Grief and self-disconnection: Why we grieve

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of non-violent communication, describes the need to contribute as one of our strongest needs. I think the need to self-connect is the strongest need. Contributing to others is the easiest way to self-connect. When I talk about self-connection I mean the connection to the divine. It is a feeling of peace, ease and security. I feel this when I’m fully immersed in helping someone else. Anytime we have our needs met, we self-connect. If I need to be valued, and I experience that, I self-connect. There are people in my life that seem to help me self-connect. I love those people. I want to spend time with those people. Ultimately what I get from connecting with them is self-connection.

This is particularly strong with children. I’m responsible for caring for them. For providing food, shelter and love among so many other things. In return I so often get pure love, appreciation and joy. I think that is why we have such a strong attachment to our children. They are walking, talking “needs meeting” machines!

So how does this all connect to grief? I believe grief is the emotion we feel when we self-disconnect. We also feel confusion, anger and other emotions that signify being lost. How am I ever going to find myself again? What we are having such a strong reaction to isn’t the loss of the connection with the other person, that is a strategy. We may certainly feel some sadness about missing that strategy, but the real angst we feel is from loss of self-connection. That is a need. The relationship with that person was a strategy to help us meet that need.

When we can realize this, when we can identify that need, we can self-connect again, even in the midst of the sorrow. For example, say you are speaking to someone who is crying and explaining how their mother has died and they miss her so much. This pain of grief hurts so much they aren’t sure they can bear it. So you first open your heart to what they are feeling. “I’m imagining that you are feeling just this overwhelming sadness and loss” you say. And they agree and go on to describe the depth of the grief. You sit silently with them and hold a space for them to explain just how awful this feels. You don’t try to fix it, you just stay present with them. Then you guess the need, “I’m wondering if you are missing that feeling of peace and ease and joy you had when you were with them?” “Yes!”, they exclaim.

What they are missing is the self-connection the other person helped facilitate within themselves. That is a need. As Dr. Rosenberg describes, needs aren’t person specific. You can have that need met by many other people and situations, including yourself. This is life changing. If you confuse the strategy of meeting the need of self-connection by being in relationship with the other person, with the need itself, then the loss of that person is devastating. How can you ever have self-connection again? But when you can realize that the person was a strategy to meet a need, and that need can be met again, there is hope.

You certainly will mourn the loss of that strategy, the relationship with that other person, but you also know that you can have self-connection in so many other ways. How does this come around to children? As I said, they are walking, talking “needs meeting” machines. I was so often self-connected when in relationship to my child that I will feel the loss of that strategy very strongly. I think this is why you hear people say, “a child should never die before a parent, it’s not natural”. I believe this is also why the death of a pet can be so painful. Pets can also be living “needs meeting” machines. The hope is knowing self-connection can be found again.

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