Myth Three - Grieve Alone

Myth Three – Grieve Alone

By Russell Friedman & John W. James


Over time, we have identified six major myths that are so universal, that nearly everyone can relate to having absorbed them early in life, although they can’t always explain what they mean and whether or not they are true or helpful.


The six myths are:

•     Don’t Feel Bad

•     Replace the Loss

•     Grieve Alone

•     Grief Just Takes Time

•     Be Strong and Be Strong for Others

•     Keep Busy


Today we’re going to address the third myth, Grieve Alone. We’re sometimes tempted to rank the six myths in order of which is the most harmful. And if we did compare them, we might say that the false idea that we’re supposed to Grieve Alone is the most dangerous of all.


But then we remember that we never compare losses—since all losses are perceived at 100%. So by the same token, we never compare the myths that limit us in dealing with our grief. All six of them can be limiting in a variety of ways.


We imagine you’d agree with us if we suggest that Grieving People Tend To Isolate.  While that is true, and isolation is a major problem for grieving people, it’s not a natural tendency, it’s a learned behavior. Let us explain by writing a phrase and leaving out the last word. Most of you reading this will automatically put in the last word.


“Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry _____.”


We know that before you got to the last word your mind had jumped ahead and added the word “alone.”

In order to explain how false that idea is, we will ask you a question. “What’s the first thing you want to do when you get good news.” Nearly everyone’s answer is, “Share it with others.” In particular, you want to tell your spouse, or your parents, or your children; in other words, someone important to you.


Whether you realize it or not, your natural impulse upon receiving sad or bad news is actually the same. You want to tell someone you trust. But after a lifetime of being told

“Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone”; and, “If you’re going to cry, go to your room”; or, “Don’t burden others with your feelings,” you begin to lose the normal impulse to talk about sad or painful things with people you trust.

Isolation is not natural, it is learned, and it is dangerous. It’s helpful for you to start to shift what you believe about communicating your sad and painful thoughts and feelings in the same way you do your happy or positive ones.


The antidote to isolation is participation. Start by having a little chat with a few of the important people in your life. Tell them that you’d like to change some of the guidelines and make it safe to talk openly about some of the sad or painful things you feel. What you say should be simple statements or comments about things that have affected you. Keep it short, just to get it out and be heard,


As the listener, make an agreement not to analyze or judge. Just listen.


We’re not suggesting that you recite a litany of painful feelings over and over. If you have have recurring feelings about the same things, you may need to get some help—either in the area of grief recovery, or other professional help.


     Russell Friedman & John W. James are co-founders of the

Grief Recovery Institute and creators of The Grief Recovery Method.  

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