I’ve had so many people message me with a sentiment of feeling like they’re moving backwards in their grief journey, and that it’s stressful for them and their worried that there’s something wrong with them or that their grieving wrong.

Or, worse yet, that this is going to be their permanent state and that they’re not going to be able to get through it, so to speak. That this negativity will always haunt them and this backwards feeling will always be on their toes.

Does any of this sound familiar or applicable to you? If so, this is what we’re going to be getting to the bottom of in this episode today. We’re going to talk about why this happens, and ways that we can cope with this. 

That being said, I think I need to start this off by saying one important thing here: there IS no such thing as moving backward in grief. 

What if I told you there’s just no such thing? That moving backward is something society or whoever it is around us–maybe even ourselves–made up, and at no point does thinking it serve us.

Grief is Non-Linear

We want to recognize that grieving is a unique and non-linear process. And as something that comes and goes in terms of its intensity and as something that truly is SO non-linear,  experiencing setbacks is a normal part of the journey. 

I’ve had clients or people I coach ask me, or make a comment on social media, saying something like, “I need help because I feel like I’m moving backward in my grief. I had been feeling so much better the last couple of months, but now I feel like I’m just totally moving backwards with it, I’m slipping. I was doing so well but now….” Fill in the blank.

Depending on the situation I’ll then follow it up with asking something like, “Okay, tell me how you know you’re moving backwards.” And I’ll get a response of something along the lines of:

“Well, I started feeling sad again.”

“I had all this motivation but I just lost it now.”

“I don’t know, I was doing so well but lately I’ve just been so angry or on the verge of tears and I have no idea why.”

“I’m just super overwhelmed.”

And then from there—not to get too in the weeds on what I do in coaching calls here—but we’ll typically work together to get to the root of why they’re feeling that way. Perhaps it’s something that came up recently that is clearly connected to their loss. Then, it’s like… well, sure. That could have absolutely elicited some emotion in you. But sometimes, it’s not that predictable. Sometimes we really need to work together to understand what might have triggered something like this, and sometimes it’s not very black and white.

Sometimes There Is No Trigger

But guess what? Sometimes there is no trigger. It’s just their grief. That’s it! This is what grief does, this is what it’s capable of. It’s not predictable, it can show up when it wants and demands to be seen, and that is the nature of this beast.

But we also don’t have to live there. That can and inevitably will happen, but we don’t need to fall into our circumstances and let them be the one in charge. We are.

I’ll talk more about that in a bit, but I want to just make a few things painfully clear here.

Grief is Not Predictable

First, as I said before and as you’ve likely heard, grief is not linear or predictable. The emotions that you’re noticing are not an indicator that you’re moving backwards, or that there’s something tragically wrong with you. There’s this huge misconception that grief needs to be in stages. I mean, kudos to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross for her work here, and the five stages served a purpose at the time. But those were never intended to be so cut and dry.

Sidebar, if you didn’t know this about her book “On Death and Dying”, she actually interviewed people that were on their death bed, professionals who serve patient, patient’s families, etc. to give readers a better understanding of how imminent death affects us all.

The five “stages” are ultimately what came out of it. But from my understanding, it was really never meant to be such a guidebook to coping with grief. So not to be so dramatic to say let’s throw that out the window, but… let’s go ahead and do that, shall we?

Because I even remember family members of mine asking if I had found “acceptance” yet at one point, and I was like, “I don’t even know?! What even is acceptance?” I guess I’m sort of resigned to the fact that my parents and dog died, but how can I ever be so accepting of that? I can’t, really.

Wearing Our Grief Differently

We have these big misconceptions that grief is somehow supposed to be stages, that it’s predicable, that we should be making steady progress. I do believe progress is possible, but this is really where my Life Coaching hat comes on. When I talk about progress, it’s not that I mean we’re progressing past our grief and that it’s no longer with us.

We’re just wearing it differently. We have a different relationship with it and it means something different to us now. With that kind of progress, that’s where a deeper, more meaningful and vibrant life has the opportunity to show up for you.

So, that all being said, put aside any misconception that your experiencing grief is supposed to be orderly or based on stages or steps. None of that is accurate. It’s not a straight line, it’s really more of a crazy, chaotic scribble that, sadly, we have to embrace sometimes. There are ways to cope with this and ways to do this, and I’ll talk about some of that in a little bit.

Negative Emotions Are Normal, and You’re Not Crazy

Let me be clear, the presence of a negative emotion does not mean that you’re moving backward. Emotions are caused by thoughts and predictions and experiences we’ve had. We’re designed to have both positive and negative emotions—that is the human experience. I talked about this in a previous episode recently, but you’re having feelings because your thoughts are creating them for you. That is a perfectly human thing to do! That doesn’t mean that something has gone horribly wrong and you’re going to be in the throws of that early acute grief again.

Please, don’t judge your negative emotions and automatically think that means you’re not doing grief right. There is no doing grief right. But let me tell you, if you haven’t experienced this already, MANY people out there will try and tell you you’re doing it right or wrong based on their experiences or what they think is right and wrong. 

Your Actions Don’t Dictate Your Grief

I think this next point is really important to acknowledge: what you are or not doing doesn’t dictate where you are in your grief. If you’re not taking action in a particular area of life, or you don’t like the action you’re taking in a particular area of life, it doesn’t mean that you’re going backward here.

I had a client where, for example, they felt super unmotivated to workout and didn’t have a lot of energy to do much of anything. This was something she felt really bad about, she didn’t like this, and she felt like something was wrong with her. 

When we talked through a lot of it, we determined the root of a lot of it was because of her grief and some unresolved things she was dealing with around that, she just didn’t even realize it! But here she was, feeling badly about herself and things she wasn’t doing or not taking action on. Whether it’s your grief or whatever it is that’s coming up for you, consider that you’re not taking action because of how you feel. What thoughts in your brain are perhaps causing this lack of action and then shifting those thoughts accordingly.

Nothing has gone wrong here. There is nothing wrong with you, and this doesn’t mean you are going backwards in your grief. This is perhaps just the grief at work in your life. Thoughts cause feelings, feelings drive behaviors, and behaviors produce outcomes. We have the power to shift and change any and all of them. What we don’t want to do is judge them and automatically assume something has gone wrong. 

A Moving Backwards Mindset Doesn’t Serve You

Let’s say this “moving backward” idea was even a real, legitimate thing. These negative thoughts strengthen the pathways in our brain that cause more negative thoughts. If we get caught up thinking we’re moving backwards and what this means for us and get all in a tizzy about that, you might start to feel afraid, more anxious, doubtful, maybe discouraged or defeated. How we feel fuels how we behave. 

So what can happen when we’re feeling afraid, anxious, doubtful, discouraged, or defeated? We probably second-guess ourselves, and we might judge ourselves. We start spending more time worrying about how we’re doing it wrong–when in reality, we’re not.

Our Brain and Our Grief

Our brain looks for evidence of our thoughts, so then our brain starts looking for evidence of how we’re moving backwards or how we’re slipping to be true. 

The brain then starts showing us the data that lines up with that thought, literally trying to prove it’s true. It starts showing this apparent backward moving in our grief, and it subsequently blocks any evidence of forward movement or progress. 

When we’re feeling these negative emotions we talked about before, we often close off from people and things around us. Maybe this means you stop doing the grief work you know you should be doing, and you beat yourself up for that. We might stop working out or being as active as we should, we don’t get outdoors, we start sleeping more. Perhaps we go out less or decline invitations from people. We contract instead of expanding. 

But if you’ve listened to any of my previous podcast episodes you’ll know I talk about this expansion and how important it is. Because grief is very constricting, and rightfully so! We have to fight that a little bit. And listen, if you’re early on in your relationship with your grief right now, this might not be the right time for you to hear this so bear with me. We do have to give ourselves time. 

But what we don’t want to do is block ourselves from the life we want and deserve because we believe this narrative in our head. 

Don’t Believe The Fallacy of Moving Backward

The moral of this story is I don’t want you to believe this fallacy of “I’m going backward in my grief.” It’s simply untrue. When this does come up—because it likely will if it hasn’t already—we can combat this with a loving and more supportive answer for ourselves.

One that encompasses grace and patience with the process, but one that gives this untrue thought a run for its money and one that allows you to stay present with yourself in your current life–with what’s in front of you.

One that has you being your own champion and being kind to yourself. Because that’s really all there is. If our loved one has died and it’s this type of loss we’re dealing with, ruminating and being un-present with our reality won’t bring them back, right? 

For example, when that pesky thought of moving backwards rears its ugly head, we can instead say:

“This is grief, and grief is hard. But I’m still here, I’m still doing it, I can do hard things.” 

“I am proud of myself for staying on track the best I can, and I acknowledge that this is an ebb in my grief. I can figure this out, too, and it will not overcome me.”

This idea of moving backwards is an optional story we tell ourselves. You don’t have to listen. That is where choice in our grief comes into play.

Coping with “Moving Backward”

In terms of coping with this, I’ll finish this post with some high-level thoughts.

Acknowledge and Accept Your Emotions

Like we’ve talked about, there’s really no getting around our emotions. If we push them away, they will only wait for us. It’s crucial to recognize and accept the range of emotions you’re experiencing, including any feelings of regression. Allow yourself the space to feel without judgment from others, and most importantly yourself.

Reflect on Triggers

I alluded to this earlier as well, but consider potential triggers or events that might have intensified your grief recently. And remember, some might be more obvious than others. But understanding these triggers can help you develop strategies to navigate them more effectively. And also remember, things that help us cope can change over time! 

What might have worked for us at one point might not work for us now, so making sure we have patience with that process as well is also super important. In episode 15 of the Losses Become Gains Podcast we talk about grief triggers—what they are and how to cope. Definitely go check that out if you’re struggling with this, specifically. 

Reevaluate Goals and Priorities

Grief can absolutely prompt a reevaluation of life goals and priorities. And honestly, this can be uncomfortable at times! This might even make us feel further away from our loss at certain points, and this progress can be a little scary. It’s exciting, but also perhaps feels like we’re stepping into a new unknown. Take some time to reassess what is important to you and consider making adjustments that align with your current emotional state. Because that will inevitably change, and that is something to be embraced.

Set Realistic Expectations

I hope this goes without saying, but be realistic with yourself and your grief. Always. If grieving is not a linear process as we’ve said, setbacks are a natural part of the journey. I hate to say this is something we sort of have to just deal with and accept, but that is the nature of this beast we call grief. But this leads me to my next point.

Seek Support

I hope you know this and perhaps you hear this a lot, but please do take this into consideration. You do not have to do this alone. At Losses Become Gains I have 1:1 coaching in both grief coaching and transformational life coaching to help you with wherever you are in your journey.

I also have my Intentional Life After Loss Membership that serves you impactful but easily digestible coping tools and resources on a monthly basis. And, a monthly coaching and Q&A call and a support group to connect with fellow grievers so we can uplift each other. 

Even if you don’t get the support you might need through me, I encourage you to connect with friends, family, or a support group that feels right to you. Sharing your feelings with others who have experienced similar losses or hardships can provide incredible comfort and understanding–more than you may realize until you get in it and give it a go.

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