This week I want to talk about reframing our suffering. Now before you freak out, I don’t mean just changing our mindset and making ourselves just feel better minimizing our suffering. But I do mean recognizing where we are meditating in our thoughts and what we are believing as truth about our current circumstances. The grief we experience, no matter the source of loss, is very real. And for as long as it takes, we deserve to have space to think through and consider every side of our grief. But at some point, if we do not know how to process the grief intentionally, we might remain in a cycle of overthinking and pain. And that’s not what we’re looking for.
We can look for meaning, purpose or whatever else we think might exist within our grief that needs to be uncovered. Each of our individual stories contains something unique to us that will influence our healing. But for all of us, there comes a moment when we feel like we’ve hit the brick wall on all sides. But that doesn’t mean we give up! It means we learn that some walls are meant to be climbed, or flat-out dismantled. There are belief systems and habits in grief that we have internalized or adopted as our own that are truly harming our hearts and slowing our ability to find healing. And I believe it really is a matter of recognizing where we are putting our mental energy as we grieve.
I want any time you have set aside for grief work, which includes listening to a podcast like this, to be an intentional engagement with your own life and story. What you think about in your daily life informs how you feel about what you encounter or experience, and those feelings inform or influence how you behave in the world and interact with others, yourself, and any faith practice you might have. When you have a consistent set of behaviors, that makes you think and feel a certain way about yourself. It’s cyclical, just like grief, normal, and to be expected. But interrupting any cycle that is harmful or maybe just not productive can be a very empowering way to address an ongoing painful situation or thought process.
If you are a newer listener to the podcast, you may not know that most of my work is predicated upon the idea of alignment. Falling in line in your mind, heart, body, and spirit means pursuing your values in a way that returns you to yourself with honor and integrity. In grief, these parts of our inner world become discombobulated and free floating. I used to say that it feels like my skin is the only thing keeping me from going in 1000 directions at once. Grief in my life often manifests as anxiety, shallow breathing, white knuckling, and strong arming my emotions into the back seat so that I can continue driving at 100 miles an hour. But in those moments, I have learned to observe my mind, heart, body, and spirit to see where the behaviors I’m exhibiting, the feelings I’m feeling, or the thoughts I’m thinking have fallen away from the values I hold as core to how I want to move through the world.
When we observe our own misalignment, we are then able to ask ourselves some curious and compassionate questions. We will talk more about values in future episodes, but for today I want to simply say that recognizing you are out of alignment is a bold step toward healing. It is humbling to admit we cannot strong arm our way through grief. And as you learn to recognize misalignment, you will also notice other places in your life where you might be feeling a lot more tension and suffering. It might be that you have greater pain mentally than physically, or emotionally than spiritually, and that’s normal.
Don’t feel like you have to (or should) tackle all four arenas at once. That’s too much. But engaging one arena is where our insights about our pain become transformative because we can choose now to move that insight into action. We have to make an active, intentional choice to disrupt the cycle of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to move closer to the person we want to become. It would be comfortable to believe ignoring our pain means we remain the same forever, when the truth is ignoring those pains actually moves you further from the person you want to become. Nothing leaves you standing still.
So let me give you a quick example from my life about a pain point that was connected to a griefy, unmet expectation around the outcome of my book sales. As a self published author, that means everything around promoting the work is on me. I didn’t have a lot of money to throw into the project, which meant I didn’t have a lot of advertising I could do beyond word of mouth and building relationships one-on-one. I would love to say that I am completely satisfied with how well the book has been received, but the truth is, I had really high expectations while my inner critic held about 5% of my mind in lockdown.
Every time I received encouragement, a positive review, or even sold a copy of the book, my cynicism repeated a set narrative, causing significant emotional turmoil believing the feedback was insincere. Not that the people were insincere, but that people were protecting my emotions by hiding the truth from me. This wrong belief pattern caused me to feel sullen, detached from my work and my clients, embarrassed about producing a book and apologetic for believing I had a right to speak on such an important topic. And as a result, the promotion around the book waned. My enthusiasm took a backseat and I felt very ashamed of choosing the fiscally responsible way of promoting my book even though I didn’t have the money to throw at it.
Before I go on, let’s call out the irony here, shall we? This grief coach is dealing with grief and not recognizing how it is causing her all this pain. How is that possible? Because every human experiences these types of cognitive distortions without realizing what we’re going through. There’s no shame in it! And truly, the moment I realized there is no shame in experiencing cognitive distortions and suffering as a result, I gave myself permission to step back from the work. I asked myself the same question I want you to ask: “Where am I out of alignment with my values?” These feelings of detachment and sullenness are not in line with my core value of grace for myself. The skeptical thoughts are undermining my value of gratitude toward others and my own involvement in life. And these behaviors of pulling back and believing the work is unworthy undermines my value of curiosity about the world. It was my choice and responsibility to interrupt these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. During each session of journaling and reflecting, I built a written record of the insight gained that I could return to anytime the same thoughts, feelings, and behaviors surfaced again.
This practice of reframing doesn’t mean I never experience those cognitive distortions again. It would be irresponsible for me to believe in a black-and-white definition of healed or unhealed. But this work invites me to remember that healing is a spectrum – we are constantly in process, experiencing the world in a new way almost daily. And the more we can pause to consider the way we are feeling, thinking, and acting in the world, the more we will recognize the connection between our experiences and the pain we carry. No matter the source of our grief, it deserves our attention. No matter the duration of our grief, it deserves our intentions. And no matter the number of attempts we have made to resolve our grief, it deserves one more shot every time because healing is ongoing when we commit to ourselves to continue the pursuit of wellness and alignment.
Thank you for listening to episode 96 of Restorative Grief. Cognitive distortions are the prime way I’ve found the pain of grief to continue its own harmful cycle in my life. For me, it takes removing myself from the immediate proximity, that intimate closeness to my pain and trying to gain a birds-eye view of my circumstances. That distance makes room for compassion and perspective to adjust my lens, changing what I see as the most important thing in the moment. It also disarms the impossibly big emotions, allowing me soften just enough to see what’s really beneath the pain I can’t fathom. If this episode in itself felt a little like a 10,000 foot flyover, that’s okay. Sometimes that’s the best place to find alignment is recognizing where you need to sit and observe a little bit longer.
If this is your first time listening to the podcast, thank you for making space to be here. It’s a genuine honor to hold space for you to explore your heart, mind, body, and spirit and all of the things you may need a little more alignment for as you pursue healing in your grief work.
Please take a moment to subscribe tot he show, leave that shiny five star review, and if you’re feeling up for it, maybe be a little vulnerable and share this episode with someone you care about. Let them know where you’re at. Tell them what resonated with you, and ask if anything resonates with them. I thin the best we can do for ourselves when we don’t know what to do is recognize where we have community and give ourselves permission to pour into it, even though it might be really scary.
I want to thank again the patrons and all the people who financially support this work. And one last thing, as always. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources for this episode:
- Learn more about Cognitive Distortions
- Work with Mandy – Visit MandyCapehart.com/coaching
- Become a Patron of the show! on Spotify Podcasts
- Join the Restorative Grief Project on Facebook
- Purchase my book, Restorative Grief, on Amazon
- Follow & chat with me on Twitter or Instagram @MandyCapehart