The 8 Steps of Grief Work Every Person Should Know
No fear or grief in Heaven? It’s the place of ultimate joy and peace, where rivers will flow, bejeweled castles will sparkle, and you will find only awesome company and the best nourishment. All these are true, but why is Heaven most often described as a place where you will experience “no fear and no grief”?
Since fear is an emotion that everyone has experienced, it’s easy to understand why relief from fear is heavenly. But isn’t grief something that happens only in our old age, when we start to lose parents and friends? Actually, grief is shaping our daily lives here on Earth. If you experience any form of upset, sadness, loss, or similar strong emotion in the course of your day, you are unearthing some of the grief that is inherent in each of us, daily.
This grief comes from loss, and we began to lose at birth. First, we lost the Garden of Eden, by being banished to Earth. Then we begin life by a sudden exit from a warm quiet womb to a noisy, cold, bewildering reality. The first time Mom leaves us to ‘cry ourselves to sleep’, we are hurt. When our parents are caught up with life, and aren’t there for us emotionally or physically, we are sad and afraid, even terrified that we will die.
Then we use the magical thinking of children, and we blame ourselves for the pain that we feel. So on top of the pain of what happens during childhood, we also shame ourselves, thinking that we are the unlovable reason for the pain.
These are mild examples, of course. Some people go through much worse. They will need a therapist to establish ways of feeling safe before they explore their trauma. But it’s probably safe to say that each of us has had enough experiences that this process of resolving grief will be invaluable. And it’s a lifelong process.
If you want to accelerate towards self-acceptance, then it is time to mindfully grieve. You need to mourn your past, your childhood wounds, and even your parent’s past and the grief of society that is passed on to us. When you have let go of your sadness, then you can let go of people and ‘bad’ experiences. The pain of loss fades, to be replaced by acceptance. But only if you do the Work of grieving.
There are eight steps in the process of mindful grieving.
1. Allowing ourselves to know or remember
2. Allowing ourselves to feel
3. Replaying the memory but interrupting it
4. Dropping expectations
5. Thanking as a practice
6. Forgiveness – only after the anger is felt
7. Healing rituals
8. Self-parenting to close childhood wounds
Bring Up The Memories
According to David Richo in How To Be An Adult In Relationships, the first step is the hardest. Once you have taken the first step, the other steps naturally follow. There are many ways to bring up these memories of abuse or pain. One way is to imagine yourself in one of your past settings… a home you used to live in, or the school you attended. Then start filling in the details of that memory. What were you wearing? Or where were you standing? Who was there? What was being said? What was being allowed or not allowed? Continue filling in details until you reach a feeling.
Then notice where in your life you still have this feeling. For example, if you realize you felt rejected on the basketball court when you were 12, when three classmates said very mean things to you, where else in life are you feeling that same pain of being rejected by friends?
Over And Over Again
So far, hopefully, you have been using a journal to write all this down. But it is time to really express that pain. That sadness, fear, or guilt is a type of negative energy. It will rule your life if you don’t express it.
Find a trusted person whom you can tell the memory to. Not to blame anyone, but to speak up and let go of the feeling. You are talking about the abuse to acknowledge it. You are NOT looking for reasons that it happened, though. It is not yet time to forgive and find 70 excuses for your brother or sister. But do remember accurately. See the difference between a person who behaved that way out of anxiety, compared to someone who maliciously was actively trying to hurt you and was getting pleasure out of doing so.
You can tell your story again and again, through art, story writing, song, and dance.
Bring Up The Feelings
Will we always know this is grief? No. Sometimes, we will feel it as sadness, anger, hurt, fear, or terror. The strength of the feeling can vary, from a twinge, to full-blown paralyzing emotion. We may have a habit of suppressing these feelings. We might have used life to distract us. But doing that turns them into depression, bitterness, self-pity, and unrelenting panic. It is important to feel them. In other words, you have to cry. Yes, even if you are a manly man. If you aren’t sure if you successfully processed the feeling, look at how you cry when it comes up. Did you cry with noise, gestures, and the strain showing in your voice?
Don’t allow judgments to suppress part or all of the feeling. If you tell yourself anything about anyone else, such as ‘she is the cause’, then you are not focusing on your own hurt and fear, which is what this is all about.
Replay But Change It
Now you can start to do that which will heal you. “Replay” means to remember the abuse, but while doing so, change how you acted. Not how the abuser acted, but how you said no to him or her. Use this new ending each time the memory comes to you. Again, such a memory can be expressed in more ways than one. Make it in clay, draw it out, act it out… just get it out.
No More Expectations
Where in your life are you expecting something from someone? Or where do you have an addiction, compulsion or obsession? Each of these behaviors is the wrong way to get what we never got as a child (or since growing up). It’s a natural human response, but our Lord also gave us a brain and He told us to “Iqra” – read and figure out a better way. So no excuses.
When we were a child, we wished our mother to fulfil all our needs. As we grew up, her human-ness prevented her from being there. But now we can choose whether stay needy and desperate for someone, or we can become our own parent. We can start reassuring ourselves, that we will listen to our emotions, that we will survive our emotions, and that we will do the things adults do to keep ourselves safe but connected with others. We will use healthy boundaries, not walls, nor will we be doormats anymore.
Now at the fifth step in the process is the time to give thanks for the power and strength that you are developing. You have gone through pain, and survived. That is a bounty from your Lord, for which you should thank Him. The act of looking for what to be grateful for, will reinforce those strengths in you. Your neediness is gone, you have learned to handle pain, you still can love, etc. Match each pain to the strength you now have, and write down a prayer of thanks.
Real Forgiveness Will Stick
Forgiveness follows naturally AFTER you have released the anger. If you have been thinking of punishing and revenge, you should know that these are just ways to escape from this Work of facing your emotions. Real forgiveness is unconditional love. You seek nonviolent ways to reconcile. Rather than overpowering your ‘opponent’, you understand they are just acting out their pain, and you generously let go of your anger and blame.
“When I recall the hurts done to me by family members, I feel compassion for the inadequacies, ignorance, and fear that were behind them. I have no wish to retaliate or harm anyone or even to have them understand me. I shower my family with all-forgiving love. I rejoice in the fact that I am now free from having to change them. I no longer bring up my story to my family but only with friends or in therapy.” – p. 259, How To Be An Adult In Relationships, David Richo.
Act Out Your Healing
Energy is released by accepting your losses and forgiving others. Use part of it to do something that acknowledges your hard work and the Lord who guided you. The ritual can follow these steps:
- • Writing out the experience and your mourning process
- • Burning or burying those papers
Then renew your commitment to a happy healthy life. Do so by singing, writing, shouting from a mountain top. Talk about it. Do your affirmations. Make sure to include good memories for each bad memory you have.
Inner Child And Being A Parent
“The pains of grieving are the labor pains from the adult self being born.”
Envisioning an inner child helps during and after the grief Work. First, when you are in the process of identifying the source of your feelings (step 1), you are envisioning yourself as the child you once were. You can even say that the child still lives in you. At the least, this psychic figment of their existence still remains with you because of the abuse, injury, and strong emotion of that memory.
So during recovery, you visualize that memory as that child. Then you can see yourself holding them, talking to them. You can reassure them that their strong grief, anger, or fear is perfectly OK and appropriate. You tell them that everything will be OK now that you are here as an adult to protect them. Now is the time to give the five A’s as a parent to our self: appreciation, attention, acceptance, affection, and allowance.
Another wonderful side effect of doing the work is that our support system grows. We find people to trust with our story. We find moments of mother-love and father-love with many others. We reach out for intimacy again, but this time, we have the tools to handle the disappointments, and we have the ability to discern. Being a good parent to our inner child means we will walk away if needed, and stay if we can.
There is no greater threat to our human-ness than unresolved grief, and no greater pain when we start to try to resolve it.
Jehan founded this magazine and site to help Muslim women and men learn to stay away from abusers, to strengthen their relationship with Allah SWT and to find better healthier relationships.
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