Tag Grief

Promoting Post-Traumatic Growth After a Loss

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 11.39.02 AMThis is the third post in a series on grieving. The first regards grieving in the first year or two. The second regards how to help a child to grieve. In this post I’ll review factors that promote post-traumatic growth (PTG) after a severe loss.

PTG is the process of experiencing growth because of the pain you have experienced. As one poet it, pain is a dragon guarding treasure. To get to the treasure, the dragon must have it’s way and the clawing can be terrible, sometimes even breaking a person. But, at some point, if you have gotten to the other side, the treasure is always present. And, while the pain often stops, or is at least is significantly reduced, the treasure keeps on gifting.

To check the truthfulness of this assertion, survey your life for the most painful events that are now behind you. Are there any ways you are better now because of that suffering? Or, look at PTG from another angle. Consider the best things in your life. Could any of them have existed were it not for suffering, either on your part or on the part of someone close to you?

The PTG concept does not suggest that the treasure is worth the loss, nor does itScreen Shot 2017-08-12 at 11.36.57 AM suggest that the circumstances of the loss had inherent meaning. While one or both of those things can be true, they are often not. So, the first thing to wonder, after your grief has subsided enough, is, what treasure has this (often terrible) loss made available to you?

I previously outlined 13 tips for promoting adaptive grieving. Building upon those, here are six strategies for promoting PTG:

1. Develop a daily gratitude practice. If you enter the word “gratitude” in the search bar above you will find several offerings on this topic.

2. Practice random acts of kindness. This can be applied to both family members and to strangers. Again, use the search bar above to find related blog posts.

3. Practice self-compassion as much as you can. I will be writing on this topic in the future, but for now can refer you to this website for a plethora of information on self-compassion: http://self-compassion.org. Note that you can find a questionnaire on this site for understanding where you stand on the self-compassion dimension.

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 11.44.59 AM4. Practice forgiveness. This is the hardest thing for many of us to do, and our culture often misunderstands the nature of it (e.g., forgiveness is not allowing ongoing damage, it does not require the other person to express remorse, it does not involve minimizing, or require forgetting, the assualt). Click here for a post I devoted to this topic.

5. Develop and live effective missions. Developing effective vocational and personal mission statements goes a long way to producing a more meaningful and satisfying life. I provide a introductory structure for getting there in this post.

6. Pursue the truth. This regards your thinking (e.g., depression always involves believing things that are not true). This regards how you view others (e.g., a harsh judgment always reflects a lack of information or a distortion of the truth). It involves everything. Yes, the truth can be challenging in the short run–I believe it is Gloria Steinem who noted, “the truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.” But, the pursuit of it is a guiding principle of high road living. By the way, it’s remarkable how often pursuing a path of loving kindness overlaps with this goal.Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 11.47.13 AM

This is complicated stuff. So, if you’d like to find an ally for figuring it all out, and applying it to your life, consider meeting with a skillful mental health professional. For a referral, click here.





Helping Your Child Grieve a Loss

shutterstock_301610618No engaged parent is happier than her least happy child. It is very difficult for any of us to see our children in pain. However, grieving is adaptive suffering and knowing how to help our children through it, instead of suppressing it, is an important parenting skill. I will split my tips on this topic up into two sections: when you are not affected directly by the loss and when you are.

When it is not your loss also

Your teen might have been dumped by a crush. Or, your daughter may have failed to make the travel soccer team. Or, perhaps your child’s only and best friend moved away. There are many kinds of loss. Here are 10 suggestions for helping:

• Validate your child’s pain. It makes sense to hurt over a loss. Allow your child to express those thoughts and feelings without offering immediate reassurances. This is gruelingly difficult to do. However, many of us benefit by having company when in pain. Moreover, premature reassurances came come across as “please stop feeling badly now.” Later the odds are high that your child will appreciate your empathic companionship.

• Ask your child how she’s doing but don’t insist on a conversation. Part of grieving is choosing when to not think or talk about the loss.

• Ask other family members to reach out to your child, shutterstock_63342151checking in on a semi-regular basis; it isn’t sufficient to say to a child, “let me know if I can help.” Again, though, the emphasis should be that it is your child’s choice whether to talk or not when the other person reaches out.

• Encourage your child to memorialize the loss. There are so many ways to do this. Writing a letter–whether it is sent or not–drawing, creating poetry and creating art projects are all ways this can be done. Again, though, don’t insist.

• Try to avoid supporting numbing behaviors such increasing a diet of processed carbohydrates or oversleeping. That said, indulges here-and-there are usually harmless.

• Try to encourage regular fun activities that are (a) novel (b) social and (c) involve physical activity. This trifecta maximizes the release of mood lifting brain chemicals. Once a week or so is fine.

• If you share a spirituality with your child, suggest using it to process the grief. Praying together, going to services and sharing readings that are targeted for your child’s age can all be helpful.

• Try to keep as many of your rituals in place as possible. Rituals are islands of stability within the torrential currents of stress that our culture presents.

shutterstock_385425094• Make sure to spend one hour a week doing special time. You can get a summary of how to do special time by clicking here. To get the full description, read the first chapter of my parenting book. Remember that special time is not the same thing as quality time.

• If your child becomes unable to accomplish his major developmental tasks (e.g., academics, socializing), arrange for him to be evaluated by a child psychologist who is experienced in providing cognitive-behavioral therapy for youth. I would insist on an initial evaluation and not require your child to agree that it is a good idea.

When you share the loss with your child

• As difficult as it can be to help your child grieve, the situation is significantly more complicated when you are suffering from the same loss. Here’s the most important point: your healthy grieving should be a top priority. As an illustration, and quoting researchers Werner-Lin and Biank: “A child’s adjustment to the death of a parent is greatly influenced by the surviving parent’s ability to attend to his or her own grief-related needs.” For this reason, please see this blog post on tips for promoting your effective grieving.

Here are half a dozen tips for your shared grieving experience with your child:

• Let your child know that you are hurting too. The older your child, and the healthier she is from a psychological perspective, the more open you might choose to be about your pain. This can be especially challenging for men. When it comes to vulnerability, the research indicates that we men are often asked to be vulnerable, but when we are we can be less liked and even punished, sort of what women go through with being assertive (please see the body of work by Brene Brown to learn more about this).

• You might schedule times in advance to do some shared grieving.

• Memorializing projects can have more meaning if they are shared and displayed.

• Try not to be too upset with either of you for the vulnerabilities that result secondary to forgiveness as keyyour grieving. You may go through a period when you are grouchy or unmotivated or dour. Likewise, your child may go through a period when he is defiant or sullen or rejecting of your affection. These are often transient reactions; part of what helps them to not take root is to not overreacting to them.

• Seek parenting allies if you need a break. It can be hard for those of us who are proud or independent minded to reach out for help with parenting. But, ask yourself: how would you want a friend or loved one to think about the possibility of asking you for support if your roles were reversed?

• My final suggestion–that those of you who read this blog can see coming a mile away– is to seek out the services of a good family therapist if you are both suffering to the point that you can’t meet important goals in life. For referral ideas click here.

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