Monday, August 3, 2015

The Loneliness of Grief


           Along with the fear and paralysis associated with grief comes a desperate sense of loneliness. Being alone in the world even while standing in the midst of a crowd. We often feel as though no one else, ever, has suffered like we’re suffering; no one else can possibly understand our pain. Worse yet, no one cares. Or no one seems to care in quite the way we think they should or need them to care.

            Before we look at ways to “deal” with loneliness, let’s look at a list covering how grief-induced loneliness can make you feel.

Your grief and loneliness can:

~ Feel like physical pain.
~ Make you physically sick.
~ Make you despair of life and ever feeling good again, as though you will probably live     
   the rest of your life in emotional agony.
~ Make you feel more dependent on others for emotional or physical survival.
~ Make you feel, through the loss of your independence, undignified.
~ Make you feel despondent, hopeless and depressed.
~ Cause you to blame others for your grief.
~ Make you feel guilty, as though you could—and should—have done something to
   change the situation’s outcome.
~ Make you feel numb emotionally, unresponsive to the world and others.
~ Make you feel rejected.
~ Make you feel inadequate.
~ Make you feel that in order to not get hurt again, you need to avoid life.
~ Cause you to withdraw even more, which worsens your loneliness.

            Loneliness can be complex, and a very difficult thing from which to recover. The good news is that you can win the battle over loneliness. You may overcome it on the first go ‘round and never suffer from it again. Or loneliness may strike several times over your lifetime. If you have the tools to fight it, you can successfully combat it each time it strikes. Over the next couple of months, we’ll explore steps we can take to win that battle.
            Today, I just want to make a brief comment about how differently men and women handle loneliness.
            One thing I have noticed is just how differently men and women handle grief and loneliness. While women are more likely to self-reflect, join grief groups, seek the support of friends, or retreat into solitude, men are more likely to delve back into work or hard physical activity and cover over or camouflage the emotional pain by becoming workaholics. Working distracts them and keeps their minds from focusing on the heartache, which they often ignore.
            Because grieving men are less likely to express their pain, and are more likely to just outright deny it, (I knew a guy whose mantra was always: “Just get over it!”), they are also more likely to neglect to see or appreciate the loneliness a woman is experiencing and make her loneliness worse by dismissing it outright or not being attentive to it. They often expect women to handle it the same way they handle it, in a stoic manner, which is defined as “the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.”
            But is that the best, or healthiest way to confront loneliness? If we were all living in a vacuum, by ourselves and without affect on anyone around us, then it might not be a problem. On one hand, a true stoic’s way of dealing with death may help them to recover more quickly because it confronts the reality (and expectation) better than what happens to those of us who avoid thinking about it and hope that not thinking about it will result in it never happening to us.
            And to be fair to men, they often don’t know what to do, so they end up doing nothing. Unfortunately, that often leads the woman to believe that the man just doesn’t care. And when a man doesn’t handle the grief like she does, the woman is more likely to think he doesn’t care, or worse yet, isn’t grieving or suffering loneliness at all!
            The bottom line, though, is that men and women are different. Our brains are different. We handle life and stressors differently. And we need to appreciate those differences and allow for them. In the process, we help each other heal, and also heal together. And that’s true not only from men to women, but also from man to man or woman to woman.
            During this series, you’ll discover familiar symptoms of loneliness, and others you might not be familiar with. You might read the posts to help you recognize grief and loneliness symptoms in friends and family members and learn practical ways to help others recover from or combat loneliness. You might be reading the posts to gather tools to help you to conquer loneliness.
            Next week we’ll look at the distinct difference of acute loneliness due to grief and learn some practical ways to get through those first stages. Then we’ll look at proactive ways to get ourselves up and out of the loneliness mire, to start living life again, to enjoy all of its fullness and freedom.
            It’s practical help for any season of life.
            I’m looking forward to having you join in the discussion, to share your struggles or offer advice and hope to those who want to enjoy the recovery you now celebrate!

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



photo credit: <a href="">grieving woman</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>