Six years ago, around this time of year, I lost my brother to a fight with colon cancer. I was stunned. I had no training for losing a family member. My brother was 11 years older and had always been around. Would always be around. That is, until he wasn’t.
This catapulted me into a year of grief. This was a new experience for me, and I wasn’t too comfortable with the whole process. I felt like I was walking through quicksand. Everything seemed heavy, dark and dull. I was unequipped to go through this grief process. So instead of feeling those gut wrenching feelings of sadness, I shopped. AND shopped. AND shopped.
In addition, I started feeling badly about feeling heavy, dark and dull. See, I wasn’t that close with my brother. He left home when I was eight years old. So why was I feeling so…dull?
As a Coach
I am a coach and people often come to me when they run into such a barrier. They are suffering due to a loss of a loved one, career challenge, a relationship that isn’t working, or perhaps a health crisis. It is that moment, when everything we think defines us and or makes us important, goes up in smoke. What do we do?
Here are a couple of my client’s experiences.
Jamie had been a free spirit who loved to travel and eat exotic foods with her partner Steve. She had always felt successful in her life, aptly navigating any obstacle. She was finally achieving success in her career, which was requiring more travel, until she experienced kidney failure, which she almost died from. Bam.
Samantha had defined herself as a successful entrepreneur having been on business teams that started two successful businesses in the past. She had taken a leap and struck out on her own, dedicating several years to starting her own boutique business, only to have it fail. Bam.
Dealing with the Change
Oprah columnist, author and life coach extraordinaire, Martha Beck, talks about these catalytic events catapulting us into square one of change process. In this square, our work is to: Grieve and Disbelieve, separating what Steven Hayes, a pioneer in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, calls the clean pain from the dirty pain.
Clean pain is inherent in life. People we love die. Things that we value get lost or broken. We fail at work. We don’t get the opportunity we want. Our bodies age and don’t work the way we want them to. With clean pain comes grief, meaning the bundle of emotions that occur with a setback.
Step One: Grieving
Grieving is being willing to feel these bundle of uncomfortable feelings. Sounds so simple right? Well, it isn’t.
We are conditioned in our society to avoid feeling our feelings. We typically don’t like being around people who are feeling “negative” emotions (sad, angry, depressed) because we may begin to get in touch with our own, and we just don’t have time for that right now! Our society in general says, “Suck it up and move on. Get over it already. Have a drink. Go shopping. Exercise. Work harder. Watch TV. That will distract you!” And so it goes.
In fact, these avoidance techniques do distract us, for a while. The problem is those nasty little feelings, are still in there. Our feelings are important indicators that help us navigate our lives. When we are tuned into our emotions and allow them to flow, we can tell what we like and what we don’t. When we avoid them, we stay in relationships that don’t work, jobs that make us miserable and navigate our lives without a connection to our heart. So when we avoid our emotions, we do this at our own peril.
As a coach, my first step is to create a space to allow the client to drop in and become aware, acknowledge and feel what they are feeling, the clean pain. It is amazing how once clients connect to how they really feel, things being to shift and change.
Once Jamie was able to acknowledge and feel how angry and sad she was that her body had “betrayed” her, she was able to take in more information about her health condition.
Samantha opened up to her feelings of sadness and disappointment. She also acknowledged that underneath she felt embarrassed since she had talked so confidently about her abilities.
Once feelings begin to flow, it is on to step two.
Step Two: Disbelieving
The other part of my job is to help clients look at how they are continuing to create their own suffering. This is about looking at their dirty pain or “stinking thinking.”
Dirty pain is a bit harder than clean pain because it is self-generated and self-maintained. It is the pain we experience when we think our lives are over because our loved one is gone, or no one else will ever hire us, we’ll never be successful or no one could love me like this. Dirty pain is our private hell we create and experience through our own thoughts.
So how do we deal with the Dirty Pain? There are many ways, but one simple way is to notice that it is what’s going on. Often the very act of noticing that you are in dirty pain helps lesson it’s grip. One way of noticing your dirty pain is to write down your scary, unattractive, negative story that keeps you stuck and give it a title.
Jamie, did some writing and realized that she was telling her self that: She could never trust her body enough to travel. Because she couldn’t travel, Steve was going to leave her, and she would be alone. She titled this tale, her “All Alone” story.
Once she saw it, she was more apt to recognize when it would rear it’s ugly head. This allowed her to have more space around it rather than being controlled by it.
Samantha’s dirty pain was that: She would never succeed again. No one cared or respected her. In fact, they wanted to see her fail. She labeled this “I’m A Failure” story. Seeing this, she was able to recognize how much she had tried to do it all by herself, rather than utilizing help like a mentor or business manager to support her success. She also realized how much valuable experience she had gained through the process.
When catapulted into square one of the change process:
Grieve: allow yourself to become aware, acknowledge and feel your feelings, your real feelings. This is simply your clean pain flowing through you. Be assured that along with clean pain comes the ability to bear it and get through it stronger than you were before.
Disbelieve: Look at the thoughts that are creating your suffering, the dirty pain. Externalize them by writing them down, giving them a title so that you can recognize when it rears its ugly head, trying to take over.
For me, I had to accept that I didn’t need a reason to grieve. Heck, I had lost my brother and that was enough. I allowed myself to express my clean pain. I felt sad and lost and allowed myself to express that raw, gut wrenching sadness. I also, recognized that I was telling myself that I didn’t deserve to feel bad or lost. I wasn’t really close to my brother. In fact, I was really a very good sister at all to him. I titled this tale my “bad sister” dirty pain story. I also realized it wasn’t helping me and I let it go when it would arise.
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are Master certified life coaches, business consultants, speakers and authors of The Beauty of Conflict. They believe real relationships are the key to creating great business results. They’ll take your team from mediocre to great.
Interested in coaching? Check out CrisMarie’s executive coaching and personal coaching, or Susan’s personal coaching and equus coaching.
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