Return to Month of November 2007


  • What is the process of healing?
  • Specifically how do we heal
  • A checklist on what to do when an emotional disaster strikes
          Expression of your emotions
          Focus on life
          The meaning of the incident
          Alternative avenues of approach
          Internal world
          Helping out
          Continuation of your life

    The process of healing
    Steps to regaining control after a loss

    What is the process of healing?

    It is the process by which the organism transforms from being damaged to being renewed and fully functioning. There are degrees to which healing takes place. In some instances, healing is not complete but alternative methods of coping are used. And many forms of camouflage conceal the degree to which healing has not in fact been completed.

    Often, new routes to healing are discovered or even created by the system to attain partial if not complete healing. These are the ways in which the system recreates itself, reinvents, synthesizes, performs masks or layering to cover the lack of parts which can not be repaired, regenerates parts which can be repaired, and provides the system with capabilities to continue function at varying degrees of capacity.

    We heal by forgetting, transposing, exchanging one form for another, justification, invention, exchange, redirection, understanding, substitution, ignoring, displacing, numbing, cutting off, disavowal or denial, and displacement to name just a few of the mechanisms used.

    Each method allows us to continue while providing us with some semblance of healing. But each in its own way allows healing to take place. True healing comes in many guises.

    Does it actually help to understand what we are doing when we are portraying the semblance of normality, of recovery, of healing? To some degree, yes. We are affirming the ongoing process of life by doing so and giving ourselves the opportunity to deal (cope) with the healing process during the time that it takes.

    If we think of healing as a physical model, we can see more clearly the ways in which we can complete the regeneration process.

    The original had a number of blocks which were "perfect" which made up who we were prior to the incident. When one is lost, the tendency is to try to find stability, to preserve the original sense of order, to regain the balance which existed before. In this attempt, we often succeed to varying degrees and in some cases, even produce a model which is superior to the former. But all too often we are not able to do this totally successfully. What is left is partial stability and order. The blocks are there but some may be hollow. Some have different shapes, some are illusion and not real, and some are only remnants of their former selves. How do we convert them? How do we make them real and whole once again?

    Normally, all attempts at stabilization and recreation of the former status are valid for the individual although not necessarily valid (acceptable or justified) on the social level. Since man is a social being, to be truly valid, a response must be acceptable on many different levels - individual, spiritual, emotional, including the social or societal.

    Specifically how do we heal?

  • We heal by reaffirming the value of life.
  • We heal by reaffirming the value of the life which has been lost or changed.
  • We heal by reaffirming our feelings for those who have been lost.
  • We heal by understanding the process which led to the point of collapse.
  • We heal by going through the natural sequence of loss which is slightly different for each individual.
  • We heal by realizing our own humanity, our own sense of loss, our own sense that life is precious and those who have left it added to its value for us in so many ways.
  • We heal by moving forward in the quest for personal integrity or wholeness .

    Healing is a partial or complete reversing of a state of collapse. We heal by experiencing the emotions generated by a traumatic event but by not letting ourselves be consumed by them. We need to go through the stages of grief or we can not emerge regenerated. If someone meant something to us, then there are emotions. Perhaps all of them will not come out immediately, but for us to fully heal, we need to experience at least some of them and acknowledge what we are experiencing. To hold on to the image of being strong, not appearing weak, not giving in to what we feel only puts off the healing process. We may continue as though we have handled it well, but there is a residue which must be dealt with at some time. There is a barrier through which we must pass to be whole again.

    We heal by making sense out of what happened. This process includes many forms including some which do not provide understanding: Denial, covering-up, fixing blame, reassessing what happened in negative terms, justification, the placing of inadequate plasters on the wound, leaving the understanding, the analysis to another time. All of these attempts arrest the healing process and, in many instances, will not allow us to move forward. We are denigrating a part of our life which had meaning while it was occurring. To reject it is to place a hole in our existence, which reduces the meaning of our efforts, our life and therefore makes whatever accomplishments we procure for ourselves in the future, that less full or enjoyable. There are always positive aspects to what we endured, the basis on which in many instances we placed our whole lives. We must now reaffirm those aspects or we will remain stuck. We will be a prisoner of our own making caught by a past which did not really exist as we portray it in our minds perhaps as justification, perhaps as some other excuse for doing what we did, and in the end we lose the meaning, although we may appear to the outside world as successful in coping.

    What to do when an emotional disaster strikes

    Directions: Pick one or two out of each group
         to do or to keep in mind. Or pick all of them.

    Expression of your emotions

    ____ Feel grief, anger, desperation, depression, lost, but do not give in to your grief, your anger, your depression. Time yourself and if the sudden waves of grief or other emotions last more than a couple of minutes, start doing something else. These emotions are not a way of life. They are a way of expressing how you feel about what has happened and the meaning of the other for you but they must not dominate you. You should control them and not vice versa.

    ____ Ask if the object of your grief would have wanted you to be so depressed, angry, grief stricken and what they would say. Ask if the emotion you are feeling is helping you. Is it helping them?

    Focus on life

    ____ Get something that will enable you to turn your attention away from your grief.

    ____ Focus on the positive things (the things that are going well in your current situation.

    ____ Do something creative the longer it will take, or the more avenues it opens up to you, the better. We all are creative even if you feel that you are not, start doing something which is considered creative. i.e., get a camera, take some pictures and work with producing the best cropping of them to show the maximum meaning, perception, color. Put them up on Flickr. And get feedback. Get a set of paints and the type of surface on which you want to paint and paint, sit down and start writing it does not matter what perhaps what you are going through at the moment, or something entirely off the subject. Get some clay and start sculpting, buy some flowers and start gardening. If you are already involved in some creative activity, find new avenues in which to express yourself within that framework.

    What we need is feedback, and often the creative process besides it other qualities of affirmation, and expression, allow us to receive affirmation from the outside. And this is very important at this time in our lives. We have lost the form of feedback which was meaningful for us and in some ways we can be temporarily lost without its ring, its meaning, its affirmation of what we have done, of who we are.

    The meaning of the incident to you

    ____ Keep in mind that your continuing to live and remember the object of your grief is a way of affirming them and the love you have for them. To give in to misery, depression, hopelessness means that the meaning of their life is deprecated.

    ____ Do not stop grieving, but know that the success of your life reflects on how much they meant to you. The success of your life is a memorial.

    ____ Write down how they were important to you.

    Alternative avenues of approach

    ____ Practice focusing on tasks which you are doing in order to obtain the greatest meaning, results regardless if it sweeping the floor, exercising, doing homework, job, or writing poems or a manuscript.

    ____ Draw up a list of projects you think you would enjoy doing or have thought of in the past. Start on one.

    Internal world

    ____ Talk to them in your mind once in a while but, do not let it become obsessive or take too much of the time you should be spending doing things for yourself, and for others.

    ____ Establish a dialogue with yourself which is positive. We often establish a negative dialogue when something goes wrong. Why did this happen to me? What could I have done that I did not do? Who is to blame? This is what one person calls the trauma response. The positive dialogue is constructed around: What did I do right? What did others do which was positive? What happened during the period leading up to the event which were positive from the standpoint of the individual and to others who were involved. What were the accomplishments of the person we lost. What was the meaning of their life. What would they want us to remember about them? How do we honor that individual? How can we conduct our life as a testimony to what the other meant to us?

    Helping out

    ____ Help someone else who is having difficulty - either a friend or relative or someone in the community.

    ____ Volunteer to help once or twice a week at a community center, church, home for the aged, shelter, animal pound, or other possibility to donate your time for a good cause.


    ____ Communicate with someone. If there is no one you want to communicate with in your surroundings, there is a whole world out there willing and interested in communicating. Just get online. But be cautious, and if in doubt, ask someone else in your surroundings about a particular communicator.

    ____ Talk to someone else about your feelings, your sense of loss, how it is affecting you but keep this within the bounds of your relationship with this other person. If a friend not too much at length. If a parent, according to the relationship you have with him or her but do not dwell on the subject. If a professional, then as long as they, or money, or time will allow. But always keep in mind the propriety of your discussion and the expression of emotions according to the person to whom you are talking.

    ____ In general, people who do not know should not be told unless there is a specific reason that they should know.

    Continuation of your life

    ____ Make a concerted effort to take charge of your own life. Do not become dependent on others.

    ____ Make a list of major things you need to do to continue whether it be taking care of others who are left, obtaining financing, applying for a job, selling or buying something, arranging for processes which must take place.

    ____ Make a list of smaller things which are important but which are not included in the major list and start doing them, and crossing them off the list as they are completed things like get your glasses fixed, renew your driver's license, or get one so you can renew it type of thing.

    ____ Make a list of things you should do around the house and a schedule of when to do them - watering the plants, feeding the cat, doing laundry, cleaning, buying food, ordering gas, paying bills.

    ____ Pause for a moment at the end of each day and add up the accomplishments of the day. When there are failures or lack of accomplishment, think of how you will correct or proceed in the future.

    ____ Make of list of things you would like to do or accomplish. Pick one and start, no matter how impossible it may seem at the moment.


    Dealing with guilt will be the subject of next month's article

    Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation
    The processes: There is a grief cycle identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
    Memorial site by son of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
    A review of the Grief Cycle
    About Grief Simple things to do and not do which helps the individual experiencing loss. Also links to resources for children who grieve.
    Other helpful sites: Coping with Loss: Guide to Grieving and Bereavement by

    Morgan Thomas Copyright October 1, 2007 All rights reserved