Denial and the accompanying numbness that supports denial, is a very common response to loss. This is particularly true if the loss comes suddenly, unexpectedly, or in an untimely way.
Denial is traditionally one of the early stages of grief. I believe it serves to slow the grieving person down, to have a little time to absorb the impact of a sudden or particularly complicated or traumatic loss. Denial gives us time to prepare for the real work of grief. However it’s important to bring awareness to the grieving process, and acknowledge that extended denial is detrimental. If we don’t organically move out of the denial stage, it will have other challenging effects.
Denial requires a degree of numbing of your physical and emotional capacities. When you numb out, due to loss or trauma, eventually your body will call you back home – often through the process of “somatization”.
What is somatization? “
Somatization is when emotional pain or psychological distress manifests in the body as physical pain or other symptoms. People who experience somatization may have a variety of non-specific physical symptoms and complaints that they’ve been unable to resolve.
We feel our feelings through our bodies, through the physicality of sensations in the body and through our five senses – sight, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch. Practicing sensory awareness helps you reconnect with your body and the complexity of feelings that loss can bring – commonly sadness, anger, as well as deep love and appreciation for the person and/or the people or the other elements connected to the circumstances of the loss. Processing these feelings allows us to integrate the loss and move towards acceptance.
A simple sensory awareness exercise
A simple sensory awreness exercise can help you reconnect with your body and open the door to feelings of loss and the grief process. Sensory awareness can be practiced in any moment.
Wrap your hands around your morning cup of tea or coffee – feel the warmth, the heat on your hands (grieving often makes us feel physically cold). The warmth feels comforting, brings us in touch with our hands, the smell of the drink and its taste. Slow the moment down; bring as much of your awareness to the experience as you can, in the moment. Savour the moment. And possibly there may even be a small sensation of pleasure in the moment – just a tiny, comforting, soothing, interlude - a moment of remembering that there is still goodness in your life. A simple cup of hot tea.
Take yourself out into nature – alone or with a friend, even just to a park nearby. Keep it simple. But again slow it down. At some moment as you move along, stop and tune into your senses. What do you hear? Smell? See? Is there is a tactile element to the moment – the sense of air, a light breeze on your face, or skin. When you’re walking, tune into your feet making contact with the ground - the strength, whatever may be there, in your legs and arms. Pay attention to your spine moving with the side to side motion, and holding you up-right. What else do you notice in your body? Drop down in – dare to notice.
Put on some gentle music and move your body. Standing, sitting or lying on the floor, or a mat. I notice when I want to avoid my feelings, I also want to avoid going to the mat! As soon as I surrender to the music and even small, subtle, movements, my breath and my feelings start to move. How many times do I have to remember that feeling my feelings feels good?!
As you surrender to the music and the movement your body wants to make – notice the sensations. What do you notice stirring in you, as feelings start to move? Where do they show up in your body – lungs, throat, arms, belly or back? Can you let the feelings just be there and perhaps move as you move? Our feelings ebb and flow like a wave. We’re learning to ride the waves of our feelings.
Ease in feeling our feelings is ultimately one of the gifts of loss. As we process our loss and all the feelings that go with it, we become skillful in riding those waves. This ability builds emotional confidence, in essence saying – I can meet life as it is and all that it brings, both the joys and the sorrows; the pleasure and the pain.
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