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Why being strong in the short-term might not help in the long-term

You gotta be strong

a couple supporting each other through grief

A death of a loved one can hit us hard. And you've probably heard someone say it, or even said it yourself - "I've got to be strong for my kids". Or any variation of that - strong for your partner, your mum, your brother, whomever. But what this implies is - I can't show my feelings. I'm not allowed to demonstrate my emotions in public or ask for support from others. Unfortunately, while this may appear a noble act, it is in fact quite detrimental.


Grief

Probably the best definition of grief is an emotional response to change (more information on symptoms of grief here). So we can grieve over any change - a bereavement, redundancy, relationship breakup, and so on. But let's specifically talk about grief over a death of a loved one, because this is what I typically see in my clinic. Usually a few months after the death, my client will tell me that they feel stuck. That they are unable to process the grief from the death - they know they should, but they don't know how. And what comes from that discussion is usually this phrase around being strong and not showing emotions, making sure they are supporting everyone else. But it means that their own emotions aren't processed. The thing about grief is - you've got to go through it. There is no bypassing it.


Changing Strong to Courageous

What I'm advocating is a change in the conversation from 'being strong' to having the courage to be vulnerable. To be able to express your emotions and share that grief with others, with the ones that matter. Showing emotions is not a weakness - it's a sign that you are a human being, that there is a gap between what you want (your loved one) and what you have (absence). It's grieving for what was, and what cannot be. All the hopes you had for the future with that person, and now that has changed. But we can be courageous in being vulnerable and showing our emotions. This process allows us to proceed through grief, and also gives grief the time it needs. There is no timeline - it takes as long as is needed, and over time, it becomes a little bit easier. But you can't put it off. You need to go through that grief and our brain remembers - it holds onto the grief until you are ready to go through it.


So next time you hear someone say "I need to be strong", why don't you tell them to be courageous instead.

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