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This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 3 in the
Break the Cycle! self-improvement course. The lesson aims to educate readers
on healthy grieving basics so they can complete any unfinished mourning
and grow a pro-grief home and family. Doing this is part of
lethal [wounds + unawareness]
First learn something about yourself by answering this
Typical survivors of childhood trauma (Grown Wounded Children - GWCs) never
learned these basics, and risk psychological, physical, and relationship problems from incomplete mourning.
Lesson 3 requires major
Lesson 1 - reducing psychological wounds.
Premises - all healthy adults and kidsform bonds over time,
which break by choice or chance - causing losses.Incomplete grief is an unrecognized,
toxic condition in many people and families. It seems to be caused by
widespread psychological wounds + unawareness + lack of personal and social
permission to mourn well.
in this nonprofit Web site proposes an effective way to prevent or
reduce unfinished grief, and to intentionally grow
This article offers
options for completing unfinished grief in yourself an example.The article assumes you're familiar with...
the intro to this nonprofit web site and the
premises underlying it
work as a therapist and student of family systems since 1979 suggests that
many people and families are
stressed by the toxic effects of incomplete grief. Typical adults (like you?) are unaware of
healthy grieving basics, and what to do if they become "stuck" in the
process of mourning.
Completing Your Grief
If you have
symptoms of unfinished grief, choose a long-term
outlook, and adapt the options below to fit you and your situation.
The long-term goal is to become an
effective griever, not just to mourn a specific loss.
1 thru 3
here until you can easily answer these quizzes:
your true Self to
your other dynamic subselves (Lesson 1). If you don't, these
other options probably won't help you grieve well.
Assess yourself for "good grief"
commit to acquiring any you're missing.
Starting in childhood, identify your significant
and their key impacts on you;
Assess for and free up any incomplete grief on any of your losses.
Use your Self's wisdom and new awareness to
grieve new losses to completion - and help others do the same.
Pause and reflect. How do you feel about these options? Do they seem do-able?
Do you think average women and men could explain all of them? Can your
To free up blocked grief, it's
important to know how false-self dominance combines with ignorance of
healthy-grieving basics to hinder the mourning process.
Personality Subselves and
My clinical experience and research suggests that
normal personalities are
composed of an interactive
group of subselves that each have their
own purpose, values, needs, way of communicating, and view of the world. They
create all the "voices" (thoughts) and images in your mind, and seem to cause a
wide range of emotional and physical reactions.
If you're skeptical or curious
about this idea, read this letter to you.
Then try this safe, interesting, exercise
and return here. Though ancient, this "subself" idea is new enough in our
culture that most grief professionals aren't
aware of it. Most do believe in
psychosomatic illness. Do you?
I believe many bodily discomforts and illnesses are promoted by our dynamic
subselves beyond our awareness. For example,
the subselves governing wounded adults
mourn well.Impressionable children are taught anti-grief beliefs like these:
"Real (virile) men (or males) don't cry."
or "Crying is for wimps, babies, and sissies."
"(Feeling and/or showing) anger, or too much
sadness, is wrong and bad."
"Keep a stiff upper lip (or we'll withhold
our approval, respect, and love.)"
"Don't burden others with your sorrow."
"Get over your loss, and move on. No
not OK to vent repeatedly about your
losses and pain."
"Put on a happy face (or someone will
dislike, reject, or punish
"Don't be gloomy or 'negative' (or
someone will dislike, reject, or punish you)."
"Always think of the other guy (otherwise
you're being selfish and bad)!"
"You only grieve when someone dies, and then
it should take a few weeks at most."
"We don't talk about or evaluate our family's
grieving habits, values, or rules - and we deny, minimize, and/or joke about this."
"If you must grieve, do it
privately, and don't disturb anyone else."
"Always look at the bright side! (or we'll
disapprove of or reject you)."
"Strong emotions are upsetting and bad.
If you must feel them, don't show (express) them."
"When the going gets tough, the tough get
going. We (parents) love tough people best."
"We (you) don't discuss family business
(like losses and their impacts) with outsiders."
"It is not
necessary or OK to get professional help in
healing your losses."
"If it hurts, use sugar,
fat, nicotine, and/or
alcohol (or work real hard) to feel better - and ignore, joke about, or deny
that you're doing this."
You may have
learned as a small child following rules like these got
love, and acceptance you craved. Kids that don't follow the
rules experience subtle or obvious disapproval, scorn, and rejection. Those
and Perfectionist subselves ceaselessly
Inner Kids from
they may relentlessly give you
stern warnings and acid judgments if you start to feel or show grief sadness,
confusion, and anger in a way that violates "the rules" (above.)
You may also have developed a
protective Catastrophizer subself that adds vivid
thoughts and images about disasters that will surely occur if you don't follow the Critic's
rules ("You'll be spurned, abandoned, and die a miserable death alone
in the gutter!")
You may also have a protective
People Pleaser subself, whose
steady job is to focus you solely on worrying about meeting
other's needs and standards, in order to avoid agonizing criticism, rejection, and
abandonment. This subself is specially active in
shame-based adults and kids who were
to believe they were worthless and unlovable.
Guardian subself can be called
the Magician. Its specialty is turning painful or scary current realities into
(reality distortion). So when you suffer painful
(broken bonds), this protective subself gives you thoughts like "Losses?
What losses?"; or "Yeah, well we've lost some things, but no big
deal!", or "Take care of the kids' wounds now, and worry about me later" (self neglect).
Probably no one in your family, schools, or social circle has talked about "your inner
family of personality subselves," so
you became an adult without clear
your Inner Critic, Moralizer/Preacher,
and Perfectionist subselves andthe rules they insists you
your well-meaning narrow-visioned
Catastrophizer, People Pleaser,
and Magician subselves; and...
the group of
personality parts that these subselves guard.
If these normal subselves often overwhelm
Adult and Spiritual subselves and your true Self, you unconsciously live your days and nights from a
believing this and the painful results to be "normal."
When you inevitably experience broken bonds (losses),
subselves like these may block your sad and/or angry subselves from
causing and expressing normal grief emotions and thoughts.
Your well-meaning subselves may insist that you don't dare violate
your inherited childhood rules about grieving, much less edit or
replace them. You then lack "inner permission" to grieve well.
These diligent Guardian subselves may also rigidly protect you against
perceiving who encourages you to grieve well and who doesn't, because the
subselves (mistakenly) believe that's not safe.
may be that (a) your healthy grieving response is hindered or blocked, (b)
you're unaware of why and how, and (c) you feel "depressed" and/or
"irritable." If this persists and you accumulate too many ungrieved
losses, you may become addicted, obese, "depressed," physically sick (e.g.
migraines, cancer, hypertension, diabetes...), and
strengthen your false self’s toxic dominance of your other subselves.
If you take mood-control medications to reduce your good-grief symptoms, you
may delay or miss the chance to...
reorganize your subselves under the wise
leadership of your
protect your descendents from
[wounds + unawareness].
+ + +
What you just read explains the reason for good-grief options 1 and 2 here.
psychological wounds are one of several core reasons for incomplete grief. If
you doubt or ignore this, this article will probably be of little value to
Let's look at how these grief-completion options might
apply to a typical divorced, custodial mother called Pat in mid-life.
See if you know anyone like her...
Pat became motivated to work at these steps for several
reasons. She feels that her aging Mother has lived a drab, "joyless" life, and
doesn't want that for herself. Pat regrets her recent divorce after 18 years
of marriage, and feels
guilty about the impact it's had on her (custodial) kids Lisa (17) and Steven (15).
She admits that she's probably 25 pounds
overweight, doesn't always eat well, and "may drink too much at times."
doesn't think much about dating or remarrying, but doesn't want to grow old
alone or burden her kids and any
grandkids in later life.
Pat has felt significantly
depressed for perhaps a year prior to asking
her husband Ray to move out 17 months ago, and ever since. Her doctor
prescribed a popular drug which has alleviated her
depression somewhat, but leaves her feeling "like a robot at times."
dislikes needing a drug to function, and is intrigued by the new idea that
depression may be linked to psychological wounds and blocked grief.
Before starting to study wounds and mourning, she had always assumed that
grieving was only appropriate when someone died. The idea that the
multi-year process of their divorce had caused everyone in her family major
losses was new and disturbing to her. She and Ray had never discussed this.
None of Pat's childhood adults ever
talked about their losses or the grieving process. (an anti-grief policy). Her mother's stern Swedish ancestors were practical, blunt
people who "had no time to be sad and mope around." Her father had rarely
expressed emotions other than bursts of anger and frustration. She had never
seen him cry, including at his parents' deaths - though he had experienced
much trauma and
pain in his life.
He grew up in an alcoholic blue-collar
family which had struggled to survive the Depression during the
1930s. At age 71, her father had no idea that he was an "ACoA"
(Adult Child of Alcoholics) or what that
meant to him, Pat, and his
grandkids. None of them had ever studied what it meant to be the
grandchild of addicted (wounded) ancestors.
Pat's parents' and grandparents' main attitude (policy) about reacting to
major losses seemed to be "Just get over it." None of them had ever been to
a therapist, or had much interest in human dynamics or "personal growth."
Like their ancestors, hero/ines, and teachers, they had no awareness of
family nurturance-levels, psychological wounds, or blocked grief. Pat's
early caregivers were "God fearing" and religious, but none of them was
Like their respective parents, Pat and Ray had never thought to teach their
kids about bonding, losses, and healthy grieving, or how to
effectively. As Pat learned more about these topics at age 43, she felt increasingly
guilty and anxious about this. She mentioned this to her older sister Alice,
who said tartly "For Heaven's sake, Patricia, stop worrying. Grieving is
automatic, like digesting food, so your kids don't need instruction on how
to do it!"
Pat asked Alice's opinion about their childhood-family's grief policy. When
she explained the concept, her sister shrugged and said dismissively
"Well, I don't know - I never thought about it. What's the point?"
Over some weeks, Pat invested time to learn
about psychological wounds, recovery, and healthy grief - i.e.
progressed well with option 1.
Option 2 - Assess for psychological wounds
Pat has studied and accepted the concept of
personality subselves, after some initial
skepticism, she filled out the first three Lesson-1 checklists honestly to explore
whether she was "significantly wounded." Despite some
apprehension and having persuasive urges to
defer this uncomfortable self-examination,
she concluded that she
was controlled by a false
self "too often." The idea that she could intentionally reduce this
free her true Self to guide her other subselves more often felt
Of the other five psychological wounds, Pat decided that in certain situations,
her subselves were causing "significant" guilts, fears,
reality distortions - she wasn't sure yet. She felt
"excessive shame" was not a major problem, and was sure was able to
numbing them), and that she could genuinely care about
(bond with) selected others and exchange genuine (vs. pseudo) love with them. She felt relieved
to acknowledge these traits honestly.
Pat reviewed the three types
of subselves, thoughtfully changed some of the names to "fit better," and
rough-drafted a roster of her personality "parts." She was
discover she had a group of
inner children, and over 20 active subselves - including her
Spiritual One. Pat
tried "interviewing" several subselves, and
was startled to discover they really did "talk back" to her Self "just
As she continued this alien self-exploration, Pat wondered
about the subselves that governed her kids Lisa and Steven. She mentioned
this to her close friend Maria (also a mother), who expressed some interest
in learning more about "this true Self / false-self thing."
Pat knew no one
else who had ever discussed or explored "normal personality
subselves." She be-gan to see her parents, her ex husband Ray, and some other people
in a new way: She realized that
"They each had
major psychological wounds, and had no clue about that or what it
3 - Assess for "Good Grief" Requisites
Pat continued to adjust to the many changes from their family's divorce,
she began to wonder if anyone was still grieving the major losses it caused,
and how that might be affecting her family members - including Ray's
parents. She had never thought about "my
gieving policy'' or
"the rules that govern how our family members mourn, and who made our
Pat wanted to learn whether she and
Ray had developed the
to help their family members mourn their broken bonds well enough.
With the new knowledge of her personality's
and her several
in the background, she patiently worked at answering this question via
meditation, reading, and discussions
with key people.
She explained the idea of a family grieving policy to Ray, and asked him
what he thought theirs was. She was pleasantly surprised to learn that he
had some interest in exploring that too "for the kids' sakes." Pat did not
try to get into subselves or wounds, expecting him to view those ideas
sarcastically as "New Age psychobabble."
reading about healthy-grieving basics, Pat realized that none of their
adults or ancestors had been taught (a) to think of losses as including more than someone's death, or about (b) the
levels and phases of health grieving.
After some weeks of reflecting, studying, journaling, and discussing their
family's requisites for "good-grief," Pat's dominant subselves concluded...
was the first person in their family to assess for psychological wounds and
begin to reduce them. Pat felt sad to acknowledge that her
parents, Ray, and his parents were all probably
Grown Wounded Children (GWCs)
and that that probably hindered healthy grief in all of them;
None of their family members had learned and
discussed good-grief basics, assessed their major losses, or discussed
the impacts of these losses on their lives and what to do about them;
Everyone seemed to be confident enough about
their ability to grieve well, but this complacency was based on
ignorance, unawareness, and distorted perceptions;
None of their family members assigned high
personal priority to encouraging healthy grieving or checking for
None of their family adults had been
committed to helping each other and their kids...
feel ande express their
grieving emotions and thoughts freely, or...
clearly identify their key life losses
(broken bonds) and what they each meant.
these reasons, the adults in her family had little motivation to help
each other and their kids grieve well in their own unique ways.
Their family grieving policy was
unconscious and toxic. It netted out to...
"Grief only applies to someone's
death. Grieve death briefly if you must, and get on with your life.
Don't burden other people with your thoughts or feelings."
Bottom line: Pat had to acknowledge that (a) she had been raised
in a low-nurturance family that unintentionally lacked the
requisites for healthy mourning, which (b) probably promoted
unfinished grief among them all. She also had to admit that because
of ignorance and unseen psychological wounds, she and Ray had raised
Steven and Lisa in a similar environment.
insisted that "So you failed as a mother!," causing her
to spasm. Pat's Self calmly countered "No I
didn't fail. I couldn't have taught the kids about healthy mourning
because Ray and I didn't know what they needed to learn - just as our
ancestors didn't know."
Pat journaled about her new awarenesses, including her anger and sadness
about lacking the requisites for healthy mourning. She vented about this to
Alice, who was genuinely sympathetic and receptive. That caused sadness and
frustration that she couldn't vent with her own family members and get empathic support from them.
After more reflection, venting, and using these wise
Pat decided to keep working on...
getting to know her subselves better,
building trust and teamwork among them,
investigating her life losses for any
She didn't think she had any, but her new awareness
and knowledge made her wonder if that was a protective
Option 4 - Identify Your Losses and their Key
Pat recalled her conclusion that she
did not seem to have the
symptoms of the sixth psychological wound - an inability to bond,
and to feel and exchange genuine love. This suggested that she had
bonded with various people, things, and intangibles during her life, and
did have losses to mourn.
To set the stage, she chose a quiet undistracted place and time to
thoughtfully review these examples of
After some days of reflection and
journaling, she evolved this list of her major life losses since childhood:
lost: the delightful illusions that there was a tooth fairy; and
a Mr. and Mrs. Santa Clause, elves, and reindeer "living w-a-ay up
north." This triggered a larger
loss of the comforting belief that adults 'always told the
lost: the prized relationship with my Mom's mother 'Muma," who
died when I was seven. This caused the
loss of prized rituals
like making cookies with Muma, sitting in her lap, having her read me
bedtime stories, backrubs, and going to the zoo with her on summer
lost: the enjoyment of our orange tabby cat "Fireball," who died
when I was eight. And...
lost: the familiarity and comfort of my first home, school, friends, and
neighborhood when our family moved from Wisconsin to California
when I was 12. This dislocation caused a web of minor to major broken
bonds for our family members, which no one discussed. Part of this web
that had special poignancy -
losing the opportunity to lie on my back after a fresh snowfall
and make "angels" with my best friend Nina."
lost: the companionship and comfort of confiding in my older
brother Toby when he left home for the Navy."
"I lost (a) my identity as a young girl and (b) my childhood innocence,
when I began menstruating at 12. As a veteran mother now, I also realize
that I also lost (c) the security of having a family adult care enough
to explain my emerging sexuality to me.
Dad seemed uncomfortable with each of us girls reaching puberty, and was
unable to express paternal pride and support for us in this key life
passage. This feels like (d) some kind of loss, but I'm not clear on
what. Loss of Dad's validation and respect for my femaleness?
Pat recalled that her mother's reaction to her starting her monthly
cycle was no-nonsense instruction on hygienic necessities, and sternly
warning her "Now you have to be real careful when you're around boys."
But she did not explain what she meant, and made it clear that Pat
wasn't to question her.
Pat also lost (e) having her
Mother celebrate her development into someone now capable of the
miracle of co-creating new life,
and (f) welcoming her
into the sacred female world of potential motherhood. Pat had to
discover those things from other older women and the media, so she (g)
lost a degree of closeness and
bonding with her own Mother that she now wished she had had.
More of Pat's key losses:
"I lost memories of many average and special childhood
experiences like early birthday parties and my first day at school,
because my parents didn't care much about family pictures or keep-sakes."
("Amnesia" about early childhood details and events is common among
of a low-nurturance childhood.)
"I had many small and major high-school losses during my California high
school years. One that stands out now is losing my familiar 'girl
body,' as my breasts developed and my hips widened. That amplified the
loss of relating to boys as buddies that began in middle school.
Another loss that stands out now is
end of my childhood freedom and irresponsibility. One day I really recognized that I would
eventually graduate, leave home, and have to support myself. This loss
was amplified the day I got my diploma."
We won't include Pat's many tangible and invisible broken bonds between high
school graduation and her divorce here, with two exceptions:
chosen losses of (a) her life-long identity as a single female
and of (b) her (subselves') fear
of growing old alone, when she exchanged wedding vows with Ray. Note an
implication: some losses are chosen to get something of greater
Like all first-time mothers, Pat experienced
a boggling series of
personal and marital changes and
that began when she conceived and delivered their first child - e.g. she
lost the familiar ritual of sleeping soundly through the night.
Her identity shifted, too - from "childless
woman" to "a
woman who had realized her biological potential to co-create new
life. This is an example of an
change that is not a loss.