by our friends. Yet, we often have a hard time believing our friends feel the same about us. We worry about “burdening” them. We make excuses, saying they have too many problems of their own. But good friends can challenge negative beliefs about ourselves that are most poignant when we’re in pain. Friends can remind us that we are worthy of being loved when we’re feeling least loveable.
Allowing the support of others is one of the most important things you can do for yourself—even if it means calling a crisis line. We need to be reminded of what is real and true in our lives today. This will help us separate our past pain from our present reality. Often, a compassionate voice at a time of intense grief is not only healing, but immensely grounding, too.
So if you are carrying unresolved grief, practice the three “S’s”—Self-compassion, Self-nurture, and Support—and you will be on your way to a lighter, more positive life.