Grieving in Group

There is a wonderful little book called The Wild Edge of Sorrow. It speaks eloquently about the importance of grieving, how it connects us to the wild within us, makes us more alive.

It talks about how in our culture especially, we’re taught to run from grief, to avoid it, dismiss it, deny it, cover it over. I know a lot about this. I think many of us join this profession so we can touch grief vicariously in our work with others, without having to dwell in our own.

Being with grief is a challenge. It is inherently painful, a confrontation with our powerlessness to keep or obtain what we long for.

In group, you can see people enacting the familiar cultural message. Variations of “cheer up, it’s not so bad,” or “it will pass,” distracting jokes, and so on abound. Truly being with someone grieving melts some of your armor. Truly being with your own grief melts more of it.

In this blog post, Sue Mehrtens cites the Edward Edinger’s idea that a significant part of our grief comes from missing what we’ve projected onto the lost. Recovery involves slowly taking those projections back into ourselves, discovering within us the qualities that we experienced in the other. What this means is that when we are grieving a lover, friend or family member that is no longer part of our lives, we are in a process of transformation. If we succeed, we will eventually incorporate into ourselves some of the aspects of the person that we most enjoyed.

We are constantly projecting onto others. We project the negative qualities of our self that we don’t want to acknowledge onto people that we hate. We project qualities that we appreciate and are growing toward onto people that we love and admire. Often we project complex blends of qualities onto people creating multi-layered tapestries of unconscious feelings.

Group provides the ideal container for exploring these projections. As a forum where the honest expression of love and hate is encouraged, group allows us to bring the unconscious projections to the fore, to access them, express them and understand them. Over time, we’re able to own our projections and integrate them, so they become known parts of ourselves. When this happens we have fewer enemies and fewer objects of infatuation. We become more fluent with the process and quicker at identifying when it happens.

When someone is grieving, we see in our reactions how our own grief was responded to by our caretakers. We see our attitudes about helplessness, powerlessness, not being in control and suffering. The more we allow ourselves to observe these attitudes and be with them, the more we consciously tolerate and tend our own lonely, vulnerable feelings, the more we allow whatever we are becoming to emerge.

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