Lesson 3 of 7 - learn how to grieve well


Six Steps to Forge a
Pro-grief Family

Help each other
 mourn your losses

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/grief/6steps.htm

Updated  01-09-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles comprising online Lesson-3 in the Break the Cycle! self-improvement course. This lesson aims to educate readers to healthy grieving basics so they can spot and complete unfinished mourning and evolve pro-grief relationships and families. Typical survivors of early-childhood trauma (Grown Wounded Children - GWCs) never learned these basics, and risk psychological, physical, and relationship problems from incomplete mourning.

      This article...

  • provides background on healthy grief, and...

  • proposes six practical steps healthy adults can take to evolve a "pro-grief" relationship or family. "Pro-grief" means "consistently encouraging healthy three-level grief in all involved people."

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit web site and the premises underlying it   

  • these five universal hazards

  • self-improvement Lesson 1

  • these Q&A items and good-grief basics


      This brief YouTube video previews most of what you're about to read...

      Throughout our lives, healthy people automatically form significant emotional attachments - bonds - to people, things, rituals, ideas, freedoms, dreams, and many other tangible and invisible things. Inevitably, life forces us - or we choose to = , or , sudden or foreseen endings of these cherished bonds - losses.

      Nature provides us an automatic way to eventually accept and adapt to our losses and resume normal life - grief or mourning. This natural process occurs on mental, emotional, and perhaps spiritual levels at the same time, if allowed to.

      Premise: Healthy grief requires at least seven personal and environmental elements to run its course. Can you name them? Many typical adults and mental-health professionals have never been taught these elements and where they come from. This ignorance (lack of knowledge) is part of the silent [wounds + unawareness] cycle that is relentlessly degrading our families, culture, and global environment.

      Mourning can be slowed or blocked by internal and/or social factors, promoting personal and family stress and illness. When mourners and supporters become aware of the common symptoms of grief blocks and intentionally acquire the requisites, healthy grief can resume.

      Researchers are just beginning to study blocked ("complicated") grief, so most lay and professional people, probably including the people who raised you, are unaware of its causes, symptoms and toxic effects. Healthy grieving is a vital component of personal and family nurturance and wholistic health. Do you agree?

      After studying family dynamics professionally since 1979, I believe incomplete grief in one or more members is one of five related reasons that most U.S. families are significantly stressed, and many divorce legally and/or psychologically.

      All persons and families evolve semi-conscious policy (attitudes and conscious rules) about "proper" bonding and grieving. Adults who are (a) guided by their wise resident true Self and (b) aware of healthy-grief basics, are most likely to evolve and live from "pro-grief" personal and family policies - i.e. rules that encourage all family members to want to follow the steps below. Before reading about them,  see if you can name these steps out loud now. Most people can't.

 Six Steps Toward Healthy Grieving

      Tho these steps are described for multi-generational families - specially those including kids - they apply to people in any social relationship. The essential first step is for each adult to...

Learn about the [wounds + unawareness] cycle, and assess for and reduce significant psychological wounds. One of three widespread roots of incomp0lete grief is adult's unawareness of wounds from early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse ("trauma"). The other roots are unawareness of healthy-grieving basics and other topics, and a social environment that hinders discourages healthy mourning..

      So - assess each family adult or partner for significant psychological wounds, and - where appropriate - seek qualified help in implementing an effective wound-reduction plan. Wounded people in denial typically think "Well, that doesn't apply to me/us!" I believe It does apply to most troubled, divorcing, and/or re/married men and women and their kids and relatives.

      Lesson 1 in this nonprofit Web site and its related guidebook are devoted to psychological-wound assessment and recovery. Note that psychological and legal divorce are common symptoms of the these hazards and the lethal [wounds + ignorance] cycle at work. Perspective - recent estimates suggest that almost half of U.S. marriages ultimately divorce legally. Uncounted millions more endure psychological divorce.

      Without steady adult commitment to spotting and reducing psychological wounds and ignorances where needed, the following "good grief" steps will probably be ineffective.

Learn good-grief basics together. All family adults - specially mates and grandparents...

  • take and discuss this quiz to establish what you (don't) know. Then...

  • study and discuss Lesson 3 in this nonprofit, ad-free site .

      Evolve a shared definition of bonding, losses, and "effective mourning."  and review this grief-values worksheet for perspective. Note - adults ruled by false selves are likely to be indifferent, ambivalent, skeptical, "too busy," and/or discount this vital project. See step 1 above

      Recall - you're reviewing six sequential steps toward evolving a "pro-grief" family or relationship and guarding against one of five major universal hazards..

Identify your current personal and family policies (shoulds, musts, have to's, and oughts) about mourning and anger. Do you know anyone who's studied their own policy on mourning life's inevitable losses? Did your parents or grandparents ever talk about their grieving policy? You probably formed your own (unconscious) policy by watching and listening to them and other mentors or hero/ines.

      Once you identify the rules that govern how and what you grieve, study each one and update it if it doesn't promote good grief per step 2. For example, if your inherited grief policy decrees that "Crying is weak and to be scorned," amend that to "Crying is a healthy natural reflex for releasing stress-producing brain chemicals, and is to be encouraged in adults and kids."

      One requisite for healthy grief is "inner and outer permissions.'' Outer permissions (encouragements) come from friends, coworkers, and a family with a "pro-grief" attitude and policy. Do you have such a social environment? Do any young people in your life have one?

Take detailed inventories of the invisible and physical losses (broken emotional / spiritual bonds) that each adult and child in your family has had. If you're in a divorcing family or stepfamily, pay special attention to identifying adults' and kids' losses from (a) biofamily divorce or adult death, and (b) co-parent re/marriage and/or cohabiting. 

      Option: print and thoughtfully fill out the two Lesson-3 loss-inventory worksheets as a family. Stay clear that this is not about right/wrong, good/bad, or blaming anyone for causing pain and loss - it's about learning and healing.

Check each of your family adults and minor and grown children for symptoms of incomplete grief, including "depression." If you find any, adults decide together on how to free it up, and act! If you're unsure or scared, seek help from a licensed grief counselor. Check local mental-health agencies for such specialists.

And if you're in a stepfamily...

All three or more co-parents accept without ambivalence that you are in a normal multi-home stepfamily vs. "just a regular (bio)family." Then work at Lessons 1 thru 7 here. All your adults and kids probably have major losses to mourn from (a) prior divorce and/or adult death and (b) re/marriage and/or cohabiting and your several biofamilies' merging. If courting or committed mates bypass this essential step, they and their kids risk incomplete grief and major ongoing personal, re/marital, and family stresses.

      Typical stepfamily co-parents in different homes are often conflicted by unforgiven divorce-related hurts, resentments, guilts, shame, disrespects, distrusts, and hostilities. These are often based on unrecognized psychological wounds and unawareness.

      Forming a pro-grief stepfamily is usually far more complex than in an intact biofamily because there are many more people, more losses, and differing values, relationships, and concurrent needs. A requisite for doing this is to identify which of these barriers exist in and between key adults and kids, and intentionally work to reduce them together.

      Many survivors  of low-nurturance childhoods (GWCs) learned to protectively numb their reactions to losses (broken bonds), and to inhibit healthy grief in key others by withholding permission to grieve.

      Typical Grown Wounded Children are unaware of doing this, and often deny it if pointed out to them. If such people do these six grief steps honestly, they often start to recognize and react to their agonizing childhood losses. A harmful unconscious protection against this pain is to put off, intellectualize, discount, or fake, moving through all three levels of healthy mourning.

      These steps toward growing a pro-grief family take family-adult courage, patience, and commitment to personal, marital, and family health. Mates'' committing to doing these steps thoroughly together greatly raise their odds of marital success and protecting their descendents against inheriting the lethal [wounds + ignorance] cycle.

      I encourage you to show this article to your other family adults and supporters. Discuss it together and decide what you each want to do with this information. Following these steps toward building a pro-grief family takes courage, commitment, and patience. Doing nothing is doing something. This long-term project is best begun before or during courtship.

Reality Check

      Have you ever seen these premises and steps before? Clarify what you believe about them here: A = "I agree," D = "I disagree," and ? = "I'm unsure, ambivalent, or it depends on ___."

  • All healthy infants, kids, and adults form significant emotional bonds with a range of living and inanimate things and comforts throughout their lives.  (A  D  ?)

  • By choice or chance, some of these bonds break, causing losses. (A  D ?)

  • Nature provides a way to identify, understand, react to, and accept these losses and their impacts, and to eventually resume normal life - grief or mourning.  (A  D  ?)

  • Over time, this natural adjustment process occurs across several phases in each of two or three levels. (A  D  ?)

  • All persons and families form and live from unconscious policies about if, how, and when to bond and grieve. They can identify and amend these policies at any time. (A  D  ?)

  • Typical adults unconsciously use the mourning values and policies they learned from their childhood caregivers and mentors.  (A  D  ?)

  • Healthy grief depends on awareness of - and maintaining - seven requisites.  (A  D  ?)

  • Healthy multi-level grief can be slowed or blocked by personal and social factors. Incomplete grief usually promotes toxic effects and observable behavioral symptoms.  (A  D  ?)

  • The sequential steps proposed here can help average persons and families grieve effectively. (A  D  ?)

  • My true Self is responding to this reality check.  (A  D  ?)

      What did you just learn?


      This article summarizes steps any motivated person can take toward growing a "pro-grief" family or relationship - i.e. one which consistently promotes healthy three-level grief among all its members and descendents. These steps build on the "good grief" basics in Lesson 3 in this self-improvement Web site:

      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 ''someone else''?

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