Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 50 titled, “From Numb to Now.” Learning to become present as we grieve is no small thing. The coping mechanisms we embrace as we grieve are tools to keep us safe. They protect our whole selves from the onslaught of overwhelm, and we do our best not to moralize them. They’re made for protection, and self-defense is one of the biggest reasons we act, think, and feel the way we do through grief. But as we progress through our grief story, we are invited to move differently. As we learn to become present, we learn to engage new techniques that allow our initial coping mechanisms and safety behaviors to fall away – making room for the presence of mind, body, emotions, and connection to the world around us that might just be the very thing to bring us back to life again. So this week, we are just going to gently explore the ways we might have overidentified with our pain, suffering, sorrows, and grief and hopefully, we will learn at least one way to bring ourselves from the familiar numbness to the present now moment.
As you listen this week, I want you to remember I am not trying to take away or destroy any of the coping mechanisms you have used faithfully to remain safe. You have cultivated a sense of psychological safety throughout your grief process and I want you to acknowledge and express gratitude toward those coping mechanisms and the way you have navigated through your loss. You deserve gratitude. Because you have done the very thing that many could not do for you. You’ve kept yourself as safe as possible.
It can be really difficult to recognize this which is why I don’t want to gloss over it. I need you to remember that through all of this grief work you have demonstrated emotional courage. This is the type of growth we often overlook in others. And I don’t want us to do the same for ourselves. You may believe that you currently operate from a position of fear, distress, or emotional pain. I’ll remind you it is entirely natural to want to avoid emotional pain and when you grieve, it is nearly impossible to avoid. However, you must remember that without fear, courage cannot exist. Emotional courage is a quiet kind of bravery often disregarded as disconnection, introversion, fear itself, and many other judgments we level against ourselves and against others. So as we work to dismantle coping mechanisms that are no longer serving us, remember to celebrate and acknowledge the progress you have made from day one of your grief story. You may not know exactly when it all began. But you do know when it began to feel very real. This is our opportunity to pull back the covers of denial in any area we have protected and invite healing so that we can again learn how to feel with intention and compassion for the story we inhabit.
No one really wants to live in a constant state of numbness. We simply want to avoid feeling distress or pain. Unfortunately in order to feel no distress or pain, we would need to find a way to feel nothing at all. I get the sense many of us could say that we truthfully feel nothing most of the time. Even joyfulness is hard to access when you are busy numbing uncomfortable emotions because these emotions are intertwined. Without our ability to feel grief or loss, we are also unable to feel and express joy, hope, and love. We may even believe that our numbness invalidates our worthiness to be loved or participate in relationships around us.
And this is where we become best friends with the numbness. This is the place that we begin to over identify with our stories of loss, allowing misery to become our identity. We may not articulate that we are only a ball of pain all the time, but if we were to take a step back and examine the way we show up for ourselves and for the world around us, it would be very easy to see signs pointing toward misery, sorrow, and disconnection.
The restorative grief model that I work from recognizes our whole selves. That means as we move through grief work, we are bringing alignment and attention and compassion to our thoughts and mind, to our emotions and our heart, to our somatic feelings and our bodies, and to our spirits in the way we connect with ourselves, others, our community, and our experience of God or spirituality.
So how can we begin to use this understanding of who we are as humans to recognize areas of disconnection and begin to move toward ourselves again in a way that brings us into the present now moment? Well frankly, there are a lot of ways we can approach it but today, I want to address how we express our emotions and how we identify what we’re feeling so that we can breakthrough any blocks or defensive walls that we have established to keep us from feeling our feelings.
If you are newer around here, you may not be familiar with a concept we speak about somewhat frequently called cognitive distortions. A cognitive distortion is simply a way of thinking about life or self that is an internal filter and bias that distorts how the world around us looks or seems. They typically feed our misery, affirming that our worst fears are true, increasing our anxiety and making us feel really terrible about ourselves and our prospects in life.
In this instance, we’re going to talk about the cognitive distortion known as emotional reasoning. Emotional reasoning is basically deciding a should statement or an ought to do statement is a fact. It asserts that the emotions we feel are factual, and we cannot separate our sense of self from the emotions that we experience. When you take this definition and apply it to my story, I can see places where I remember feeling so broken hearted that I believed I would remain broken hearted over the loss of my mom for the rest of my life. I began approaching every relationship presenting a broken heart as part of the deal for being connected to me. This cognitive distortion is so vital to address because we all do it. If we feel worthless, we will believe and act as if we are worthless. If we feel rejected, we will act accordingly. In some cases, our coping mechanisms manifest in an aggressive way to reject others before they can reject us. Because we’re worth rejection, right?
This is where we want to challenge the facts. It may be true that we can point to a time in our lives that we were rejected. Maybe in the time frame of our grief story, we can name a handful of individuals who walked away from us because things were just too hard. Or they couldn’t handle being a part of our story or our pain. But this doesn’t mean we are worthy of rejection. This means we experienced rejection and allowed it to drive the story that we had somehow earned it.
In order to become present, we have to become really honest with ourselves. So we are going to take these emotional distortions and put them on trial. Typically we lean on coping mechanisms because somewhere along the way, our thoughts confirmed that they were the most meaningful way of moving through our loss. The truth is intentional movement through our loss is where we find what is meaningful and experience healing.
I want you to think of a feeling you experience often that maybe you have overidentified with. By holding on to this emotion, this is going to be something that you know has prevented you from experiencing a more helpful or healthier expression of emotion in your life. For example, the expression of gratitude in my life is often stunted by an experience of accusation and judgment. This can be against myself or others. The way we combat these uncomfortable emotions is by recognizing, first of all, that they are just information. They are not our identities. That can be really painful to recognize and move through if a lifetime of identifying with emotion is part of your story. If that’s you, simply listen to this episode as recognition that tools exist. You can try them when you’re ready and they are just an experiment. They are not the solution for everyone and this is just an exercise. Sometimes exercises are great. Sometimes they are tedious and annoying and unhelpful and they make us angry. It’s OK if you don’t want to do this. But I really hope you’ll try. Anyway!
We are going to put these cognitive distortions on trial. We are sincerely trying to prove them wrong because they are preventing us from moving into that healthy action of radical acceptance that this emotion is real, but it is not all-encompassing of truth, and it will pass. Putting an emotion or a thought on trial is simply what it sounds like. We’re going to pretend to be in a courtroom and you are going to play the role of the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the judge. We are trying to prove wrong the idea that our negative emotions or stories of suffering define who we are, preventing us from finding healing.
So start with the defense. What evidence do you have that is factual that your story and negative emotions define who you are? As the prosecutor, what evidence can you present that is factual that challenges this notion? How can you create doubts that your identity is limited and defined fully by your experience of negative emotions and sorrow? And as the judge, after you’ve seen and heard evidence from both sides how would you rule in this case? Who would you side with? If you’re not sure or if you think the defense is absolutely accurate, I want you to pause and take a step back from your own story. Maybe this would be a little more accessible if you considered someone else that you care about going through the same process. Remember, you have emotional courage simply from enduring the ongoing trauma and loss in your life. This is your season to use that emotional courage to stir up hope, even when it seems fully lost. Because you’re here listening right now. That is a fact for your prosecutorial team as you prove that you are capable of healing and present mindedness. You are practicing simply being present with your emotions here and now rather than longing for it to be different. This is a practice of radical acceptance that allows you to experience your emotions instead of identifying with your emotions. And in doing so, you gain a little bit of distance from the sadness, anxiety, anger, helplessness, and guilt associated with grief. We can experience the emotions, and then use them as information to drive our decisions and the way we move through our life. And that is what it looks like to become present amid the pain.
Thank you for listening to episode 50 of Restorative Grief. I hope this exercise of putting your thoughts on trial doesn’t seem too silly or arbitrary. Sometimes coaching techniques can be a little hokey but I promise when you put your thoughts on trial, you gain distance and perspective. Those are two things we really struggle to find when we’re grieving because everything is very visceral and thick and immediate and really difficult to see through. So give this a shot, maybe invite a friend to go through it with you and see what you both come up with. Speaking of friends, I can’t believe all of you have stuck with me for 50 episodes! I’m so grateful! Of course there are more than 50 behind the paywall, but nonetheless, I want to celebrate by giving away a copy of my book! To enter, share this episode on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook and tag me – make sure I see it! I’ll announce the winner in the October 16th episode credits so be sure to listen!
As always there are resources and links in the show notes for concepts we talked about in this episode as well as a link to the Patreon if you want to join, the restorative grief project if you want to join, and all the other things you can do to join me in creating a psychologically safe and inviting vibrant community for grievers with you to learn what it means to fall apart with intention. We only exist because of listeners like you.
And one last thing, please remember: The only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources from this episode:
- Cognitive Distortions
- Put Your Thoughts On Trial
- Emotional Wheel – Find Your Language
- Become a Patron!
- Join The Restorative Grief Project, a private online grief coaching community
- Listen to this episode of Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart on Spotify
- Snag a copy of my book, Restorative Grief
- Connect with me on Twitter or Instagram @MandyCapehart