Is Personal Growth Following Grief Possible?
Grief changes people. Experiencing the loss of a close loved one can leave a person feeling angry, depressed, even bitter. Negative connotations associated with death are common. In fact, as grief counsellor Paul Parkin of CounsellorsOnline explains that the natural reaction to death can have a negative effect on the individual and they must allow themself not to be sad:
“One thing that is really powerful in a lot of the clients I work with and actually my own experience of loss too, is giving ourselves permission to celebrate the life of the person we have lost, giving ourselves permission to not be sad.” “It’s sometimes very difficult especially as we all have a different outlook on loss and bereavement, for example, some family members may be distraught, stuck and drowning in grief, and we can feel guilty about actually getting on with our lives and not being too sad.”
While negative emotions are ever-present, especially in the acute phase of grief, the process of working through grief can result in positive outcomes for the bereaved within a longer time frame.
Can a person achieve personal growth and development from the grief experience?
Absolutely. I was 19 years old when I lost my mother unexpectedly. While the event forever shaped who I would be as an adult — it wasn’t until about a year after she died that I noticed the positive impact.
What exactly did I notice?
How grief had transformed me into a new person.
A person who was more — patient. Kind. Loving. Accepting. Forgiving. Understanding. Aware. Present. Passionate. Insightful. Motivated. Goal-oriented. Compassionate. Generous. Respectful. Grateful.
5 Ways the Death of My Mother Changed Me
My experience is not an isolated example, rather many people that have gone through the grieving process share similar stories about how losing a loved one changed them for the rest of their lives. Here are five examples of ways that I changed after losing a close loved one:
1. No longer do I take the little things in life for granted. Because I know that any interaction with a loved one could be the last — I strive to savour every moment I share with mine. I consciously make the most of all encounters with loved ones in many ways, including:
a. Kissing my husband goodbye and telling him I love him each time he leaves the house
b. Engaging and playing with my children in a meaningful way
c. Reaching out and offering support to friends in need
2. My respect for parents grew. After the death of my mother, I realized all of the things she did in life that I took for granted. After her death, spending quality time with my surviving parent, my father, became very important. When friends would speak poorly of their own parents, I reminded them how fortunate they are to have them in their life.
3. I have more love and passion for life and adventures. My awareness that our time here on earth is limited has been heightened. I have found that satisfying that thirst for the next adventure has become a priority in my life. As London-based therapist, Lulu Sinclair says:
“A grieving person needs time, compassion and understanding. If they experience that, personal growth in the form of hobbies, love, adventure, change etc. may occur.”
4. The level of empathy and understanding I have towards others has grown exponentially. I’m more capable of understanding and embracing the differences in the people around me. Trivial disputes or disagreements no longer upset me, I do not hold a grudge, and I’m quick to forgive.
5. My perspective on life and what happens to us after death has shaped my character. I now more carefully consider the consequences of my actions and what happens after death. This perspective has dramatically influenced how I treat others in regard to my generosity and compassion.
Grief is an Individualized Experience
London-based therapist explains that before the growth period can take place, the individual must work through the raw emotions that accompany grief. Lulu Sinclair explains:
“The grieving process is usually so raw and painful that it is something to be concentrated on in its entirety before any developmental journey can occur. “Each grieving process is different and totally personal. A good counsellor would not say you ‘have’ to do anything but would take what the client brings with them and concentrate on that. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.”
Experienced hypnotherapist Liz Kotarska weighed in on her personal and professional experience about grief and how each person will have their own unique journey:
“There seems to be a common belief about grief going through stages. This may be largely true but I believe grief is a very personal experience and will differ from person to person and differ according to the loss involved. It is often a very different thing to lose someone at a young age as opposed to an elderly person who has lived a long and full life. “Someone bereaved needs to go with the flow and accept that they are going to have a wide variety of feelings over a long period of time. I had a bereaved friend who was told by another supposedly well-meaning friend that she hadn’t ‘grieved properly’. Well who was she to judge? The remark was extremely painful for my friend.”
Liz’s service, Life Changes Hypnotherapy, offers clients the opportunity to face their fears, resolve issues, relax, build confidence, and much more. Often times, people seek out help from a hypnotherapist such as Liz when they are experiencing complicated grief, or grief that stays in the acute stages several months post-death of a loved one. The Colchester-based hypnotherapist continues, “Also I don’t think people necessarily ‘get over’ a loss but over time come to assimilate it. We don’t forget our loved ones but do become accustomed to life without them.”
How the Relationship Influences the Intensity of Grief
Duration and intensity of grief are influenced heavily by the relationship the bereaved held with the deceased. According to Liz Kotarska:
“The feeling of loss is a measure of the bond between you. We know this to be true in the animal kingdom too. It is the bond that has the biological function — child raising — strong peer group, or whatever. The initial pain of loss is a consequence of the depth and complexity of that relationship. “As with any change, not just bereavement, but loss of job, or divorce, there is a period of feeling lost or cut loose in some way and I do believe that is a time when doors can open or new directions be taken. The void stimulates a need to fill it. I think this is probably relevant for the time beyond the initial grief and shock.”