Denial is often thought of as one of the early phases of the grief process in which your mental, emotional, physical and possibly spiritual realms are trying to find a level of homeostasis (balance) after a loss.
Dear Dr. Ted: I have noticed that you often talk about distractors during the denial phase of grief. You have also used this term when talking about addiction. What exactly are you talking about when you mention distractors? Thanks, Marcella
Dear Marcella: This a great issue to be discussed and thank you for bringing it up within two different situations which often walk hand in hand. Denial is often thought of as one of the early phases of the grief process in which your mental, emotional, physical and possibly spiritual realms are trying to find a level of homeostasis (balance) after a loss. When some sort of event has happened in your life, you become out of balance, and in order to reassemble and find balance again, there is a high chance that you will experience some level of denial. In a positive light, denial helps by insulating you from the fact/event, giving you time to absorb the event and have a higher level of acceptance.
Depending on the impact of the loss, this may be a catatonic or fugue state, or you may just need some time to realize something in your life has changed. One of the ways that our internal recovery system buys time is to find different ways to be distracted from the intensity of the loss. This arrives in many different forms with some being healthy and others having a chance of being detrimental to you and others. Some of these distractors are anger, relationships, extreme sports, drama and many other actions that allow you to be distracted from the reality of the loss in your life.
Addictive tendencies are a very common distractor as the brain tries to anesthetize the discomfort you are feeling. Many people limit addiction to alcohol and illegal drugs. Addiction can be derived from many types of behavior which can include substances or other attentions such as electronics, porn, sex, extreme sports, television, shopping, eating (or not eating), gambling and many more. Many of these activities are a normal part of your life, such as eating, sex, play and rest. It is only when these behaviors become unhealthy and dominate your life that it is problematic.
When the grief process is interrupted with unhealthy distractors, you may experience a delayed grief process, where feelings are repressed and fester underneath the surface. These repressed feelings can cause a discomfort within your unconsciousness and stimulate a higher tendency to fall into unhealthy behaviors, such as addictive behavior and possibly the actual disease of addiction.
Being aware that denial is a natural factor within the grief process and finding distractors that are not detrimental to your health (as well as wreaking havoc on others) is the key for a healthy grief process. Finding ways to have respite from your loss is healthy, and staying away from extreme behaviors can allow your system to start to heal and adjust, while also allowing a gentle reintegration into the world around you. Denial is a natural and normal phase within the healing process from loss. Being aware of this can help you navigate positive and negative realms of the distractions that arise in your grief process.
Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.
Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, founder of Golden Willow Retreat at GWR@newmex.com.
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