Often when a person is going through a period of suffering they find themselves in one of two social situations.
1) In the first situation, those around the sufferer try to avoid any conversations about the person's hardship. They do this, not because they don't care, but more likely because they believe bringing up the issue will upset the grieving person. These folks are worried they will just stir up more pain. In addition, they often don't know how they would respond if the sufferer breaks down in tears. Their solution, therefore, is to avoid the topic as much as they can. They may offer a brief condolence at first, but they won't go beyond a simple cliché statement like, "I'm sorry for you." Then they move on quickly or switch the topic to something else.
2) The second and just as common social response that sufferers experience involves someone asking them "how are you doing?" Once again, the motive here is typically well intentioned, but the difficulty is that the question is unhelpful. The person in pain is culturally programed to respond with, "I'm fine" or "I'm doing okay." Another problem with the question is that it's inquiring about the sufferer's emotional state. For most people, it's difficult to identify and discuss emotions on the spot.
While these two approaches are different in their aims, they are similar in their ineffectiveness. In the first situation the context of the suffering is either avoided completely or only skimmed over superficially. In the second situation, the concerned person inquires about the situation, but does not do so in a helpful way. The result is that the sufferer either doesn't talk about the difficulty they are experiencing or they artificially discount it. This doesn't allow the sufferer much of an opportunity to recount the setting and context of the pain. In other words, they aren't being helped to process the event in a healthy way.
When an individual experiences a difficult life event, it's important that he or she is able to work through the details of the episode. For example, research indicates that most people who have experienced the loss of a loved one benefit from being able to share their experience (Cacciatore et al. 2021). However, it may be difficult for some people to find a person who they can safely share their story with.
Some listeners are uncomfortable discussing suffering; instead, they try to "fix the problem," or they only offer tired platitudes that don't provide much help. If a sufferer can find a safe person to share with, they should do so. However, if a safe confidante is not available, those experiencing grief should consider talking out the details of their pain to themselves or writing out their thoughts in a private journal.
The benefits of telling yourself your own story are multifaceted:
It helps you better understand the context of the struggle you are experiencing.
It gives you an opportunity to practice what to say when others ask you about it later.
It allows you to explore questions you've ignored or don't yet understand.
It protects you from avoiding the topic completely or trying to bury it.
In order to help you talk through your grief experience, I have created a short set of question prompts that you can use as a guide to work your way through your story and hopefully on through the healing process.
Be sure to check out other important components in the journey to healing by visiting the Start Here page and selecting a topic.