Grief is often a completely confusing, disorienting, painful and lonely experience. There are many elements of our modern society and culture that make this experience that much more difficult and lonely. Bereavement, grief and mourning are very natural and necessary experiences, and they have the potential to be traumatic and/or transformative. One of the greatest gifts the bereaved can receive is the presence of a compassionate companion. Let’s take a closer look at what it means to offer this meaningful and healing companionship to someone who is grieving.
The most effective way to mourn after a loss is to share your thoughts and feelings (grief) with a compassionate listener (grief companion). The Grief Companion HOLDS SPACE for those who are grieving by providing a safe and empathetic presence in which the mourner can begin to explore the terrain of their inner world. HOLDING SPACE for the mourner is your contribution to their care. The grief companion does not guide the mourner, instead allows the mourner to choose the path. True expertise of grief lies with (and only with) the unique person who is grieving.
More specifically, Grief Companionship is being present to another person’s pain. The Grief Companion is willing to go into the wilderness of the soul with the bereaved. This is a spiritual journey, not only an intellectual journey. The Grief Companion is committed to bear witness to the struggles of the bereaved without judgement, direction, or quick fixes. They allow the disorder and confusion that so often afflicts the bereaved. They trust that the bereaved will find their way through the jungle of emotion and joins their journey with compassionate curiosity.
Central to the role of Grief Companion is the art of honoring stories.
In telling the story of their love and loss, mourners:
The art of Grief Companionship involves slowing down, becoming acquainted with the mourner’s inner world, and to really listen as the mourner embraces the reality of their loss, their pain, important memories and search for meaning. Each of our Benediction therapists are equipped as compassionate Grief Companions and we would be honored to journey with you in your grief.
Have you have lost a significant person (or pet or relationship or opportunity) in your life? These significant losses can be terribly painful and disorienting. You know there is an emotional process to help you recover from that loss. This process can feel elusive, consuming or anything in-between! We have heard about grief before, and may even be familiar with the common emotions involved in grieving. But what are we actually doing when we grieve? Let’s clear up this grief thing!
Bereavement and Mourning and Grief are all words related to processing a significant loss. Bereavement is what happens to us—we lost someone important. Bereavement literally means “to be torn apart” and “to have special needs.” Aren’t those statements relatable? Grief is what we think and feel internally after a significant loss. This is a very natural process of integrating the loss and learning to move forward after the loss. Mourning is what we can do to externalize what we are thinking and feeling. Mourning is how we heal in our grief.
The grief process is so unique to each person and to each specific loss. Each of us manage our emotions differently. Some internalize emotion and others externalize emotion. Regardless of what we are feeling, different personalities land on different emotions more regularly—emotions like shame, anger or fear. We all have a different relationship with sadness, depending on our exposure to sadness and how sadness was modeled for us throughout our life. The emotions we feel about a particular loss are completely intertwined with the emotions we hold about the relationship with that person. If there was deep love and respect in our relationship with the person lost, then these feelings are going to be very present in the grief process. If there was tension or hurt or unspoken conversations, then those complicated feelings are going to be very present through the grieving process.
Now that we know we need to externalize our grief emotions through the process of mourning in order to heal, what does that even look like? This can take the form of journaling, artwork, listening to music or finding movement to express those internal thoughts and emotions. Mourning can be embraced and enhanced through conversations with caring people. Sharing about our loved one can be the most beneficial way to externalize our grief feelings, remembering our loved one and integrating their loss. We like to call this grief companioning. Each of our therapists are trained in this special way of being with those who are grieving, to soften their healing journey and to honor the person they have lost.
Social anxiety can be consuming and can really limit the life experiences one might be open to. Imagine having to overcome a wave of panic, accompanied with rapid heartbeat, muscle tension and even blurry vision when walking into certain social circumstances. This dizzying experience can feel disorienting and even dissociative. When this happens regularly, it is understandable that we might start to avoid situations that cause this response all together. When this becomes a pattern, we may experience a narrowing of life experiences, a decrease in self-esteem and a reduced willingness to try new things.
It is possible to learn skills that help us navigate social events with more ease. Feeling confident and calm in social situations allow us to be present with ourselves and with others in the room. We are more able to be genuine and operate within our natural personality, making higher quality connections.
There is one skill that has been the most helpful for our clients who are unlearning social anxiety. It is the DBT Mindfulness skill OBSERVATION. To understand this skill the most, let’s take a quick look at Mindfulness. When we are practicing mindfulness, we are 1) noticing our internal/external environment,2) without judgement and 3) without minimizing or enhancing what we find there. It is simply a practice of noticing. Noticing what we are feeling in any given moment. Noticing what is happening around us. Noticing what might feel like a threat. Simply noticing. Mindfulness practices like this slow us down and bring us into the present moment. And when we break this mindful practice into even smaller skills, one of the most impactful skills is that of OBSERVATION. We are simply taking in information, through our senses, thought processes and relationships. To observe skillfully, we need to create enough distance from what we are encountering to fully take it in. And this observable distance can make a big difference for social anxiety.
Let me explain a little more clearly. Imagine yourself preparing to go to a social event where you do not know anyone. You are expecting to walk into a room of people milling around and forming small conversation groups, and you are expected to go and have a good time. Practically speaking, this might be a business networking event, an awards ceremony, a college orientation day, etc. What I am encouraging you to try, is to enter the event as an OBSERVER first and foremost. Find a comfortable place in the room to sit or stand. Once you are there, take a few deep breaths that bring you into the present moment and allow the room to stop spinning. As you do this, you are creating an observable distance from which you can take in all that is happening in the room in that moment. Notice what is happening around you. Notice how many conversation groupings there are, how are the people in conversation feeling, are there other nervous people present, where are the food and beverages located, are there people who are also looking for someone to talk with? You are simply noticing what is happening in the room. And from this observation point, you might start to notice where you’d like to be in the room. You may prefer to stay right where you are at, you may notice a conversation you’d like to join, you may notice that you’d like to get a drink before doing anything else. Regardless of where you go from here, mindfully observing your surroundings has allowed you more choice to be genuine in your interactions. And with practice, you may just feel more open and confident in new social situations!