Stepping into our grief and engaging our pain1 is very challenging (though incredibly rewarding) work. Given how scary this work can be (especially if we don’t have people in our life walking with us through it) it should come as no surprise that we are prone to developing all sorts of unhealthy coping strategies in an effort to survive without having to do the actual work of facing our pain.
When we don’t yet have the emotional muscles to grieve well (and thus to work through forgiveness), and we don’t have resource people in our life who can help us build those muscles2 we automatically revert to whatever ways of coping we’ve been using previously in our life. While on the one hand this is helpful in that it helps us survive, on the other hand it is unhelpful because of how we can become further stuck in patterns that are incapable of helping us to actually heal. One way of starting to wonder if you might be stuck in these kinds of ways is to take note of instances where you experience some intense emotions (e.g., anger, fear, sadness, shame, depression) which you’re having difficulty making sense of (i.e., understanding what they’re connected to, etc.). That sort of experience (of emotions that seem like they’re not really connected to anything) usually indicates that we have some unprocessed pain, grief, etc. to work through.3
When we’re stuck in this kind of way, it is essential that we have someone in our life (or find someone) who is able to walk with us (and ideally guide us) through the necessary emotional muscle building that we need to do. And in order for them to help us this person must have already been engaging in this kind of work in their own life. In other words, a helper must know first-hand what it feels like to face their own pain in order to be able to help another person learn to face theirs. This is a requirement because of how our brains work–we can only learn how to build emotional muscles from those who have already built those muscles.4
Additionally, we can sense subconsciously whether a helper is truly able to walk with us into our pain or not, and if not, our insides won’t let us go there. But when we are with someone safe and experienced at this kind of growth we can “borrow their strength” in order to find the courage to step into our pain, letting those hurting parts of us matter in ways we’ve never been able to before. And as we courageously venture further in, with our helper alongside us, we help those wounded places inside us to experience connection instead of aloneness, and peace instead of pain, as can only come through healthy grief and forgiveness.
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- i.e., letting our pain matter ↩
- e.g., family, friends, mentors, pastors, a counselor, etc. ↩
- Note: I say “seem like” because I believe we can almost always eventually make sense of our emotions and come to understand what they’re connected to, what is driving them, etc. But initially it can feel like our emotions don’t make any sense at all sometimes. ↩
- This is one of the reasons why I am a firm believer in counselors having their own counselor (or someone similar who helps them grow), because you can’t help someone grow if you are not doing the hard work of growing too. ↩
Safe Relationships Help Us Learn to Grieve Well (video)Audience: General
Forgiveness Is the Foundation for Reconciliation (video)Audience: Christians, General