There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Others’ comments are not about you, but about themselves and their own problems.
You control how you feel, and no one can or should dictate the validity of those feelings.
You have every right to shut someone down when what they are saying is harmful to you and your grieving process.
You cannot stop others’ insensitivity, but you can change your reaction to it.
Grief is one of those states of mind that evades definition. No one has the same approach to it—and no one lives through it the same way. Society has given us a model of what grief should look like through representations of it in novels, television, films, and art. Often, we compare our grief to these to normalize our feelings, or those around us might depend on these depictions to make sure that we feel, behave, or react the “right” way.
But there is no right way to grieve. Anyone who has had a loved one pass away can attest that grieving comes in inconsistent waves of varying feelings, each bringing a unique set of emotions. And these emotions will elicit specific reactions in turn. Some people go numb. Some get very active. Some surround themselves with people while others lock themselves up in their apartments. Any of these scenarios is appropriate and timely.
If experiencing grief is complicated, witnessing it can also be profoundly unsettling to many. The discomfort people feel when they are in the presence of those in grief often leads to inappropriate behaviors, expectations, and judgments. And since the behavior of those around you can impact your grieving process, it is useful to have some tools to counter their insensitivity and focus your energy on what matters.
The fact is that people cannot help themselves from being uncomfortable when they see someone in pain, and they are often at a loss for words. Unfortunately, the words that come out are not always the right ones. Most often, they are reflections of their own fears and biases, and even if it does not seem that way, they have nothing to do with you.
For example, someone might expect you to appear deeply sad in the days immediately following your loved one’s passing. They might also express their surprise when you do not act in sorrowful ways.
Or they may tell you to get over it. That “they lived a good life” and that “it is time for you to move on with yours.”
Your other relatives might project their own version of grief onto you. Maybe they’re angry or frustrated while you don’t feel those things, and they lash out, leaving you having to comfort and support them while allowing you no room to protect yourself.
Insensitivity runs wild in challenging emotional moments. It comes at you from every corner, and it can be impossible to avoid it. Nonetheless, as much as you can, let those comments roll off of you. They’re not about you, but about someone else and their own problems. You should never have to take on the weight of somebody else’s insecurities, especially not when you are in pain.
You are the only person in the world who can know your feelings, the steps you need to take to navigate them, or the kind of support you need to live with them comfortably. No one can tell you when to be sad, when to laugh or smile, and certainly when to move on with your life.
Even being aware of this, it may still be hard to ignore the insensitivity of others. Insensitivity is persistent and often unapologetic—but you can learn to silence it.
Affirmations recenter you as the source of power over your emotional landscape.
You have every right to shut someone down when what they are saying is harmful to you and your grieving process. Telling that person, “Thank you, but that is not what I need to hear right now,” or “I appreciate you trying to help, but I would rather handle this in my own way,” can help you protect yourself.
Think of statements like these as affirmations: They recenter you as the source of power over your emotional landscape. You control how you feel, and no one can or should dictate whether those feelings are right or wrong.
If someone’s insensitivity is getting the best of you, consider reaching out to friends or family members who have experienced grief themselves. Alternatively, you may want to reach out to support groups focused on solidarity and mutual care.
You cannot stop others’ insensitivity, but you can change your reaction to it. Learning small ways of affirming yourself in moments when the expectations and judgments of others threaten your emotional stability can go a long way in helping you learn to live with grief. And while grief is a feeling that many of us will carry our whole lives, finding the right support and silencing the irrelevant insecurities of others can be the best way to move on with your life ●
Grief isn’t a feeling. It’s a process. Everyone experiences it differently, and you are the only one who can feel your feelings. But some understanding may help you come to grips with what you are going through.