How to handle grief: why we need to be allowed to cry
author By Emilie Leeks,


Working to remove the stigma of grief about miscarriage is a cause close to our hearts right now. But society’s issues with accepting emotional expression (our own, or other people's) go much much deeper than this one particular situation. We just don't tolerate grief, or other big emotions - at least not after an initial, culturally acceptable, not-too-over-the-top outpouring.

"Don't cry."

"It could be worse."

"Everything happens for a reason."

LP head in hands 3 (2)

As a society, we are very much schooled in the 'stiff upper lip' mentality - we don't understand the uncomfortable emotions, such as sadness, fear, or our frequent overlay of anger. The prevailing thinking is: if we can get someone (ourselves included) to stop crying, the 'bad' feelings will have gone away. Because when the tears stop, the feeling stops, right??

Because we are so uncomfortable with feeling emotions ourselves, we extrapolate that others are uncomfortable with their big feelings too. And because we've been told throughout our life that we should stop crying, we believe that crying in itself is bad - why would people be so keen to stop us from doing it otherwise? And we are overall a good, kind, compassionate species, so we want to make people feel better in whatever way we can - we don't want to see them in pain. So our motives for attempting to move people away from their emotions are generally good.

What we completely miss, in our valiant attempts to distract, reason with, or otherwise move someone on from an emotion like grief, is that we each have a wonderfully efficient way of working through emotions. But that we do need to work through them, in order to come out the other side. We can push them down for a while, but ultimately they are still there, stuck inside our limbic (emotional) brain. And those stuck emotions will affect our behaviour if we don't release them in some way - shouting, shutting down, throwing ourselves into 'busy work', overeating, retreating into Facebook land… It all works to get us through for a time, but for the most part, we don't want to be stuck in those behaviours for longer than necessary.

But if we can't get through it by stuffing it down, we generally just don't know how to do an emotion like grief. We don't know it for ourselves, and we don't know how to support others. It's incredibly hard for us to grasp the healing powers of tears - that not only is being sad and crying (or whatever we feel like doing) okay, it is also healthy, and necessary for our bodies to release the burden of the emotion we are carrying. We don't understand the value of moving our bodies or of wailing in a primal way for what we have lost, as other cultures do to release the trauma. And, perhaps a little later in the process, even laughter, which feels so inappropriate at these times, is healing and healthful - as long as the person in the centre of the situation is the one to instigate it.

LP laughing (copy 2)

And we also don't understand how powerful it is just to listen to someone else's feelings. So this is my invitation to you: next time someone honours you by bringing you their grief, or fear, or anger, see if you can just listen to them. Don't try to fix, distract, or even share your story. Listen to theirs with your full attention and open heart, hear what they say, tell them you see how hard it is; that you're sorry. But otherwise just listen - this is how they will work through and be able to let go of some of what they are feeling. But we have to feel it first, before we can move through it. A supportive, non-judgemental listener is our anchor in the stormy seas of grief. We just want to be heard.

Just listen JiP meme

Useful links:
What is a Listening Partnership and why do I need one? - using Listening Partnerships (an equal exchange of time between two adults, where each takes a turn to talk and to listen) is a very effective way to find the safety to work through grief, or other big emotions

Life is easier when you listen - more on listening and being listened to with other adults, and on listening to our children

An early miscarriage - our experience of miscarriage

A word or two about Journeys in Parenting; a responsive parenting community

Emilie is a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor, and was a paediatric speech and language therapist in her former life. She provides support and coaching for parents via the Journeys in Parenting community. Emilie lives in Berkshire in the UK with her husband and 3 children.

Journeys in Parenting is a community group for parents, carers and parents-to-be, who want to find out more about parenting in a responsive and peaceful way. The community offers information, advice and emotional support for this hard work we do as parents. The vision of the group is to be a safe space, where parents are supported in guiding their families in ways which: are respectful to children; meet the parents' needs; and lead to a more peaceful planet for all.

To work one-to-one with Emilie , request a free 15-minute trial call here or visit the website for more details

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