Grief and Tears of Growth
You might feel serene about your decision to leave your relationship.
You might feel relieved.
You might feel optimistic about the future.
Hopefully you can feel all of these things. But even if you do, you will have to undergo a certain amount of grieving, not for the walking-on-eggshells part of your relationship, but for the love that existed before and during it. And that‘s not all you have to grieve.
Our brains tend to run all our losses of love and attachment together, in a process called state-dependent recall.
What you learn in a strong emotional state is prone to automatic recall when you again feel those emotions. In other words, leaving your relationship will sooner or later invoke at least unconscious recall of every time you felt rejected by a loved one, as well as the sadness you felt when a loved one moved away or died.
If these losses were unresolved in your heart, the welling grief will need to be expressed.
Otherwise it will come out as prolonged resentment and may contract into a dull depression.
To paraphrase the German poet, Goethe, it is not the tears we cry that hurt us, but the ones we struggle not to cry, for they drip within our sad and weary hearts.
Crying may be the strongest act of self-healing and self-nurturing.
Tears of grief nourish the seeds of growth. The direct opposite of self-pity, healthy crying is the natural method of self-renewal. (Have you noticed that children always feel better after they cry?) Some psychologists, noting that tears are almost entirely salt, believe that crying expels excess salt produced by the body in times of stress. Thus crying functions as a natural stabilizer in periods of stress.
But how you cry is crucial. Therapeutic crying should happen when you‘re alone and don’t have to worry about how you look with your nose running or your eyes bleary or your lips swollen.
- Choose a time when you’ll be uninterrupted.
- Do not attempt to hold back the tears or hold in what the natural grieving process tries to expel.
- Acknowledge the hurt that causes the tears; cry fully, broadly, and deeply.
The act of weeping can cleanse and heal. By allowing yourself such deep expression of sadness, you put value on your emotions. Crying without inhibition (in private) confirms the importance of your emotions.
Invent Medicinal Rituals of Grief
A ritual of grief brings accumulated losses into the open, to be grieved and thereby stripped of their destructive power. (This, no doubt, is why virtually every formal grief ritual found in every culture in the world has an element of celebration.) The following is an example of a personal healing ritual. It should be adapted to suit your personal tastes and be performed as often as necessary.
- Take a hot bath and towel yourself dry as if in a kind of ceremony.
- Dress in freshly laundered clothes, as if they were vestments.
- Dim the lights.
- Play sad music especially meaningful to you.
Try to think slowly and deliberately of all the hurt you’ve experienced, every sad movie you’ve seen, every bruised shin, every loss that has sliced into your heart. As you think of these painful incidents, envision chips of corrosive, rust-like pain loosened from the walls of your heart and washed out by the cleansing flow of tears.
As the pain washes out of your body, as you are freed of the dead weight of leaden shame, feel yourself growing.
Don’t struggle to hold in the tears, for that is a message given to children, when their hurt is too much for adults to tolerate. Instead, encourage the tears, coax the sobs, always with the image of healing and washing away the core hurts, always with the image of physical, emotional, and spiritual growth.
Once you have completed the grieving and healing process, you are free to attain the ultimate peace. You will find a good place for your former partner in your heart, based not on your walking-on-eggshells experience, behavior, but on the love and positive experiences you once shared.
This article is an excerpt from Dr. Steven Stosny’s book: Love Without Hurt and has been published with the permission of the author.
About the author
Steven Stosny, PhD, is the founder of CompassionPower. A renowned author and media consultant on relationships, anger, and abuse, Dr. Stosny grew up in a violent home. He learned the healing power of compassion from his abused mother.
Dr. Stosny has appeared on many TV and radio shows, including several guest appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He has been the subject of interviews in national newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, Esquire, O Magazine, U.S. News & World Report. A consultant in family violence for the Prince George’s County Circuit and District courts, as well as for several mental health and driving safety agencies in Maryland and Virginia, he has served as an expert witness in criminal and civil trials. He has treated more than 6,000 clients with various forms of anger, abuse, and violence.
To know more about Dr. Stosny, visit his website www.compassionpower.com.