Dan Lippmann LCSW. Practical, Sustainable Happiness

When Feeling Better Feels Wrong

After posting my blog post, “Ten Hidden Reasons You Might NOT Want to Feel Better,” a reader wisely commented that I’d left out a very important reason why people don’t want to feel better after losing someone they love.

If I begin to feel better, it means that my loved one is being forgotten, and I don’t want her (or him) to be forgotten.

Many people have trouble moving beyond their grief out of fear and guilt. They fear losing their connection with their loved one, so they dwell on their sadness. They constantly think and talk about the person in order to keep their loved one’s memory alive.

They may also hold on to their sadness out of guilt. Why should they get to enjoy life when their loved one no longer can? By keeping the loss fresh in their minds, they make sure that they don’t get to enjoy life either.

Before I go on I want to make it clear that there is no “correct” timetable or right or wrong way to grieve. Every person needs to grieve – has the right to grieve – in their own way, for as long as they need to.

That being said, people often unknowingly sabotage their recovery from grief because they’re afraid of losing contact with their loved one. This was the case for my client, Susan.

Susan came to see me a year after her husband died. Not only was she still very sad, she felt confused by her slow “recovery.” Although I told her that it was not that unusual to still be sad, she persisted with wondering why she wasn’t feeling better. I suggested that we do an exercise to discover the advantages and disadvantages of feeling better.

Susan doubted there would be any reasons why she wouldn’t want to feel better, but she agreed to go along with the exercise. These were her lists:

Advantages of feeling better

I’d have more energy.

I would enjoy my usual activities more.

I’d feel less isolated.

I would find it easier to socialize.

My friends and family would find it easier to be around me.

It would be a relief to not feel sad all the time.

Disadvantages of feeling better:

I’ll lose my connection with my husband.

My memories of my husband will fade faster.

I’d have to start doing things that make me uncomfortable, like going to activities on my own.

My kids won’t be as attentive.

I’ll feel guilty about “surviving” if I have any fun.

After completing her lists, I asked her to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. She decided that the advantages of feeling better somewhat outweighed the disadvantages, but she was unsure what to do next.

I suggested that we address the disadvantages one at a time. Susan quickly came up with ways to address several of the disadvantages. For instance, she realized that she could get just as much attention from her friends for being fun to be around than for feeling sad. Likewise, she realized that her kids would actually want to spend more time with her if she was in a better mood.

The one thing she was stumped by was how to feel connected to her husband if she wasn’t feeling as sad. For homework, I asked her to write down her 10 happiest memories of being with her husband, and then spend about 15 minutes each night thinking about one of those memories in great detail.

The next week, Susan said that dwelling on her memories made her feel both happy and sad. But she had begun to realize she could stay connected to her husband by feeling good, not just by feeling sad. She also discovered that she didn’t need to feel sad all day long. Creating a nightly memory session helped her limit her sadness to a specific time during the day. Once she understood her reasons for remaining sad, Susan was able to choose new behaviors and begin her recovery from grief.

Please share how you’ve moved beyond grief while still keeping your loved one’s memory alive.

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