In a conversation with a fellow survivor, we were discussing how our minds and bodies react to various traumatic events, both recent and in the past.  I raised the following question:

How difficult is it for you to really connect with the feelings that you are sharing with me?

I took me a couple of times of phrasing the question in my head first, to get it right before I asked. I didn’t want to come off as sounding condescending or invalidating. Nor did I want to seem as though I was questioning the validity and authenticity of what was being shared with me.

They were discussing how they were able to connect with a feeling of peace; a deep knowing that things were going to work out somehow (acceptance). Even in the wake of upheaval and turmoil, there was deep sense of calm.

I in turn was lamenting the fact that I was in the midst of connecting with anger inside, and not being able to find that similar peace that they were feeling.

As it turns out, we just happened to be at different steps in the 5 stages of grief.

Generally speaking, I know that I have problems trying to connect with what I know I should be feeling or what I think I’m feeling. Be careful with that word “should”, it can be very self shaming and invalidating.

It’s one thing to say to myself, “I have peace about this…” or “I know that things will work out somehow” (even if I don’t know how just yet),  but to truly sit with and embrace that mindset can be quite difficult.  I have a habit of trying to rush through one feeling to get through the next. It’s a process I’m working on slowly but surely.

The same goes with anger.  I am learning to connect with anger in a healthy way, but letting go of it after processing it is more difficult than I would like it to be.

It can be a challenge to try to convince myself that it’s natural and normal to feel the way that I do. In trying to feel those feels and be OK with it, I am also trying to force those feelings to surface and then move on, on my timetable rather than when they are ready too. 

Each traumatic event that happens in our life causes us to experience the 5 stages of grief*.

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

We have to accept the fact that each stage is important and comes with its own set of feelings, and that it’s necessary to feel each one in its own time and its own way.

When we are able to sit each of those steps, and be content with how they make us feel, without trying to force some type of internal response, our healing will go much smoother.

It’s worth noting that once we do get to step 5,  Acceptance,  it doesn’t mean that everything is peachy keen and all is right with our world. It just means that we accept what has happened and are ready to start moving forward. We are leaving behind those circumstances that brought us to the grieving process and forging ahead with the knowledge we acquired, and the confidence gained that we can indeed handle what life gives us.

By embracing the feelings of the traumatic events that unfolded in our life, we can learn from it, and be better equipped to handle a similar circumstance in the future.

It’s important to keep in mind that just because we get to step 5, doesn’t mean that it’s all better and we won’t have to relive those feelings ever again. It’s not uncommon to go back and experience those emotions again.

Being triggered can cause those memories to come back and make us feel angry or sad again, and that’s OK. The good part is, we won’t have to sit with it for so long. Since we went through the stages of grieving in their own time, without rushing, it doesn’t have to overtake our existence as much as it did the first time.

As odd as that may sound, I can speak from experience and tell you that it’s happened to me. That when those emotions come back, I will sit with them for a while but I can look back on what I went through and use that as a new tool in my Survivor Toolbox to help me now and in the future.

Again, be OK with that denial, that anger, that bargaining, that depression, and finally the acceptance. It’s all part of healing. Don’t invalidate or rush through any of the first 4 to try to get to #5.


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*Stages of grief – Psych Central.

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