Just this morning I read a wise and timely quote from Eckhart Tolle: “As long as you make an identity for yourself out of pain, you cannot be free of it.”
I’m always a bit amazed when words seem to just appear and find the perfect fit into something that’s going on in my own mind at the time. This is when I reaffirm my belief that there really are no accidents. This is the day I had set aside to sit down and write about what I have learned about Grief Entanglements. Wouldn’t you know: Sense of Identity is one of them?
Losing one’s sense of identity after a painful loss is one of the story patterns that I call an entanglement…a situation or circumstance that causes a person to suffer a lingering and sometimes unresolved grief.
I think taking on one’s grief story as an identity is something that can happen sometimes without even noticing…without planning it. And pretty soon, we begin to see ourselves more as the mother who lost a child, or John’s widow. When this happens, we tend to lose touch with the heart and soul of who we truly are. In my years as a grief therapist, I have identified six such sets of story patterns that I call Grief Entanglements and Sense of Identity is one of them.
When one is having a lingering and on-going grief that remains overly painful and stays unresolved for a long period of time (over a year to eighteen months approximately), I can usually talk with the person and hear if one or more of the entanglements are involved in their grief process.
The Six Entanglements are:
• The Circumstances of the Death
• The Quality of the Relationship
• Unmet Needs of the Bereaved
• Personal Sense of Identity
• Previous Reaction Pattern to Disappointment, Loss or Major Change
• The Conscious or Unconscious Personal Need of the Bereaved to Prolong the Grief Process.
It’s obvious to most of us that the way a person dies (The Circumstances of the Death) has a tremendous impact on the grief process. What one does not always know or realize is that unless, or until, the grief of the loss of the individual is separated from the story of how the person dies (and, yes, this is possible), the two pieces of the grief story become so entangled that it is difficult, if not impossible to find a peaceful grief resolve.
We are all familiar with grief situations that carry one or more of the six entanglements.
As an example, when we are left with emotions and feelings such as guilt, anger, regret, disappointment, jealousy, etc. after the loss of a loved one, the chances are great that an entanglement will result, leaving the bereaved unable to resolve or find closure with the loss. The Quality of the Relationship(s) that exist in each grief story plays a significant role in how the grief is finally resolved.
In sharing the six entanglements in the counseling setting or in a support group, amazingly enough, most individuals can identify which of the entanglements have them stuck and unable to move on, and most people heave a sigh of relief knowing that there may be a respite from the continual and on-going pain that goes with unresolved grief.
Experiencing the loss of a loved one can, in and of itself, be one of the most excruciatingly painful experiences to endure. When entanglements are added to the mix, a new dimension of added pain is there to be dealt with. Knowing about the six entanglements and how to move out of each one of them offers solace and encouragement.
Learning to integrate the loss of a loved one into one’s life and continue on is a brave journey for any of us who have had to do it. Knowing there is still sunshine and hope is something that waits for each of us.
My newly released book: Grief Entanglements: Understanding Unresolved Grief and What You Can Do About It discusses the six entanglements, shares real-life stories and offers ways to move out of unresolved grief.