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Grief Counseling

Grief Counseling and Teletherapy in Honolulu, HI

As humans, need to live within a context, a familiar, recognizable, valued and known set of circumstances where we feel comfortable, safe, hopeful, stimulated, excited, loved, and happy. This set of circumstances includes the people around us including family, friends, and colleagues/work associates, our living situation our job/workplace, neighborhood, city/town, state, country, and human kind. We also carry an inner set of circumstances which may include our self-knowledge, self-esteem, our talents, strengths, pet peeves, aspirations, dreams/hopes for the future, religious/spiritual beliefs, ethnic/cultural values, and general self/world view.

From birth on, we become strongly attached to most of these elements which make up our lives. Certainly,  we develop some of our strongest lifelong attachments to family members starting with mother, father, and siblings. We also become attached to our home, friends, peer group, teachers, and perhaps even to public figures who we do not know personally but develop emotional bonds of admiration and even affection, such as religious/spiritual teachers, entertainment figures and political leaders.

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Grief Counseling We also get attached to material things such as cars, clothes, family heirlooms, and ideas such as “the American way”, freedom, and non-violence. We also become attached to deeply-seated negative beliefs such as, “I’m not really deserving of love” and more positive and even naive attitudes such as “the world is a consistently safe and loving place.” Of course, probably the most basic attachment is to our own life.

When we lose objects of our attachments, we have actually lost part of ourselves. This kind of loss is the cause of much human suffering and, as a natural part of life and the human condition, can’t really be avoided or side-stepped. Studies have even demonstrated the grief and mourning many animal species display upon the loss of offspring and other family members.  The natural course of events says that we must be able to grieve these losses in order to heal and return to wholeness.

Grief is the process we go through wherein we are eventually able to arrive at some acceptance of our loss. Losses come in many forms and sizes from the loss of a valued object, to losing a limb, a parent or child, a deeply-held vision or belief, a life plan or dream, or even the belief in the viability and meaning of one’s very life.  Moving through the process of grief, depending on the nature and meaning of the loss may take from several days, after the loss of a material object, for example,  to months or years in the face of the loss of a loved one or a dream.

The grief process may involve many feelings including: sadness, anxiety, depression, shame, hopelessness, despair, fear, relief, regret, guilt, abandonment, and many others. Some of the thoughts which may occur during the bereavement period might include, “I should have done more to help”, “I never told him/her how much he/she meant to me”, “I can’t live without him/her/it”, I’m a terrible person”, etc. Grief counseling aims to provide a safe, listening, and respectful space where the grieving individual can slow down the often-overwhelming emotional and verbal flood of material enough to examine them one-by-one within the context of the present and then chart a way forward as new realizations and attitudes are integrated into the new vision of oneself and one’s life.

It is helpful to think of the grief process as moving forward in stages. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described five basic stages of the Loss and Grief process. She noted that we spend different lengths of time going through each stage and experience each with varying intensities. Also, the five stages don’t necessarily occur in the order that Dr. Kubler-Ross provided and not everyone goes through all of them. They are:

  • 1.) Denial and Isolation. Depending on the impact of a loss, the ego may utilize this defense to buffer the initial shock. In the case of early severe trauma and/or deprivation, the individual may, in the absence of available support or intra-psychic resources, simply shut down the entire emotional system in order to survive biologically.
  • 2.) Anger. The insult to our vulnerable center may be redirected first as anger which may be expressed at objects, strangers, friends, or family. We may even feel anger at our dying or deceased loved one for leaving us and then feel guilt for having these feelings. Sometimes the medical establishment is the target of our anger for their perceived part in the death.
  • 3.) Bargaining. As humans living in a vast and often unpredictable universe, we need some sense of control in order to function on a day-to-day basis. A loss may be experienced as an assault on our sense of predictability. We may go over what we “could” have done to have averted the loss and even try to make a deal with God or a comparable higher power in hopes of postponing the inevitable, in the case of a dying individual. Or we may transfer the undifferentiated feelings of fear, anger, etc. and/or blame onto ourselves and enter a lifetime of self-punishment and/or self-deprivation.
  • 4.) Depression. At this stage, we have moved into truly allowing ourselves to fully experience the feelings of sadness and loss. When a person enters this stage, he or she is really consciously entering the real work of the grief process which many would rather avoid and bypass. Our culture provides many examples of how to remain in denial of deep psychic pain along with accompanying distractions in an attempt to delay or even completely avoid it. For example, going to a kennel to get a new pet to quickly replace the one just euthanized today or doing a quick marriage “rebound” soon after a divorce or death of a spouse. Other emotional “medicators” include psychotropic medications, alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, overeating, compulsive spending/shopping, sexual and other compulsive addictions.


Grief Counseling in Honolulu

In fact, most individuals who come to grief counseling or therapy for almost any reason will go through some grief/mourning work as they process the feelings around events from their lives which may have included painful experiences of both what happened to them and things they had hoped for and needed but never received. 

  • 5.) Acceptance. Reaching this stage of grief may or not be experienced by everyone, particularly an individual who is, her or himself dying. But, in the broader perspective of what it means to move through the grief which accompanies most types of losses in life, it has been my experience, as a clinician, that people who did allow themselves to feel the painful feelings which had been waiting for them—in many cases—for years, did develop a broader and deeper capacity to own and accept their experience and, as a result, themselves.

The great Swiss psychiatrist, analyst, and pioneer of modern psychotherapy, C. G. Jung (1875-1961)  wrote that: “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” Attempting to deny and delay grieving our losses may, on the surface, provide a hope of avoiding pain but until that pain is felt and moved through, we remain stuck in that very place where we shut down our feelings. That sometimes arduous and always soulful journey is what we call “Grief Work.”

East West Therapy Hawaii is here to help you through your process of grief. To find out more about the services we offer, please contact us today for more information.