In my fifteen years of helping people change their lives working with emotional distress I have learnt many new things about human life and behaviour. Many of these lessons have come about with experience and not from books. One of such lessons is- how do we know when someone has completed the grief ?process?.
Yes. Grief is a process. It has a beginning and an end. Without going into the academic stages of grief (as described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross), my experience suggests that the grieving process comes to a conclusion. One of the signs of conclusion of grief is that the person has shed all the tears that they need to shed for the particular loss. It means that the memory of the departed person no longer brings up tears in the eyes of the person who has suffered the loss. The other sign is that the grieving person becomes comfortable with the loss. I have observed that at some stage, the grieving person has to cry. When the sufferer has not cried over the loss, in almost all cases, the grief process was not concluded. How do I know that? This is explained below.
First we need to know that people who deny themselves the privilege of crying over the loss, would say that they do not want to talk about the subject. This is a classic ?denial? as psychologists would put it. They also feel ?uncomfortable? when the subject of the lost person is brought up. They also ?do not feel the need to cry? as ?it is in the past?. These are signs that the person has not dealt with the loss and that they have yet to reach the stage of acceptance.
In order to appreciate why we have to cry to conclude the grief process, we need to appreciate how the nervous system operates.
The nervous system has a component known as the ?autonomic nervous system?. This part of the nervous system controls the internal organs of the body like heart, lungs, kidneys, intestines etc. This system is helped by the hormonal or endocrine system to control the various activities. The autonomic nervous system is divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic system is concerned with providing energy, dealing with stress situations, high blood pressure, increased heart rate and increased body tension. Stress hormone- cortisol- is produced in the stress state. There is a reduction in serotonin and acetylcholine during stress. The parasympathetic system is responsible for relaxation, lower blood pressure, reduced body tension, producing serotonin, reducing cortisol and producing tears.
It means that tears can be produced only when the body is relaxed. During the process of grief, after going through denial and bargaining comes a stage of sadness or depression. It is at this time that the parasympathetic system becomes more active. Crying occurs in this stage. Once the crying stage is over, the issue is resolved. Grief is then concluded.There is then a noticeable shift in the person’s attitude towards the loss, which also becomes positive.
Pradeep K Chadha is a psychiatrist who specialises in helping patients with meditation and imagery using little or no medication. He is the author of The Stress Barrier-Nature’s Way To Overcoming Stress published by Blackhall Publishing, Dublin. He is based in Dublin, Ireland. His website address is http://www.drpkchadha.com
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