Coping With Grief Part 3: Our Inner Voice – Is It Kind or Critical?
My name is Claire and I’m a Customer Experience Manager at Bare Cremation.
Two years ago, my husband was suddenly and traumatically taken from me. This ever-present fixture in my life was suddenly gone. After going through grief myself, I wanted to share my story. So I’ve put together this eight-part series about coping with loss and bereavement based on my personal experiences with grief.
As a society, we’re not great at dealing with death and grief. At Bare, we want to change this. In this third article in the series, I’ll talk about the inner voice in our head and how it can impact the way we heal.
So, how can we begin to learn to lean into our grief and not avoid it? It starts with how we treat ourselves.
One aspect of this is how we talk to ourselves and the stories that we tell ourselves. We are all aware of the voice inside our head that can be an angel one minute and a devil the next. In times of acute grief, this voice can really make an impact. Recognising whether this inner voice is being kind or critical is crucial to our healing through grieving.
First, let’s talk about examples of healthy conversations – think of the angel here. And unhealthy conversations when the little devil comes in.
A healthy conversation with yourself
A healthy conversation is treating yourself with kindness and understanding – the way you’d treat your best friend or a child in your care. It also means not demanding things that are too much, or beating yourself up when you make a mistake or are unable to live up to the expectations you’ve placed on yourself.
An unhealthy conversation with yourself
An unhealthy conversation with yourself is when you criticise yourself and your actions. It’s when you start calling yourself names like selfish, stupid, greedy, etc.
This sort of conversation starts off innocent enough but then has this potent ability to snowball into thinking about every single time you hurt someone (usually the person you lost). All the mistakes, the times where you can see where you could have done better – you get the picture, we have all been there.
The trick to these conversations is to not distract yourself from them by turning on the TV or stuffing a chocolate eclair into your face, but owning them as part of yourself. Owning them though, through the window of hindsight. This is crucial.
Yes, the past all happened and we may have done that not-so-nice thing. However, just like we cannot bring our dead person back to life, we also cannot go back and change the past. It’s a part of us now and we must learn to honour the good and the bad with the commitment to learn how to do better. This can be utterly painful.
Finding peace through expressing pain in writing letters
When I had those really awful thoughts and memories wash over me, a way that I dealt with it was through writing two letters. One letter addressed my dead husband. I wrote to him telling him how sorry I was for this, that and the other thing. The second letter I wrote from the perspective of him as though he were responding to my letter. I found this hugely cathartic in such a harrowing time.
As we walk through life after the loss of someone, we will have many moments of hearing our inner voice commentating on our past, present and future actions. We need to come to a place, where that little voice is fully acknowledged by us. The voice is there, literally to be heard. This is a part of being human and realising that our lifetime is a very present evolution.
3 components to my inner voice
I find that my inner voice has three components and I relate to each one differently.
- Past Claire is usually the most critical but I honour her as though she were my inner child – I’m gentle and persuasive when she is rude and she doesn’t visit as much anymore.
- Present Claire guides me to be the best person I can be right now and actually be fully present in my life which dictates my reactions to things. She is the one that has learnt from the past and helps me to not make the same mistakes again.
- Future Claire is the dreamer. She helps me find what I thought was my long lost hope.
Understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy conversations
In the midst of acute grief, it is difficult to even know whether your inner conversations are healthy or unhealthy. If you are unsure and overwhelmed by the chatter in your head, a practical way of helping yourself is by grabbing a pen and paper and asking yourself these questions:
- What’s a happy memory that I have?
- What am I proud of today?
- What lovely thing happened?
It’s important to remember that a healthy conversation does not mean only thinking about positive, lovely things. It’s about being OK with the fact that your brain will likely keep bringing up uncomfortable, distressing thoughts. It’s what brains do, particularly when we’re distressed.
Dealing with unhealthy conversations
Once we have started recognising our unhealthy conversations, we need to learn how to process them in a gentle and non-dismissive way. Remember that in each moment, we are doing the best we can.
Writing your thoughts down can give you the space to explore your thoughts, your feelings and your memories.
As I mentioned before, writing letters to your deceased person can also aid this process especially when you turn it around and think about how they would feel about what you think. You can be really creative in this process – it’s all about getting your thoughts into a way where they are being acknowledged. Writing does this and is very freeing.
In this eight-part Coping With Grief series, I’m going to share with you what I learnt about having healthy conversations – with yourself, your friends, your kids. I share some advice for those on the other side of grief on how you can be a good friend, a good partner and a good human.
You can read my other articles in the series including 5 Biggest Grief Myths Busted and The Day My World Changed Forever. Look out for the other articles in the series coming soon. We’ve also compiled a list of useful bereavement, grief counselling and other support services across Australia here.
All information provided is general in nature. For additional information relating to advance care planning, please speak to your health professional for advice about your specific circumstances. If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, call 000. For Lifeline’s Crisis Counselling service call 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636.
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About Bare Cremation
Bare Cremation is Australia’s best direct cremation service. Our mission is to ensure every Australian has the option of an affordable, seamless and stress-free funeral service that can be arranged online or over the phone in minutes, at a fraction of the price of traditional funeral homes. We’ve cut out the need to go to a funeral home and made a complicated process simple by offering an affordable, transparent and easy alternative. Find out more by visiting the Bare Cremation website.