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Working through grief and loss

Relationships are an integral part of human existence. Whether a relationship involves a friend or family member, people around us make an impact on our lives in some way or another. Nobody who is reading this lives in a social vacuum.

When we lose someone who we had a relationship with, whether through a falling out or death, how is it that we experience their loss?

The process begins when the loved one is an active presence in one's life. Neurotransmitters including norepinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine, and phenylethylamine (PEA) are released in the brain in amounts that result in what we sometimes describe as feeling love. When the person is no longer actively present or dies, these neurotransmitters are not released. The consequence is a biological response that is very similar to the experience of withdrawal from methamphetamine. Simply put, you can get addicted to the “high” that feelings of love produce.

What does this tell us? The withdrawal that many people experience as a consequence of loss takes the form of grief and mourning. It is perfectly normal to experience grief when we lose someone close to us, and there is no one correct way to grieve.

Individuals who are mourning a sudden loss may experience symptoms such as lack of energy, sadness, sleep disturbance, annoyance with others, and decreased ability to perform daily tasks. A rare few who are mourning an expected loss may experience feelings of relief, or even nothing at all. Others may experience complicated grief in the form of a delayed or distorted grief reaction, both of which may need some assistance in working through.

The grieving process is best facilitated when one's thoughts and feelings about the loss are shared with another person. Interpersonal psychotherapy provides a stepwise method for working through one's grief process. Try working through these steps:

1. Exploring Your Relationship with the Loved One. Sometimes starting from basic memories helps begin the process of mourning. Try asking these questions to get started:

What was (the person who died) like to you? What did you do together? How did they die? How did you learn about the death? How do you feel about all this?

2. Describe the Relationship. We can sometimes become fixated on the death of the loved one and lose sight of the relationship we once had with that person. Strong feelings such as anger and hostility toward the loved one may develop through one's grieving process and are completely normal. Try answering questions such as:

How was your life with (the person who died)? How has it changed since they died? Every relationship has its ups and downs – that's normal. What were yours?

3. Reflect on Memories. Part of the grieving process is reflecting on how to understand memories about the person who has died. Try working through these questions:

What were the things you liked about (the person who died)? What were those you didn't like?

4. Begin to Move Forward. Try asking these questions to help refocus on becoming involved with others again.

What is your life like now? How have you tried to make up for the loss? Who are your friends? What activities might be enjoyable?

If you feel that you have nobody in your life to talk with about your loss who may understand what you are experiencing, most therapists can help move you through your grief process. It is absolutely normal to feel emotional, upset, or confused when you share your thoughts about your loss with someone else. Do not worry – you will feel better again.

Stephen Brewer, M.A. is a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) in Mira Mesa and is supervised by Angela Spenser, PhD (PSY15450). He runs a LGBT and Kink friendly practice, specializing in addictions, trauma, HIV/AIDS, and men’s issues. He can be reached at (619) 377 – 3120 or you can visit his website at http://www.therapybrew.com