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Good Grief - What Lies Beneath!

I sit here today and record my reflections off the back of another powerful and profound Intro to Family Constellations workshop that I facilitated on Sunday in my home town of Crosby.

The intro workshops are all always deep and emotional, sometimes challenging, sometimes empowering.

Everything and anything can show up in the 3 hours that we work together as a group. What is a constant though and becoming so clear the more deeply I go on my journey with the work is the role of grief, and more specifically unexpressed grief.

It shows up constantly in every session, both expressed and unexpressed, and the more I see it and experience it with my workshop participants and students, the more I see it all around me in the wider community and society. In most of my sessions, I can say with confidence that virtually all workshop attendees carry unexpressed grief... the key word here is unexpressed. It's prevalent!

In the workshop on Sunday, I used a simple analogy of a sponge and water to explain my observations and describe my perception of what I was seeing. When a sponge is completely immersed in water and then removed, it holds within itself most of the water unless it is given a decent squeeze to expel the water. This is how I visualise people with unexpressed grief. People are walking around like sponges full of water, and have forgotten how to squeeze out the water. You only have to touch them slightly and the water (emotions), comes to the surface.

When we are 'full' there is no space for anything new to enter our experience and there is stuck-ness in the emotion of the grief and there is no moving forward. As Jamiroquai once sang...we're travelling without moving.

Family Constellations Workshops offer both a potent and safe space/method for working with unexpressed grief.

It seems based on my personal experience and conversations, that in a general sense, we have forgotten how to grieve both individually and collectively. This could be due to many factors that are beyond the realms of this article, however, one example is that you only grieve when you lose someone you love to death, whether that be human or animal.

The reality is that there is so much more to grieve beyond physical death, however, it's often not associated with such things. It's not just what I call BIG grief like death, but also smaller grief, what I call micro grief. It could be the loss of a job or not getting a job we wanted, moving countries, the inability to get pregnant, menopause and the loss of identity and ageing, a relationship that we wanted and never got...where there is loss there is grief, yet grief is often never mentioned when we say goodbye to a loved one who may be going away for work for 2 weeks. It's just a case of feeling a bit sad, or feeling guilty because we feel selfish for wanting them to stay...this is what I call micro-grief.

My personal experience of grief as I now know it was initiated by the loss of my Nan during COVID in late 2020. The range of experiences following her passing was unlike anything I had ever experienced. There was certainly no guide book and with no disrespect to friends or family, they too were completely illiterate in the sacred language of grief.

At the time of my Nan's passing I was looking for resources and support online, there was nothing of any great substance apart from traditional bereavement counselling. This was also happening during full lockdown which amplified everything that was happening. What I and others were experiencing was way beyond the capacity of traditional counselling, and it left me with a lot of questions, and a curiosity for understanding 'why'. Where is the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding around grief? Why have we lost this ability for what is essentially a profound process of change and an opportunity for renewal?

Reflection Questions?

  1. Where in your own life have you experienced loss and what was your experience?

  2. Who was there to support you?

  3. Did you look for wider support from partners, friends, strangers, Charities, the Church, or somewhere else?

  4. How was that support provided?

  5. What else did you do to support yourself? Journal, Retreat, Solo time, nature?

  6. How did you process your experience and emotions? (or not)

There is no playbook for grief it seems. It works in its own unique way, and acts on, and responds to each individual differently from one person to the next. There was a famous piece of work done in the late 1960s by a Swiss American Psychiatrist called Elizabeth Kubler Ross. In her seminal book On Death & Dying Kubler Ross offers a model called the 5 stages of Grief.

The model is useful however in my personal experience it's not a linear process moving from denial on the left to acceptance on the right, and not all stages are experienced e.g. Anger may never manifest itself. Also, one day you might feel like you have accepted the loss, only to wake up the next day feeling overwhelmed and struck with sadness.

There is one element of the Kubler-Ross Model that is particularly of interest. It brings everything back to one of the key insights that was alluded to at the beginning of this piece, and that is denial. Denial is the first step in the cycle and can happen once the 'loss' event takes place.

It's the conscious denial that can block the grief process from flowing and moving through us. It's the denial that the loss or change hasn't happened, and the belief that life can continue as normal. There can be attachments to the person, place, or thing that was there before.

Reflection question - Where in your own life might you be holding on to something that has been lost? How might that denial be holding you back from moving forward fully?

A personal anecdote from my own life was when I first moved to New Zealand from the UK back in 2014. By this point in my life, I had already travelled extensively to many continents and countries and considered myself someone seasoned and resilient. What I failed to understand was that 'moving' to another Country was very different from travelling there.

In a way, it was a kind of denial, a denial that I had left my friends, my partner, family, my roots, the familiar. It was like I was still unconsciously attached to all of it, and even though I was in a new environment, I still hadn't acknowledged the loss of what I had left. One foot was in Liverpool, and one foot was in New Zealand....I was in a state of limbo.

This is more commonly known as culture shock, however, when one observes what is being experienced it is grief. The consequence of not acknowledging and understanding that fact was the first 5 years experience of in a new Country generally being of struggle, suffering and disorientation. I had no guide or mentor to show me or teach me about what was happening to me.

A lot of what I experienced at that time very much had its roots in my family system. It was my worldview whose seeds had been planted in my formative years. It was only as I moved along my Family Constellations journey that a level of self-awareness was developed to see the patterns that were stopping me from grieving my losses, of which there were consequences.

What is it time to let go of?

Who is it time to let go of?

How might it be to let go of what is lost, to let come new experiences, new opportunities?

Join me for a future Family Constellations Workshop and explore this profound method for self-awareness, healing, and cultivating deep awareness of the forces that shape your life. Click here for dates for May/June/July 2024 across the Liverpool City Region & Wales.

“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.” - Rumi

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