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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.
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 and
provides an example.The article assumes you're familiar with...
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.
Six Options for
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:
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 psychosomaticillness. Do you?
inner-family therapy since 1992,
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 itprivately, 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
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 hurt!
and Perfectionist subselves ceaselessly
Inner Kids from
pain, 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
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
losses (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"
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
Inner-child 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
false self, 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
(study lesson3 1 thru 3) and 2 (free your Self to guide you) here.
Inherited 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
six 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 (option 1), 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 (option
1) , 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. she has
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 false
selves "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 began 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
requisites to help their family members mourn their broken bonds well enough.
With the new knowledge of her personality's
many subselves and her several
wounds 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 and 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.
Inner Critic insisted that "So you failed as a mother!," causing her
Guilty Girl and
Shamed Girl 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
inspirations, 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
survivors 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.
you need a stretch break before reading more?
Key Divorce-related Losses
As a family
divorces, all bonded family members experience
a web of significant invisible and tangible losses over many years. If family adults
discourage healthy mourning,
the odds of significant incomplete or blocked grief in some members
are high - specially if one or more adults were controlled by protective
false selves. This seemed to have been true of Pat and
Over several weeks of reflection, using these
inventories and talking with divorced
friends, Pat identified many physical and invisible bonds that broke because
of their family's evolving divorce. Examples of
the invisible losses include...
"I lost some
self-respect because of
Part of me believes that I shouldn't have married Ray, and that I caused our
divorce. Another part of me blames Ray." And...
"I've lost some
self-confidence. Am I
really able to choose a healthy partner and maintain a primary
relationship? Is there something wrong with me?" And...
"I've lost the
comfort of having a trusted,
loving partner I could talk with and depend on to be there in all
situations. I began losing that some years before we split up. And..."
"I've lost the
freedom of never having
to go through 'the dating' thing' again, and possibly having to deal
with the stresses of forming a stepfamily. And..."
my cherished dream of
living in 'a
normal, happy family' through my old age." and...
"I've lost my current and long-term
financial security and
some related freedoms. The
kids and I have much less money now, despite Ray's child support
"I've lost the
certainty and pride of
being a beloved child of God. My church says that divorce is a sin, and
obviously Ray and I have broken our marital vows. I'm not sure what to
believe about my 'sinning.' I never had to wonder about this
"I've lost my
confidence that our kids were raised well and have a good start on their adult lives. I worry
about how our family
stress and divorce has
impacted both kids'
development, short and long-term - specially Steven. His school grades
have dropped way down since Ray moved out; he seems isolated, angry, and
secretive; and most of his friends seem to be pretty troubled.
Stevie says he's not using
drugs, but Lisa says he is. He refuses to consider counseling, and says 'nothing's wrong, Mom!' I don't believe that, and
I'm not sure what to do. Maybe I should see a counselor..."
"I've lost my
freedom to be a full-time Mom and housewife. I'm really working two jobs now - co-parenting two
busy teens, and selling real estate. I've also lost my former
freedom from having to
negotiate child visitations, holidays, health insurance, school
activities, and financial support with Ray - and from wondering what
will happen if he decides to date and remarry." And...
my identity as a married
('normal') woman. Some people are still scornful and biased against
parents who divorce." And...
"I've lost some of my old
With Ray not living here, I have more caregiving responsibility more
often now. This feels more stressful." And...
"I've lost 16 priceless years of potential happiness
If I had made a wiser marital choice and had learned to problem-solve
more effectively, I wouldn't have 'wasted' these years with Ray."
(Pat later realized this was one of her subselves "talking," not her
pride in my appearance,
and confidence in my
health. I've gained about 20 pounds since our split-up, and I know I'm
not eating well and exercising enough. I no longer have the time or
energy to do those the way I used to. I'm uneasy about drinking more
alcohol, too - and I don't like to think about that. I think my Dad's
mother was an alcoholic, so I wonder... And..."
"I've lost the great
pleasure I felt at (most
of) our personal and family-holiday rituals, like family dinners,
birthdays, our week-end barbecues and picnics, making Easter eggs
together, campouts, vacations, anniversary gatherings, Independence Day,
Thanksgiving, and Christmas. These will never be the same as they were
for more than 17 years, including our courtship time. And..."
valued relationships with
most of Ray's relatives, and some of our mutual friends. I specially miss
feeling close to his father Norman and sister Nancine."
Pat has more divorce-related losses, but these are enough for our example.
Note that her ex Ray, her kids
Steven and Lisa, and many of their relatives and key friends have similar
loss-clusters to mourn because of their family's reorganization into
two co-parenting homes. Also
note the difference between divorce-related changes, and losses.
losses are changes (which also require accepting and adapting to), but not all changes are losses (broken bonds). Finally,
note that typical adults and kids in a new stepfamily
have a large group ofnew losses like those abovethat need to
be mourned - whether prior losses have been well
grieved or not.
As Pat identified her life losses - specially those related to their
divorce - she felt drained, overwhelmed, and increasingly sad. Reviewing and naming her specific losses was very painful, and her true
Self had to keep her long-range vision and steadily resist some protective subselves' urging her to quit.
She reminded her subselves that
the payoff was to be able to decide whether
she was risking major health and relationship problems by avoiding her
grief. As her loss inventory grew, Pat realized that she knew no one else who had evolved such an inventory
or assessed for blocked grief.
+ + +
Stretch, breathe, and recall the big picture.
Lesson-3 article proposes six options identifying and finishing
grief. Let's continue with our example..
Option 5 - Assess for and Free up Incomplete Grief
several weeks of periodic study, meditation,
discussions, and journaling, Pat has concluded "Neither my childhood or my
marital family had the requisites for healthy mourning, so I may be avoiding my
grief and not knowing it. Now I need to...
losses I may be denying; and whether I need to grieve them,
learn (a) why, and (b) what I need to resume (or finish) healthy grief. I also need to...
work on evolving and implementing a
pro-grief policy in our home, and to...
learn how to assess and help
Lisa and Stevie to (a) reduce any psychological wounds, and (b) progress on
I also need to...
decide if and how I should try to
other family members to what I'm learning about inner wounds and
mourning our losses - starting with the kids' father Ray.
"Whew - this seems like a LOT of work!"
+ + +
Yes, it IS. As ecologist Barry Commoner said,
"The TANSTAFL principle
applies - There Ain't No Such Thing as Free Lunch."
If you're considering options like these, notice the
difference between labeling them as boring, unsatisfying "work"
and "rewarding self-care and healthy family nurturance." Your
(subselves') attitudes about healing wounds and
mourning (and other things)
makes a major difference!
Identify Losses that aren't Fully Accepted
There are at least three ways to
check whether mourning a given loss is (a) accepted well enough, (b) in
process (incomplete), or (c) blocked. Sometimes
assessing this status isn't needed, because people intuit that they
have or haven't
grieved well enough.
- to protect anxious
inner children, well-meaning Guardian subselves
Magician may argue persuasively that grief is done "well enough" when it really isn't.
This is the psychological wound of reality distortion at work.
If someone like Pat
(or you)feels ambivalent or unsure about
their grieving status, they can take each key loss or a cluster of
losses like those above, and...
research whether they have any of these
common symptoms, and/or...
phase of the three levels of mourning,
and ask "Have I really moved through this phase, for this
Participate in an effective, knowledgeable
physical or on-line grief-support group.
illustrate these options, we'll choose the cluster of losses that
typical adults (specially parents) like Pat and
Ray experience when they separate and divorce.
1) Check for Symptoms
took undistracted time to tailor this overview of the
multi-year divorce process to her
family's situation. She then applied her new awareness of her personal grief
policy, which she had inherited from her parents.
She acknowledged that her
way of coping with the many losses she had experienced from their slow
divorce process was similar to her mother's policy - "Just get on with
(life), and don't whine, cry, or complain."
Pat acknowledged some symptoms of
blocking her cluster of divorce losses:
avoiding the collection of
pre-divorce family photos and courtship and marriage-anniversary
mementos - including her wedding ring - that were in a box in the
garage. She didn't want to throw them out, and didn't want to look at
them because of the discomfort (sadness + regret + guilt + anger) that
Pat realized a pattern:
several weeks before
their marriage anniversary, she began to get "depressed" (sad). She
consciously avoided talking about their courtship and marriage - in
general, and around their anniversary.
Pat also saw that she tried to
avoid co-parenting contact with Ray around their anniversary, and avoid
mentioning him to the kids. The unspoken
family rule that had emerged
was "We (family members) will not mention our wedding anniversary or our
Another uncomfortable pattern: Pat realized
she and Ray had each avoided asking Lisa and Stevie how they felt about
their parents' divorcing, and what they missed (lost). She also
recognized the same pattern of avoidance with her relatives. She didn't
want to experience their pain, and feeling responsible for
causing it. This could be promoting blocked grief in the kids.
Pat saw that at holiday times,
pretended gaiety and cheer that she really didn't feel (and denied doing
this), rather than honestly expressing her sadness over lost traditions
and family togetherness.
Another part of her current grieving policy
for how my actions affect other people, and I shouldn't inflict my
sorrow on the people I care about." (A healthier policy: "I should try
to be aware of other's feelings and needs, and respectfully accord others the responsibility for managing them, as I am responsible for
my feelings and needs.")
She began to notice how other divorced
parents talked (or didn't) about their marital and family split-up. Their
anger, bitterness, and sarcasm helped her realized that
numbed her strong anger at herself - and some of her anger at "life" ("Our
divorce is so unfair!"), Ray, her parents, and their church.
The more she thought about it, the more she realized - and
felt - her deep resentment and anger that her parents and grandparents had not
adequately prepared her to make a healthy marital commitment and to
resolve major marital conflicts effectively. Pat reminded herself that
feeling and respectfully expressing anger over a loss was a normal
phase in the emotional level of "good grief."
This led to reflecting on what her family, church, and society had
taught her to believe about
women and anger. This teaching netted out to
"A good woman doesn't get angry, is patient and understanding, and
should not feel or express anger at people she loves."
Pat realized that when her kids and others
she cared about seemed to be sad, she tried to "cheer them up," and
"look at the bright side." A better ("pro-grief") choice would be to
empathically validate their feelings, ("You seem to be really sad right
now.") and encourage them to feel and
express current emotions honestly without
guilt or anxiety.
Her unconscious grief policy
included the toxic rule
"Sadness is painful and bad, and should be discouraged."With what she was learning, a
healthier rule was "Sadness is a vital phase in our normal grief process, and should be respected
and fully expressed
rather than repressed or apologized for."
As she worked at Lesson 1 to reduce her
psychological wounds, Pat studied
addictions. She learned that the sugar in alcohol and "comfort foods" temporarily
muted feeling painful emotions. So did most fats, tobacco, shallow
breathing, and "antidepressant" drugs.
She concluded that
Guardian subself had been compulsively overusing alcohol and excessive
fats and sugars to protect inner kids from feeling their sadness
and anger at many losses, not just those from her divorce.
Pat discovered more symptoms like
these, which convinced her that she was (i.e. her subselves were)
avoiding the pain of mourning some important childhood, teen, and
divorce-related losses. That conclusion justified taking the next
WhyOne or More Losses Aren't
This courageous middle-aged mother reviewed the three core causes of blocked grief:
felt she was making good progress with (a) learning "good grief"
basics, (b) updating her personal grieving policy
to healthier rules, and (c)
starting to respectfully confront and/or avoid people who discouraged her
from grieving well.
That left identifying and
working with her personality subselves that were withholding necessary
permission to grieve well.She began to identify these subselves with
respect and compassion, reminding herself that all her subselves were trying
to protect her - tho some didn't trust her Self to do this effectively yet.
Prior to this
good-grief work, Pat had studied and experimented with
healthy changes in her subselves' values, roles, perceptions, and allegiances. She
drew on what she had learned to do this grief work.
She picked one symptom of her blocked grief - pretending family-celebration
cheer that some subselves really didn't feel. Pat acknowledged that that was
being phony and dishonest (i.e. violating her
that it discouraged healthy mourning.
Her true Self
meditated on how to change her (other subselves') attitudes and behavior in
order to be genuine and encourage her family members to grieve well.
decided that she wanted to:
be honest with other people about (express) her own
grieving emotions and encourage them to do the same,
give able adults responsibility for managing
their own feelings and filling their own needs without being insensitive
to them, and...
support as they all
grieved their respective lost family
She reminded herself that devoted
Guardian subselves always act to protect one or more
Inner Kids from discomfort or possible injury. Next, Pat reviewed the roster of her
subselves that she'd evolved from her wound-recovery work.
calling a council meeting of
all her subselves in a safe, non-distracted place, and (her Self) asking those
who needed her to pretend holiday gaiety to identify themselves. Pat tried
this alien exercise several times, and followed her intuition.
found that a coalition of subselves needed her to pretend: her
Moralizer, (Rule Keeper),
Perfectionist, Magician, her
Fantasizer, People Pleaser, Inner Critic, Guilty Girl, Abandoned Girl, and
Pat called a meeting of
these subselves to learn why they needed her to pretend false
celebration gaiety rather than allow her
Sad Child and resentful subselves
to honestly express their feelings and needs to other family members. She
Moralizer insisted that she must "be responsible for her actions"
and must not "selfishly" inflict her sadness on other people, because it
"made them feel bad" (which was wrong);
People Pleaser predicted that if Pat honestly expressed her
sadness at family gatherings, others would dislike, resent, and reject her. This terrified Pat's
Inner Critic promised
relentless scorn if Pat disobeyed the Moralizer's rules;
she had to behave "just right" (per the Moralizer's rules) in all
situations, including family celebrations. Her
Shamed Girl a and
Magician wanted to
preserve the illusion that family gatherings could be wonderful (ideal),
despite their pretense (denials), repressed feelings, and prior losses;
Girl moaned that if Pat was honest about her sadness and
"made others uncomfortable," she (the child) would "feel really bad"
because she felt Pat was responsible for other's feelings. And the woman
In varying degrees,
all these subselves distrusted
Pat's true Self to keep them safe enough in family gatherings,
and overruled her Sad Girl
and angry Girl This meant they resisted her Self's request to change their
Once Pat understood the values, fears, and goals of each of these
subselves, she (a) intentionally kept a long-range outlook, and (b)
patiently set out to persuade each of them to adopt a teamwork perspective and try some safe changes "to benefit all of
us." This was
part of her overall goal to
build her subselves' trust in the wisdom and reliability of her Self and other
Manager subselves, and to
patiently grow their teamwork and harmony.
she worked at this, Pat watched for chances to
what she was learning about healthy grief, subselves, inner wounds, and
personal and grief "policies" to her kids and other family members -
including her ex, Ray
She tried hard not to be "preachy" or
take responsibility for the other adults; and to be factual, brief, and
encouraging. Many of her family members were ruled by false selves
who were skeptical of, disinterested (i.e. "scared") in, and unempathic with her
wound-recovery and grief work. To keep her balance, Pat often used
guidelines along the way.
time, Pat's Self persuaded her subselves to relax their distrust and
experiment with expressing family-celebration anger and sadness rather than
pretending. Her coalition of protective subselves grudgingly acknowledged
that no catastrophes happened, and everyone "survived."
With coaching and instruction,
her subselves began to appreciate and accept the benefits of healthy grief and the potential harm in blocking it. An important shift was steadily encouraging her subselves to
change outdated childhood attitudes about self-sacrifice ("Always think of
the other person / Don't be 'selfish!'") to adopt a new code of personal
rights as a dignified person - without major
anxiety, guilt or shame.
- addiction is a universal subself strategy to mute or numb
inner pain. Compulsive overuse of ethyl alcohol,
nicotine, and some "street" drugs is compounded by developing a bodily
craving for the chemicals. Each of the
four types of addiction is a reliable
way of avoiding the discomfort of healthy three-level grief.
her wounds receded, Pat had to confront a scary question:
"Am I addicted
too many fats and sugars to help avoid the discomfort of grieving?"
research this, she decided to stop drinking alcohol and snacking on
high-sugar foods. She also challenged herself to limit her food portions,
exercise more, and lose the extra 25 pounds she was carrying.
Over a period of some weeks, she
found that she could not stop using these chemicals or taking
too many second helpings at dinner. She felt major guilt and
gradually reverting to her old low-exercise lifestyle despite vowing not to.
These results seemed to indicate that she
compulsively medicating her
inner pain - i.e. that some well-meaning
Guardian subselves felt she needed these
chemical and eating rituals for immediate relief, despite their long-term
committed to using
parts work to help her subselves choose healthier ways
of self-comforting and expressing and releasing their pain. First, she identified the
subselves which seemed to cause her toxic compulsions. They included...
My Addict - a common
Guardian subself who insisted that using the sugars and fats in alcohol and some
foods was merited to reduce the discomforts of...
Sad Girl, Lost Girl, Anxious Girl, Guilty Girl, and
Abandoned Girl, whose combined intense feelings and thoughts
were promoting major inner pain;
true Self, Adult Woman and
Health Director, who all say "Addiction is harmful - Stop!!"; and...
Inner Critic - ("You're pathetic and
weak. You can't keep your promises to
yourself, can you?");
Procrastinator - ("Ah, come on - you can diet and exercise
about a little comfort now?"); and...
My Magician / Rationalizer- ("Hey, you work
hard for other people, and you deserve a little
pleasure and comfort. What's a few extra pounds - you're not obese like
some real overeaters. And you don't crave alcohol in the morning
or have blackout like real alcoholics. No big deal - you're OK!"
with reducing her compulsion to pretend false gaiety, Pat patiently set out
to change the ignorance and narrow immediate-gratification values of these
subselves one or two at a time.
Two fundamental goals were to...
Inner Nurturer with each needy Inner Child, and
persuade her Guardian subselves to
trust that her Self and other
Managers would effectively help her needy little
girls release their various discomforts.
For perspective and options for
achieving these two goals,
read this article after you're done here.
knew that despite compelling dangers, typical Guardian subselves resisted
healthy change because they feared they would no longer be needed, and lose their power and control. So she steadily
reassured her Guardians that her Manager subselves would
help each of them find interesting, valuable
roles, and stop
self-medicating with toxic chemicals and comfort-rituals.
She steadily encouraged
all her subselves to meet and appreciate each other, and
pride and teamwork under the wise guidance of her Self (capital "S")
patiently applied her growing awareness and subself
cooperation to other specific childhood and divorce-related losses, despite
some disdain and anxiety among her family members.
She (her Self) also began
expressing some long-repressed (loss-related) hurts, anger, and resentments at
Ray, her parents, her kids, and - at times - some of her subselves.
worked to evolve a more balanced, healthy
anger policy, and encourage the
same in Stevie and Lisa. She worked to develop respectful ways to (a) express
anger and frustration, and
assert her needs and limits, rather than the
ineffective ways she had learned as a child.
+ + +
You just read a brief
illustration of two ways to (a) reduce inner wounds, and (b) identify
incomplete grief and facilitate healthy progress.The first way is to learn about personality subselves, wounds, recovery, and healthy
three-level grieving. Among other benefits from this learning, Pat became
able to assess for unhealthy personal and family grief and anger policies, and personal and social permissions to grieve well.
second way is to use this new knowledge to (a) methodically identify
life-losses, (b) check each of them for symptoms of blocked grief, and
(c) patiently work to identify and retrain protective personality subselves who
may be blocking effective mourning. Doing this is part of the larger
goal of identifying and reducing any significant psychological wounds
more options for forming a healthy grieving policy and identifying and
freeing blocked grief are to...
augment her own wound-reduction and grief work, Pat decided to try
professional grief therapy to guard against possible
reality-distortions fostered by protective subselves - e.g. "I have grieved my child-hood losses well
enough." She first researched the
criteria for choosing an effective counselor. She felt that a
qualified professional should...
accept the Lesson-1 concepts of harmonizing
personality subselves and
wounds - or be open to learning about them; and...
be able to describe some comprehensive
framework of good-grief basics, including...
for healthy grief,
levels and phases,
causes and common
effects of incomplete grief, and...
the idea of inner
permissions to grieve;
and a qualified professional should have...
special training and
significant experience in promoting healthy personal and family grief,
and facilitating incomplete grief.
described these traits to her friends and coworkers and asked for referrals, but
got none. Then she called local mental health agencies asking for grief
therapists. She interviewed several, and chose a woman who came close enough
to her criteria. Several sessions with the woman affirmed the wound-recovery
and grief work she was already doing, and added several new options and
resources - including trying out a local adult
and reflect - do you feel you may be incomplete or blocked in grieving some major life
losses? If so, do the options above seem to be practical ways to assess for
and reduce this stressor? If not - why not? Is your
true Self answering, or
grieving any physical or abstract loss, get undistracted and check each
statement that is clearly true:
__ 6) I can answer each of these
questions about bonds, losses, and healthy grief
__ 7) I have thoughtfully
identified the major physical and
invisible losses in my life, starting in
__ 8) I have thoroughly assessed
myself for incomplete grief using this 3-level concept and these
__ 9) I have thoughtfully written
down my personal
policy about grieving well,
and I'm living by it.
I'm clear on whether I have _
personal and _social
permissions to grieve well now. If I lack either
one, I'm actively correcting that now.
__ 11) I can clearly describe
what kind of support typical grievers need, and I know how to provide it.
__ 12) I often use the
Serenity Prayer, and I understand how it relates to helping others grieve well.
If you can't confidently check each item
as true now, you may be ruled by a false self and may not be ready to
facilitate healthy grief.
Facilitating Others' Grief
If your feel your mate, relative, or dear friend hasn't finished
grieving some key loss/es, consider these options...
Make sure your true Self is guiding you
(Lesson 1), and choose a long-term outlook.
this to estimate whether
your person is a Grown Wounded Child. If s/he is,
motivating her or him to
assess for psychological wounds must come before completing
Use these options for
giving effective feedback to
another person to suggest that s/he study and apply Lesson 1 in this
Web site. Defer discussing Lesson 3 until her or his true Self is
usually in charge.
Let these ageless
wisdoms guide you. You can't
make a wounded person want to recover
or grieve, but you can "plant seeds."
Assess your person for
addictions. They are an instinctive way to mute unbearable
inner pain (wounds).
Stable sobriety from any addiction is needed before reducing
psychological wounds (and grieving).
also that any addiction usually indicates a low-nurturance home and
family, which may be
interfering with wound-reduction and healthy grieving.
If your person isn't ready to assess for
psychological wounds and reduce them (hasn't hit bottom), you may talk
about your own recovery and grieving process without expecting your
person to change anything yet. See
for more options.
If s/he commits to empowering her/his
true Self (true wound recovery), you may mention that unfinished
grief can be toxic, and Lesson 3 is about learning how to grieve
well. Then let go of feeling responsible for your person
studying and acting on Lesson 3. If you feel compelled to rescue
your person, check yourself for false-self dominance and
codependence. Usually, rescuing someone (making them "feel better")
is about your own comfort!
If your person is usually guided by
his/her true Self, then ask if s/he will study and discuss Lesson 3
with you, and describe why you're asking. Option - ask your
person to read this article with an open mind, and to discuss it
with you. Whatever s/he decides to do, use these
guidelines to support her
or him while you progress on your own recovery and grieving.
If your person is raising kids, invite
him or her to intentionally (a) teach their young people about
healthy 3-level grief, (b) model it, and (c) intentionally create a
pro-grief home for them. This will help to
break the [wounds +
cycle in their family!
+ + +
Pause and reflect - what are you thinking and feeling now? If you
know someone who seems to be stuck in mourning, do you feel these
options could help you and them? Use the options as flexible
possibilities, not a rigid cookbook.
36 years' clinical research,
I propose that incomplete
grief is a little-known, widespread stressor in people, their families,
and our society. Lesson 3 in this self-improvement
course focuses on healthy grieving basics.
This article describes a
series of practical options for identifying and finishing incomplete
grief. It includes an illustration of an average person acting on these
options. The article closes with options for reacting to someone else's
Pause, breathe, and recall
why you read this article. Did you get what
you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not, what
do you need? Is there anyone you want to
discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these
questions - your wise resident
true Self, or