Normally grief runs through it’s cycle of healing over 2 years for a close loss. In that first while it is supposed to hurt, it’s part of life and it takes time to heal. After that time it still can hurt, but it shouldn’t be so intense.

However, grief can get ‘locked-in’, remaining terribly painful in some cases, for many years . It doesn’t have to be that way, but your brain will lie to you, telling you it’s necessary or right to still be so upset – that if you allowed yourself to feel better, it would mean that you cared less. You hold on to it as if it was the person you lost. That’s your brain creating an emotional illusion for you.

Would the person who’s passed on ever want us to be in pain? Yet for all of us, this feeling can occur. If we hold on to it we can linger in pain long term. It’s a loss for us all.

Grief acts like a trauma in the mind. If there’s too much hurt, the mind traps the memory and uses it as a template to trigger the emotions connected to it. If you come across something that matches this template then it releases the same feelings again which influence your behaviour. So you’re feeling OK, and then you see something that reminds you of the person who passed on (it matches the template) and this triggers the bad feelings to well up again (the emotion is released to influence behaviour).

One theory as to why this happens is that the mind somehow thinks that bad feeling is the same as feeling that you are in danger. (hurt = a warning of danger). Therefore when the brain sees something that matches the template for danger, it releases a strong emotional response to alert you to that danger. This works well in crisis situations such as a mugging for example. If you’re mugged in a dark alley at knife-point, by two big guys then for a long time after that, seeing someone holding a knife, passing a dark alley, or even just seeing two big guys could all trigger a strong feeling of fear to put you on alert. In grief, it seems the brain may be confusing the nature of the bad feeling and then using it like a survival tool to alert you.

Because your mind is trying to help with the pain by alerting you that something is wrong, it thinks it’s doing the right thing to maintain this system and therefore keeps it running long after it’s needed. That’s where we see ‘locked-in’ grief.

This much grief can lead to a lot of stress, often with it not being obvious where it’s coming from. It’s a bit like a pressure cooker. We spot the steam forced out where it can escape but that’s not where the problem lies. The generation of that pressure is somewhere deep inside.

I’ve seen so many people who, even decades after losing a close friend or relative, are unable to think about them without great pain. Usually this means that you’re unable to remember the good times with them, as the painful memories are overwhelming. This doesn’t have to be the case. Realising that the pain is still there and that healing hasn’t happened, is the first step.

Over the coming while I’m going to post some tips on how to deal with grief and how to reduce the pain.

Change is easier than you think.