We’ve spoken about how thoughts dictate emotions and the guilt that we often impose on ourselves in the wake of loss. If you find you’re getting stuck on a thought and feeling that you can’t move past, Byron Katie, author of “The Work” encourages people to ask themselves four questions.
Consider the thought that you can’t get past, write it down if you like, then ask yourself:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no move to #3)
- Can you absolutely knowthat is true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? (What feeling does that thought create within you? What behavior?)
- Who would you be without that thought?
For this to be useful you have to be completely honest with yourself. It’s worth taking some time and digging to the bottom of your answers. If you have short answers to 3 & 4, you might add depth to your response by adding “because…” or “which means…” to help you investigate further.
Coming to your own conclusions is the most productive way to use this, but in the context of grief the honest answer to number four often has something to do with letting go of past expectations and identity and facing a future that is nothing like what you had planned.
Often, the thought or feeling you can’t get past, even if it’s negative, is part of the “you” you know, and oddly that can be comforting. Folks say, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Which in this context means that though this thought you’re stuck on makes you feel badly, maybe if you let it go, the new thoughts will be worse. It’s scary to face the unknown.
Letting go of any thought that pertains to the person you lost also means letting go of a part of your relationship with them. And when we have finite memories of someone, we can find ourselves clinging to any thought of them, even if it makes us feel badly about ourselves.
This exercise isn’t meant to determine if a thought is good or bad just whether the thought is true and if it is useful. Remember that grief doesn’t have a timeline, and even if you determine the thought you’re having isn’t useful, it doesn’t mean you need to be ready to give it up, hanging on to it for now is okay. This exercise is intended to create awareness. You can absolutely put that awareness up on a shelf and pull it down when you’re ready to use it.
Thanks for visiting Grief Compass. We’re sorry you have to be here, but are glad we’ve found each other.
Subscribe to get more practical, approachable tips and insights for modern folks dealing with grief. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.