What Does ‘Resilient Grieving’ Mean?

man sitting and grieving counselling help

Before we dive into the meaning of the term ‘resilient grieving’, let’s take a look at the meaning of the word ‘resilient’. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from hardship and difficult situations. Resilient people make the necessary adaptations to recover from adversity, loss and trauma. They go on to lead fulfilling lives and can even grow after setbacks. 

If you feel that you do not already possess resilience, I can assure you that it is a trait that you can acquire over time. The four pillars of resilience are:

  • taking responsibility (having confidence in your ‘ability to respond’)
  • accepting that unexpected curveballs are part of everyday life
  • learning to intentionally focus attention (or become selective in listening and seeing)
  • developing self-compassion and choose helping and not harming one’s Self.

The foundation of these pillars are built on the willingness to give them a go.

In times of distress or grief, people can tap into resilience, become stronger and. ultimately, even grow from grief or trauma.

Now, let’s combine resilience with grieving. Dr Lucy Hone was the first academic researcher to explain how positive psychology and bereavement can go hand-in-hand in order to help people overcome the losses of their loved ones.

Resilient grieving invites one to be an ‘active participant’ in the grieving process. Rather than exiling oneself in rumination, guilt or fear that amplifies our pain and rarely leads to good outcomes. Resilience allows the typical physical and emotional responses to grief to be accepted and experienced with courage. It may help you live with purpose and grieve with enduring love at the same time.

Resilient grieving shows how to be an active part of the grieving process.
How to be an active part of the grieving process

Some of the strategies of resilient grieving are:

Focusing our attention

There is a limit on how many things the human brain can process at any given moment. Therefore it is vitally important to select the content and the quality of our daily life. ‘Blaming’ for instance mostly leads nowhere and so it is futile attention. We can chose between scattering our attention in the new world where our (emotional) energy is depleted by grief or alternatively tend to things that help preserve this energy. So invest in establishing routines, in maintaining nurturing relationships or practicing self-care.

Accepting what we can change and what we cannot

The ‘What ifs’ are exhausting and futile. It is entirely normal to have those thoughts, however, it is cruel to ourselves to keep them running endlessly. Dr Rick Hanson says “The mind is like velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones”. Resilient grieving facilitates skills that enables people to step out of the unnecessary ‘stress- and threat-mode’ and to take notice of what is safe and calming.

Looking for positive emotions

A characteristic of resilient people is the willingness to feel positive emotions. Positive emotions do not just feel good, they do good – they literally rewire our brain, hence our view of the world. Even though it may not be easy to constantly think of positive thoughts or feel positive emotions creating good experiences is a great way to start. For instance, simple acts like taking a walk, listening to our favourite music or helping a stranger with directions could create positive emotions that will have a ripple effect. 

Accepting the good

In psychology, this could be termed as ‘benefit finding’. In everyday life it can be simply accepting the support of family or friends. Opening our heart to a variety of experiences and not punishing ourselves if we had a  moment of pleasure. Resilient grieving will explore your go-to behaviours about your own grief and show you strategies to live peacefully with your emotions: whether cloaked in your loss or oriented to the future. Oscillating between these two strengthens resilience: accessing the good recharges the batteries in order to face periods of despair.

Creating rituals to keep their memory alive

Part of resilient grieving is to create rituals or establish routines in order to maintain meaningful, ongoing connection with loved ones who have passed on. These rituals or routines do not have to be anything grand. Rather, small things in our daily life can help us feel this connection. It could be as simple as visiting their favourite place, doing something we used to do together, or cooking a recipe that belonged to them. There are also examples of bereaved people who went on to initiate changes in their wider community in order to help make the world a safer place for others.

Redefining our goal in life

The unexpected death of a loved one will most definitely be a shock. In these instances, we may feel that our world has collapsed and we lose hope. What we had been hoping and living for cannot any longer be our pursuit. However, we can rethink what is realistic in our new reality: ‘What is my best hope now for myself and for others who I care about?’ The answer may teach us new things about ourselves and discover strength that we didn’t think we possessed. 

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