Grief Neutralizes Thought

IMG_6208We are addicted to our stories. The thoughts come in and take us away on their magic carpet promise of arriving in a land of certainty, where the vulnerability and pain of life can’t touch us. We learn early to climb aboard this carpet because, as young people, we usually don’t know how to manage the big feelings of life. Big feelings coursing through a little body are only manageable when that body is being held in the arms of a loving, solid caregiver who can transmit the message, “You’re okay. It’s okay. I’ve got you. It’s a big feeling but it won’t hurt you. Let it come. Be loud. I’m here.” Most of us, sadly, receive a vastly different message, often from day one.

We become so adept at climbing aboard the magic carpet of thoughts and stories that it becomes a habit, a neural-pattern in your brain that feels automatic. Yet when we start to practice a reflective practice like mindfulness or journaling, we learn that, subtle and quiet as it may seem, we actually do have a choice-point: we can climb on the carpet and tumble into that familiar realm of anxiety or we can turn toward another, undiscovered pathway.

Whereas the thought pathway is well-trodden, the new pathway is wild and overgrown. We don’t know what creatures live in the tall grasses, which is why it’s so scary to enter. It’s a psychological truth that we would rather remain miserable yet in the realm of the familiar than venture into the unknown. As the famous family therapist, Virginia Satir, is quoted to have said, “Most people prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty.” This is important to know, especially when we fall into the mindset that the thoughts take over like a relentless bully over which we have no choice. Most people, when they’re honest, share with me that they’re aware that they have a choice – they can see the fear-path and they can see something else – but that they often choose to get on the train of thought that will inevitably lead to anxiety. What’s important here is the recognition of choice so that we don’t fall into the victim mindset.

What happens when we choose the path less traveled? What signposts line that path? You might find a signpost that says TRUST (it’s all okay). You might see one that says GRATITUDE (that reminds you to focus on what’s present and working instead of what’s absent and not working). You might stumble upon the simple yet all-powerful signpost that says LOVE (love is stronger than fear). And you might see a sign that says GRIEF (an invitation to drop down into body-space and be willing to feel what lives there).

When I’m working with clients, a defining moment in the session is when they’re able to shift from head-space to body-space. There’s a palpable shift in the air between us, a change in the atmosphere in the room. Sometimes, when the talking stops, it’s filled with silence. Sometimes tears come. These aren’t the tears of despair (“I’m so tired of feeling anxious”) but tears of raw and beautiful grief. It’s like a warm breath-wind has come to embrace my client, and in that potent silence or pure sadness, the anxious energy of thoughts falls away. It’s like a rainstorm on a hot day.

Once the thought is neutralized, it’s as if we’ve entered a sea where time stands still. The waters are warm and calm. The moon is near. It’s the realm of the Great Mother, where softness surrounds. An old thought-pattern dissolve. A layer of intergenerational pain falls away. We are held in this sea, open and allowing the mysterious element of healing to enter. It’s effortless now. The striving ceases. There’s the sense that no matter what is happening on the level of story, it’s all okay.

It’s not just grief that neutralizes thought. Any time we can drop down out of the familiar pattern of mind-chatter and sink into the softness of body, we enter calm seas. And when we don’t take time to slow down and reflect, to cycle into the inner realms and become curious about what we find there, the inner realm will find us: through intrusive thoughts, anxiety, overwhelm, self-doubt, waking up at the witching hour (2-4am). Think of the child who doesn’t get her emotional needs met, who isn’t seen and heard because her caregivers haven’t worked beyond their own stuck places and so parent from their deficits, and is awakened in the middle of the night with a nightmare. Maybe then she’ll find comfort in half-asleep arms. Maybe not. We have that child within and we need to attend daily so that he doesn’t have to scream out to get our attention.

The chatter is a defense against the grief, which we resist because we don’t know that it won’t hurt us. We resist the grief because we have somatic memories that tell us that we can’t handle the pain. As Alice Miller writes in The Drama of the Gifted Child, “She needs a constant thrill to keep boredom at bay; not even one moment of quiet can be permitted during which the burning loneliness of her childhood experience might be felt, for she fears that feeling more than death. She will continue in her fight unless she learns that the awareness of old feelings is not deadly but liberating.”

The answers aren’t in your head. They’re in the undiscovered place inside, the well of Self that can only be accessed when you stop and find the courage to take your own hand and listen with kindness and curiosity to what needs to be felt and heard.

41 comments to Grief Neutralizes Thought

  • Desperate

    Wonderful post as always. I can’t tell you how relatable these posts are. I have gone to therapy for many years because of child trauma and because my dad couldn’t be who I needed him to be. I always felt as if I was a disappointment to him. Last summer I came home from college and went through something I had never felt before and then I found my way to your website and it all made so much sense. I’m so grateful for the man I have in my life because we got through it after much therapy. Now I’m back home again for the summer and my house is so stressful and there is just so much going on with my family so the stress, anxiety, and depression was inevitable. I notice myself falling into the same trap of relationship anxiety once again and I’m beyond scared. Is this a sign I shouldn’t be with my boyfriend? because thats what a small part inside of me is yelling and that is what causes so much anxiety because I know how much I love him and how I never want to live a life without him. Please help, is there any advice you can give me? why do I make all my stress and anxiety about my relationship when that isn’t the real problem? Will we be okay? Is this all a sign?

    • Based on what you’ve learned in therapy and through my site, I encourage you to respond to your comment from your wisest, most loving self. What would she say?

      • Desperate

        It’s so difficult to do that when this happens. I don’t know what to tell myself to get through this again. What do I do?

        • The thing is, Desperate, I can give you a dose of reassurance and it will make you feel better for a little while but the anxiety will inevitably kick back in and then what…? Ultimately you need to learn to access your own wisdom. So I pose the challenge to you again: If it were a dear friend of yours who was struggling with this issue, what would you tell her? Just give it a try; there are no wrong answers ;).

  • Fabulous. And perfectly true. I love your description of what happens when we enter the grief of the body and let it out. I was looking – as research for a novel – for such a description. I did not find one so accurate before.

  • Brittani

    Hi, Sheryl. Thank you so much for this article. I’m 27 years old and it’s been about a month since I’ve started acknowledging my feelings. They were foreign to me. I never knew them, & when we met it was an EXPLOSION. I had no idea what was happening to me. I grew up in a home where emotions and feelings were never spoken of. My parents never complimented me or hugged me or kissed me or told me they loved me. We went on vacations and I had the best of everything, but what I needed the most, I never received. It seems like such a betrayal. I can’t express the anger I feel towards them. It’s disgusting! Now, here I am in this relationship with this wonderful woman who’s given me the world these past 8 years and all I can do is think about running away. Like packing my bags and getting as far away as I can. It’s horrible! The thoughts, the “what ifs”, the doubt, the pain, the fear, the resentment, the anger etc. it’s all being thrown at my partner. It’s as though I have these feelings (best friends) behind a wall that I never knew existed but always “needed” & never wanted if that makes sense. I’d just like to thank you for all you do.

    Stay Amazing:Britt

    • Hang in there, Britt, and see if you can find a way to express your anger. Underneath your anger is grief, and when you can arrive at and express the grief, you will heal.

    • Newly Married

      Wow BRittani after my mother got sick and died this last march, I been going through a lot of anger and resentment and its like sometimes i cant control it as well, I sometimes dont know what to do, my moms family was horrible when she was sick and i was there to help and then i had to come back home, she died and i been feeling like you and its horrible, my parents were very unhealthy and now its like all those emotions i always held and would never express are coming out like explosions even with my husbands for things he did that honestly are just part of life…. hang in there dear 🙂 if you would like to talk i would be glad to do so..

      Thank you for the comment Sheryl 🙂

      • Brittani

        Hello, Newly Married. Love flowing your way from my heart to yours in regards to your mother’s passing. Sorry, I am replying so late, I wish there was a plugin on the site that enabled notifications when people are communicating. My anger is/was over the top. Tuesday I sat at my computer and cried for hours. As the tears rolled, I allowed myself to write and before I realized, I had a finished poem. After writing the poem, I read it out loud and it’s as though I didn’t have shoulders; no weight. It was amazing! I thought I was a person who kept my anger hidden well, but my partner tells a completely different story. Feelings to me were literally a danger zone. In my mind, I was always (HAPPY) when I discovered my feelings I knew it wasn’t happiness I was experiencing, but a blanket covered with smiley faces. The blanket was a complete joke because it kept me warm, but my heart was still cold. When I lifted the blanket, chills flowed through my body because I’d never experienced something so scary (my heart opening). The moments I feel genuine happiness is with my partner because I am able to be ME with no judgment. As far as someone to talk too, I’d love that. I have no friends. (LOL) That LOL is my way of saying that having no friends bothers me.

        Stay Amazing:Britt

        • Newly Married

          Hi Brittani, Thank you very much for your wishes 🙂
          I understand, at first I wasnt able to cry I just go so angry by the way things happened and now i feel like sometimes i do take it on my husband, or anyone who has done something to me being little or small, I dont like that, It doesnt feel good but for some reason its like I hardened but I think my body is letting go and learning to adjust to feel and anger will come out as a primary feeling and then little by little we will start to soften, at least I hope for so, being angry has been the hardest emotions i have experienced to dissolve, sometimes i feel like all we need is someone to express those things, someone who can hear us, my husband is wonderful to hear me and understand me though.. I dont have friends either LOL so a send you a very friendly hug!!! God Bless 🙂

  • El

    Thank you Sheryl, beautiful and motivating. Your course has made a massive change in my relationship and life. As I’m writing this I’m pregnant and couldn’t be more happy and connected to me and my partner. It’s not all the time but regular enough to kill the anxiety. Total bliss! No better thing than trusting in a relationship – thank you from all my heart! You are doing a beautiful thing for so many out there! I feel like you gave me the tools to save my life and to stop my self destructive pathway of leaving and moving. I wish you well xx

  • maria

    hi sheryl,

    my sadness often feels SO big. breaking the habit of pushing it away, and instead turning towards it, is really difficult. but i guess like anything, it takes practice until a new habit is formed.

    it just shocks me how many times in a day tears want to come. but i’m learning to embrace my sensitivity as a gift instead of seeing it as a burden 🙂

    thank you so much for this article and your amazing work.

    • Even just noticing how many times a day the tears want to come is an act of self-love. And yes, it’s difficult to break habits and create healthy new ones but VERY possible!

  • Gareth

    Greif it’s a journey, a title of a poem I wrote after session 10 (ish) of Greif counselling, I’d love to share this Poem but I’m unsure how to cut & paste whilst in this comments box! I’m writing this in my witching hour, my personal greif right now is that of my body as I’m grieving the function of my Pancreas (newly diagnosed type 1 diabetic). Mindfulness has eluded me since diagnosis (April 14th), until reading ‘greif neutralizes thought’ so simple yet so true. Thank you.

  • Charlotte

    Sheryl,

    Once again, your post has filled me with hope. I am currently experiencing some severe symptoms of PTSD due to an sexual assault I experienced six years ago. I just began therapy (EMDR therapy) a few months ago, and just recently we began working on this particular memory. I can so relate to the crying part you mentioned; it’s not desperation, but clarity. And even if it doesn’t last long, it was there, nonetheless. I love how much you stress the importance of diving into the unknown; for six years I strayed like you mentioned, and now I’ve learned to take the other path, and it’s led me to the hardest, most grueling work of my life, but the most rewarding and comforting, by far. Thank you for your wisdom, as usual. I’d love to hear your thoughts on PTSD in a blog post, if you have any.

    C

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, This blog is such an important blog for me. I have always been scared to grieve, i feel like im at school and im sitting for an exam and I dont know what the results will be, it feels so frightening to look inside of my self well. I feel i wont find it, if i just allow myself to do it. Even just once. x

  • Andrea

    How true that I rely on my brain to keep me safe through rationalizing, intellectualizing, and explaining. I see that I have unconsciously defined safety as “knowing/certainty” which does not exist in the head. I am learning that true safety lies in my heart and soul; where, ironically, knowing and certainty seem to exist naturally and calmly. I have experienced firsthand how painful is the letting go of words and thoughts to expose the emotions underneath. Yet once I allow the emotions their voice, I always feel so much better. I see more truth. I heal another layer of pain. I feel lighter and softer. Thank you for being my consistent reminder to see the brain chatter for what it is.

  • Bra77

    Hey Sheryl lately I’ve been having thoughts about other women besides my girlfriend. It all started this past week as my love and I are about to go long distance and I had my school’s orientation. The schools ratio is 65% women and 35% male and the whole time I was worried I was going to cheat on my loving partner. I’ve always been afraid, but this time it was off the charts. I could barely say hi to someone without thinking I was going to cheat. Since then, I’ve been having thoughts of other women to the point where my partner and I got into a fight and in my head I was thinking “break up with me so I can talk to other girls” and I felt absolutely nothing to those thoughts. Are these intrusive thoughts or is something else going on?

  • worrier96

    This post is perfectly timed today. I’ve having a bit of a bad day few days and I’ve felt a bit stuck in the not anxious, not ruminating but not happy stage.

    Throughout my relationship Anxiety I’ve felt sad about how different i feel now compared to how I felt before the anxiety. I often brushed this off a lot assuming that this wasn’t going to help me to get down about it. But actually, I think brushing it off has made it hard for me to move forward.

    I keep getting to this stage where I don’t feel anxious, I don’t really ruminate, I just don’t feel ‘in love’. This is because I am constantly reminding myself of how much better i felt before the anxiety, which is what is holding me in this sort of limbo state.

    Anyway, tonight I’m finally letting myself feel sad about it. Letting myself grieve. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gone forever, but I think it’s important that I let myself grieve that wonderful time, because it was so wonderful that it is holding me back from moving towards the next stage of healing, and from the next stage of my relationship. When I let myself be sad, I breifly touched down into the loving place that holds love and grattitude, and my thoughts were nothing but gratitude and loving towards my partner. After truley believing my thoughts were real for the past few days, after having a moment to connect to my grief place, I finally pushed past those thoughts and as you say, grief really does neutralize all thoughts.

    Perfect timing, perfect post!

  • Mr_B

    Amazing Sheryl! What I have just read here should be available to all people and children to understand and to practice each day. I have also read similar in the book by E Tolle, the power of Now. Having come to grips with my big feelings by bringing conciousness of my body has done wonders. I still have the odd negative feeling or thought, but can now sink into myself and observe, watch and listen to that egoic process that is ongoing and tend to them through a wiser, more loving adult self. As you also noted love is stronger than fear and true love also has no opposite it is just pure love,
    Great article Sherly thank you and God bless!!
    Mr B

  • J

    Hi Sheryl

    Just wondered: have you worked with couple where both partners get relationship anxiety? My partner and I are both prone to anxiety. We tend to see-saw – one of us will feel more confident in the relationship and the other will have doubts, then it’ll flip back again. What it does I suppose is give each of us the empathy to understand and comfort the other person. Is this a fairly common (ie normal) situation? Thanks

    • Yes this is common when you’re both sensitive/anxious types and it certainly has benefits and challenges. Have you both done the course?

    • J

      I’ve been through the course and have found it, along with the blog posts, fantastic. Obviously it is not a magic wand, but it provides all the information and resources to beat the anxiety, which is amazing, and which is more than I had in any previous relationship or other anxious episode (of which there have been many). My partner’s anxiety is more often of the ‘what if he leaves me?’ variety than vice-versa, but she has read several of the blog posts and is very emotionally intelligent and well-versed in the language of anxiety. She does, from time to time, have doubts of her own (not as severe, crippling or long-lasting as mine), and when she does I am able to comfort and reassure her, thanks to the wisdom I continue to discover on the course and through my own highly skilled therapist. It is a very, very difficult transition in my life. We’re not yet officially engaged – it feels like we need to be and I want to be married, but there is this huge wall of fear at present – but your work has provided immense wisdom and comfort to both of us. Thank you.

  • H

    Hi Sheryl,

    I am hoping you can help me with some advice on grieving?

    My boyfriend has asked for my parents permission to marry me, they said yes. I know he will propose this year. The uncertainty of when this will be is kind of scary but now I know it’s soon I am having lots of things pop up that require me to do A LOT of grieving. I have found grieving has always been the hardest thing for me to do. I need to grieve the fantasty boyfriend/husband/relationship. I need to grieve the single life and all the things that I enjoyed doing when I was single and young. Now I am growing up and really committing myself to this one person it has made me afraid and feeling sad of the old life I will be leaving behind. I find it incredibly hard to just FEEL those feelings because I am scared it will mean I shouldn’t be with my partner. I find it easier to just take loving actions and do gratitude lists over actually dialoging and feeling my pain as it brings up feelings and memories from the past that I don’t want to feel or be reminded of. I wanted that in the past and gone but I tend to push it away and cover it up. Is it OK to continue flooding my relationship with loving actions and gratitude AND not feeling the pain? Or do I just let go and feel everything that needs to be felt. I am truly terrified of feeling this grief and pain in case it means I can’t be with my partner. I have had so many clear moments of knowing this is the right decision and knowing this is the person I will be committing to forever and being okay with this but the other day I saw a guy I have a bit of a crush on, I then realised I needed to grieve. It is either fear or GENUINE that I have to grieve what I cannot have. What is your take on this? I’m sorry this post is so long but I am truly committed and determined to beat this anxiety now and move on with my life with the most wonderful and loving man I have ever met!

  • J

    Love this post, as always. I posted a general question here yesterday but it seems to have disappeared.It was about situations where relationship anxiety oscillates between two partners, occasionally affecting both at the same time. Thanks.

  • katers

    I very much needed this post right now too! Lately, maybe for the past month, I have been feeling sad often and I couldn’t quite describe it because it isn’t depressed feelings or despair. I think it’s grief as you described! Here’s how I think my grief-relief process tends to happen: Some nights I’m so wired with energy I can’t fall asleep until 4am, and usually my restlessness is accompanied with worrying about everything and feeling insecure about so many things. I try to distract myself by surfing the internet and then I read something beautiful or poignant, or that reminds me of a good memories. Then I end up crying and become so tired I pass out. But it feels like the energy is released and my head feels like it’s expanding in a relaxing way. So that’s why I felt it wasn’t necessarily a “bad” sadness, so I feel like grief is a good description. Before I would youtube sad things as a way to force myself to cry, and I thought I was so screwed up for doing that. But now through following your work I see that the need to release is natural, but I should find a better way to do it, perhaps. haha I thought I had pent up energy because I wasn’t exercising enough, but maybe not. My husband and I both have occasional bouts of insomnia and I always suspected they were emotionally driven, but didn’t know where it came from. Both of us are as you describe, sensitive souls that didn’t have parents/family mature enough to deal with our needs as children. So we BOTH need emotional cradling and patience, and once I realized this (actually listening to what he was saying than thinking only about ME and MY feelings) we fight much less often than we used to. Since I’m on summer vacation and don’t have studying or work to distract my brain I wanted to use my free time on looking inward. I didn’t think I was making progress, but maybe these grief-relief actions are signs of *slow* progress, hah! Anyway, thank you Sheryl as always for the beautiful and thought-provoking posts.

  • Northernlass

    Hi Sheryl and everybody! I just had a really great conversation with a very spiritual man I bumped into outside my house, but part of what he said spiked me. He said that it’s better to be alone when you’re old than to be with someone who’s basically your carer, because the in-love feelings aren’t there, and we should only stay with someone to feel in-love so that we learn how beautiful and lovely we are. It all sounds very spiritual, and I do believe love teaches us this, but should we just leave once the in-love-all-the-time feelings go, and you enter into some of the usual disagreements, ugliness and even hurts that are the norm of being in a couple? I like to think I’m highly spiritual too, but I rather believe, like you, that we can learn so much by staying with and committing to the one person. It won’t always be rainbows and butterflies, but we’ll grow in so many ways, and if part of the reason we stay is so we can share the rst of our lives (yes, until we’re old) with someone, is that such a bad thing in the end?

  • Scared woman

    Hi sheryl.

    Do you believe a relationship that has had a red flag (talked to women behind my back, did not physically cheat) can be okay and change? Do you think someone can change when they say they have or is a red flag a death sentence to a relationship??

    Thank you if you reply x

  • Kathy

    Hi Sheryl! I stumbled upon your blog a couple of months ago (admittedly while google-ing) and you have no idea what a difference it has made for me. Like a lot of other people I seen leaving comments I do not come from a super emotive house. Feelings were never really banned but more like tolerated than actually expressed and dealt with. As a child and as an adult I’ve found it extremely difficult to have a good intimate relationship, be it family, friends or SO’s. I just don’t open up or trust easily, never have. Consequently I find myself habitually unable to handle intense feelings, good or bad. After my last break-up I felt broken. It was a very gradual break but that sadness and grief pretty much defined the whole of 2015 for me. I started dating my current boyfriend a few months ago, almost immediately I noticed this nagging sense of doubt that something was off between us and it that wasn’t going to work out. Quick on the heels of that doubt was my mind finding confirmation of my fears, and I am pretty good at finding the negative in everything. If I make a reference to a TV show or joke that he doesn’t understand my mind immediately jumps to “We have nothing in common”, if he says something sweet to me “He’s just buttering you up, he doesn’t mean it”, and, oh man, if we get silent while we’re together all kinds of alarms go off. What’s funny is it started as the smallest of thoughts and in seven months it has grown into this massive shadow that just looms over me whenever I so much as think about him. This has led me to my latest preoccupation, do I go or do I stay? I should mention that this person that I am talking about definitely has his flaws, he can be selfish, condescending and even a little aloof at times. But he also has listened time and time again when I bring up my insecurities, steadfastly ensuring me that he loves and appreciates me. Not only does he say it, he shows it. I even told him I was seeking counseling for my anxiety and depression and I don’t think he could have been more supportive. I’m starting to believe him, I’ve been waiting all of this time for the other shoe to drop but I’m not sure that it will. Sometimes he’s so wonderful that it actually annoys me because that one thought that probably passes through everyone’s minds when in a committed relationship “Should I stay or go?” absolutely will not go away, no matter what. How unfair. Do I even love him? Will I ever love him? Can I love him at all after all of this? It is truly overwhelming and it’s been really hard.

    I will get to the point, I’ve never truly grieved anything in my life, I’ve had the sadness and maybe cried but as far as really taking in that grief and feeling it, no. I’m learning that to truly feel love you have to embrace grief. More than that you have to embrace the grief and know that it can still be okay. It’s very delicate work for me because at some point I’m going to have to come to grips with the fact that even though I’m putting all of this work in we still might not work out. Lately the word “choice” has popped up in my head a lot. I think that I’ve been feeling like these feelings of doubt, anxiety, depression are going to somehow force me to end this relationship, or force him to end it with me. Or if I were to simply not feel them then the relationship will just blossom on it’s own and magically sustain itself. I’m only now realizing that I can choose. I can choose to indulge these negative thoughts, I can choose to ignore or sublimate the negative thoughts, or I can choose to simply acknowledge the negative thoughts for what they are (usually assumptions based on insecurities and misinformation) and move forward anyway. I can choose to leave and learn nothing or stay and possibly learn more about myself than ever. I’ve made a promise to myself that even if this relationship ends, it will not be because I did not put in the work or because I was too afraid to let myself open up (something that I have NO IDEA how to do, by the way). So keep up the good work, you’re making a difference in so many lives. I really do hope that I am able to move past my own issues not just for the sake of my relationship with my boyfriend but for the sake of my relationship with myself. Any words of encouragement are helpful here, I’m definitely paving my own way right now.

    Sorry if this was rambling, this post was much longer than I intended it to be.

  • klewis23

    This post is amazing and really spot on to the lessons that are revealing themselves to me. My boyfriend has mentioned multiple times recently that he plans to propose in the next few months and is currently ring shopping. The moment that I have been anticipating for two years and my fear came barreling back. And what I realized is that I am obsessed / addicted to drama. The drama of my mind. My last serious relationship was filled with drama because our personalities and desires clashed so obviously, so there was no need to create drama in my mind. But this relationship is calming. Sometimes I think it is so calm and easy that I long for the drama that keeps me on the edge of my seat. But the choice is obviously there. It is funny now that before I start down the path of blurting out my anxious thoughts to him, I can see the higher road. Sometimes I choose to take it which feels uncomfortable but then so rewarding. Other times, I definitely choose the road of anxiety which feels so comfortable because it creates space between he and I. But during a moonlight yoga class for the Summer Solstice, the word TRUST kept coming to my mind. This is what I need to combat the drama. Trust. In myself, in my partner, and in life / God that I will be cared for through this next transition.

  • hayley

    What could it mean if I’m not getting along with my partner recently :/ he’s really upsetting and annoying me lately