Frequently individuals come to see me and, in a hushed voice say “I think I’m going crazy”. After listening to their story I am usually able to identify a significant loss that has occurred which resulted in their strong and out-of-character emotional response. It doesn’t matter whether the loss resulted from a natural disaster, divorce, death, employment termination or relationship problem – the reactions are usually the same.
The client finds great relief in knowing that what they are going through is actually a healthy process consisting of a number of stages:
- Denial – Whenever we have any loss at all, it is common to want to ignore the truth. Denial is when you don’t even know that you are lying to yourself! People often enter a shock and denial state which shuts down their systems and allows them to temporarily “carry on”. That doesn’t mean that they are doing well. It just means that they surviving without experiencing full impact of the loss at that time.
- Anger – When something blocks our goals, we can become very upset. Loss is usually something that we feel is out of our control. That feeling and the fear that accompanies it can show up in a white-hot angry rage. Even the most passive and kind individual can have an unexpected and embarrassing temper tantrum!
- Sadness – Remember the good times but don’t expect them to continue to occur as they have in the past. Some things cannot be recaptured and might actually turn into a blessing. Loss can force us to do other things that can turn out even better than expected (like MADD or advanced education). Make sure that you make healthy choices during this period of time so that your loss doesn’t allow depression to creep into your life.
- Bargaining or Blame – Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just “cut a deal” with God or a professional so that we could have things the way they used to be? Sometimes, even though we know that won’t happen, we still try to bargain. Blaming others will not help the other person or you as it can fester into long-term resentment.
- Acceptance – This sometimes comes slowly and may fade in and out over time. One day you might find yourself accepting the reality in your life and another day you might push it away.
- Rebuilding – Sometimes you need to focus outside of yourself. For example, rebuilding a house that has been destroyed by fire or building a new career requires action. Sometimes you need to focus inside of yourself and do things that will promote growth and healing. The most difficult times are when you need to do both outside and inside work at the same time.
Any one of the above stages can be challenging. Grief and loss, however, does not come with a neat little list of things we can check off when completed. Instead, they can appear in a random and chaotic way that is neither predictable nor easily controlled. You might have a few minutes of sadness followed immediately by anger. Then a time of acceptance appears right before you jump back into denial. Rebuilding can be interrupted with any of the others at any time – even years down the road. That’s what makes people think that they are going crazy!
You are NOT crazy. The emotions may appear to be crazy – but they aren’t really crazy either. What you are going through is a natural part of life. It’s just that you aren’t used to it! Hang in there. It will get better (and you will too)!