A huge part of my own story has included grief and, sometimes, the accompanying toxic positivity.

As a tarot and oracle card reader and a reiki healer, I tend to attract clients in my practice that also have experience with deep grief. What I’ve noticed is that our Western culture is not good at ‘healthy grieving’. We want to skip immediately to the positive, or the “lesson” or “gifts” within the loss, which can be damaging for the person who is in pain.

This is, unfortunately, an important topic in the time of a global pandemic, as everyone is grieving on some level right now. As such, I’ll offer some suggestions on healthy grieving and ideas for how we can better support people who are in grief, without sinking into toxic positivity.

 

What is toxic positivity and why is it detrimental to healthy grieving?

A woman who is feeling sad and is covering it with a smile, toxic productivity.
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Firstly, it’s important to highlight that we don’t just grieve when someone dies.

We can grieve the loss of a job or a home. We can grieve the loss of a relationship or a part of our identity. It may even be that we grieve our youth. Our single life.

So many of us are grieving the plans we had for 2020 that can’t come to fruition. Every time a chapter in our life ends, there is a period of grief that coincides with the beginning of something new. It takes emotional maturity to embrace grief instead of run from it.

Here is where toxic positivity, which is so pervasive in our culture, becomes a gigantic roadblock.

 Toxic positivity can dismiss the reality of a person’s lived experience. It seeks to bypass struggle by pretending it isn’t there. When we have been taught to shy away from difficult emotions, only embracing the positive, it can lead to us shame ourselves for feeling what we feel.

Stuffing down difficult emotions is dangerous and only causes them to fester in our energy systems and our body. Suppressing emotions can cause us to become sick in our minds and in our bodies. A lot of anxiety stems from not feeling safe to express what we feel. We fear the judgement of other people because we have not been afforded secure, safe, healthy spaces to voice our sorrow and struggle. 

There have been times when I sought help and guidance to move through my grief, and the reception I got from some people who call themselves ‘healers’ and ‘counsellors’ was appalling. They could not hold space for my pain. In wanting to rush my recovery and provide a solution, they actually caused more harm. I was made to feel that something was wrong with me, and that was why I couldn’t feel happy.

Other people can only meet you as far as they’ve met themselves. If they have not faced and embraced their own grief, they will try to minimise yours.

 

‘Holding space’

A couple providing each other with support to get through a grieving process.
Photo by Käännöstoimisto Transly on Unsplash

On the flip side, as we heal and turn towards our soft places, we open space for others to do the same.

The most loving thing that anyone can do for another person in grief is ‘hold space‘. What does that mean? Holding space means listening without an agenda. It means validating that person’s experience and helping them clarify their feelings. Holding space is being willing to unconditionally hear another person, meaning anything that is truth, even if it’s hard to hear, is safe to say. 

This is true compassion, and compassion is the most healing thing of all.

 

Avoiding toxic positivity; What not to say to a grieving person:

  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • You have to let go of the past.
  • Look on the bright side.
  • I know exactly how you feel.

 

What to say to a grieving person:

  • It’s not going to feel this way forever, but you don’t have to find meaning right now. I am here for you, and you are allowed to feel sad.
  • That person/situation/thing is important to you. Hold on to it for as long as you need.
  • Tell me how you’re feeling. We don’t have to find a new perspective right now.
  • I will never understand exactly what you’re going through, but I can relate.

 

If you are the person in grief, I highly suggest that you find someone or several someones who are safe space for you.

It will be tempting to isolate yourself and try to work through it alone, but isolation can be dangerous. It also takes away the gift you can give another person of allowing them to love you. It’s the greatest gift of all, and I promise that you, yes you, deserve it.

 

Practices that help facilitate a healthy grieving process

A cup of tea on a bed side table.
Photo by David Mao on Unsplash

Below is a list of practices that have helped me in my process. Please give yourself grace, compassion, and kindness during this time. Be gentle with yourself.

 

  • Drink lots of water!
  • Create a meditation or journaling practice.
  • Practice Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT or tapping).
  • Get a medical massage and/or reiki energy medicine regularly
  • Call friends and let them know when you’re having a bad day.
  • Learn to cook new dishes when you lose your appetite.
  • Allow yourself to cry without judging yourself for it.
  • Create! Find any way to express yourself that you can. Write, make a song, scream into a pillow, dance. Do anything you can to move that energy.
  • Take a walk in a park and be mindful of all that you see in nature.
  • Practice feeling gratitude for something every day.
  • Take epsom salt baths.
  • Surround yourself with pleasant smells.

 

Someone said to me recently that we grieve in direct proportion to how deeply we love.

That really resonated with me. Our grief is a testament to how much love our hearts hold. Therefore, our grief is not a weakness but a strength. It’s a badge of courage that says to the world, “I am hurting, because I was brave enough to love.”

I don’t know about you, but I would do it again if I had the chance.

 

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