Monday, June 3, 2013

Unhealthy Grief

Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days.
And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave to my son for mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.
Genesis 37:34-35

Stephanie* lost her child in delivery and went through all the typical stages of grief but one: acceptance. When she entered the depression stage, she received lots of attention from her husband, family members and friends, attention she’d never really enjoyed previously, and she enjoyed it. Without realizing it, she began to rely on them for everything: constant emotional support, housekeeping, delivering meals, caring for her other children. She couldn’t move past her anger either, and her friends began to resent her demands and self-pitying attitude. A year later, Stephanie is stuck in a “poor me” pothole and can’t—or won't—move forward.
Or what about Alicia* who actually likes the attention she receives from her mourning and won’t talk to her husband about trying to have any more children? She can't bring her grieving to an end and really say goodbye to her son she lost during a premature delivery.

While grieving is personal, and some people need to grieve for longer periods than others —depending upon their personality or the type of loss—grief can become unhealthy. Let’s look at some of the problems that might arise during grieving and problems that can arrest someone’s healthy healing process.

Bondage in Mourning. One mistaken belief people often have is “that the intensity and length of the grief are directly related to the love one had for the person.” Do not infer that if a person moves on quickly in her life—before a certain, indeterminate length of time has passed—she didn’t really love the baby (or person) she lost. Sometimes a person hesitates to move on because she feels the judgment of others. Guilt and fear keep her stuck in her grieving.

This is unhealthy grief and actually denies the healing power of God. While you should never force a person to move forward in her grief, neither should you hold them back in the process. Your actions and words say a lot: they can give the grieving person permission to move on, with the blessing of your support; or your words or actions can cause them to falter and become unsure of themselves in the process. 

The Ways to Recognition. Unfortunately, some grieving parents begin to enjoy the attention they receive and become attached to that attention. They end up coveting and craving it, holding on to their grief to feel significant. It may be the most attention they’ve ever received from anyone, and they’re reluctant to let it go, fearing they’ll just
return to the small, insignificant person they perceived themselves to be prior to their loss. “Giving up the grief means giving up the attention.”

This prolonged grief causes a person to remain mired in the past—reliving all of the events, the feelings, the pain—and consciously or unconsciously, enjoying center stage attention. “She remains a victim of her trauma.” Her continual pain becomes a circular self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Poor-Me Rut. In some ways this resembles “The Ways to Recognition,” but in this stage, the grieving person becomes so entrenched in her grief—what she sees as the positive results of it—that she begins to “revel” in her role as an inflicted person and uses her pain to manipulate others.

In short, she begins to see herself as a victim and expects others to do the same, dropping everything to come to her rescue, help her in every area of her life, and sustain her. This really is self-pity, which is a sin. Self-pity is a sin because it ignores and denies God’s ability to heal and make whole. The poor-me sufferer indulges in his self-pity and amplifies his suffering because he receives secondary benefits. In some ways he becomes addicted to his self-indulgence. One sign that the person has sunk into this mode is the response you receive from them when you make suggestions: they become angry and lash out at you. As sorry as you might feel for them, you need to stop enabling them. Stop coming to their rescue, always helping or taking care of things they refuse to manage themselves. You may have to make yourself unavailable. This may cause hurt and anger, or even disrupt friendships, but the person must move forward in their life and become independent.

A Spirit of Grief. “Most of us are very vulnerable spiritually during a time of grief and change. Satan may attack us; and if we aren’t aware of his strategies, we won’t know why we feel oppressed.”

This can be a very frightening time. For those of you who dismiss Satan as a real force, or deny his power and influence over persons and this present age, you need to consider it anew and read what the Bible has to say on this matter, not others opinions about it. Do not base your beliefs on the opinion of others; do your own research. (I so often hear people make bold statements about how irrelevant the Bible is for us today, or how it contradicts itself. Yet when I ask these people to point out to me in Scripture where the contradictions are, or the parts they “don’t like,” I get blank stares. That’s because they’re parroting what they’ve heard others say instead of taking personal responsibility of digging deeply into Scripture and reading it themselves, praying about it, honestly asking God to reveal Himself and His truth to them. Most of the time they haven’t bothered to pick up the book and read it.)

Jesus talked about hell and the power of Satan during his earthly ministry. If he believes it then we act arrogantly or ignorantly in dismissing his existence as well as the terrifying, negative consequences his control can have over us. Satan is the master deceiver, and, as Jesus said in John 10:10, Satan's goal is to lie, kill, steal, and destroy. I can tell you from personal experience that he is “alive and well,” still seeking to destroy people. (More on that and those horrifying, true experiences in later blog installments.)  

Simply put this stage is where our weakness in our grief leaves us open to spiritual attack, and our adversary gets a negative foothold in our life to keep us from receiving God’s healing power. We may feel so overwhelmed in our grief that we find it impossible to move forward. We may become frightened and think and do things atypical or unnatural of us. We often feel utterly hopeless and helpless and unusually, abnormally fatigued.

At this stage a tremendous amount of prayer is needed for the grieving parent. Ask if you can pray with them; receive counsel from someone who is familiar in dealing with spiritual warfare. Continual prayer that the person will be protected from attack is necessary. And it’s not a bad idea to start praying that way at the beginning of the grieving process.  

At this point, I’d like to add that it is also critical that the grieving person eat well by consuming healthful foods. Poor food choices can affect brain function, adding to depression and suicidal thoughts. Eat well, exercise and get the right amount of sleep.
(Because of the importance of this topic, I will cover nutrition and mental health in more detail in a future blog.)


NEXT WEEK: Grieving For Your Baby: Additional Considerations

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!



* fictional character

Reference: The Counsel of a Friend: 12 Ways to Put Your Caring Heart Into Action by Lynda D. Elliott, 1993.