Self-Care During Emotional Healing

March 17, 2023

Natalie Zeifman (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer

What helps you when you’re emotionally healing?

It may seem strange to talk about healing in general terms when there is so much one might have to heal from. We can experience grief through death, breakups, and betrayal, to name only a few. But the common denominator is loss. The loss of a loved one, a life path, a favorite thing, a home, an old ability, a planned future, invested resources, or even the loss of your sense of safety and your right to be treated with respect. You may even lose your self-trust and self-respect at the wrong turn.

Loss of one kind or another is inevitable if you are a human being because we are capable of feeling it. No one is immune to grief. The question is then how do you cope with loss and retain your purpose and well-being? How do you soothe and take care of yourself so that you can get back up? How do you stop the grief from becoming your whole world? How do you heal?
I know there are a plethora of answers to such questions, but in this article I am going to share what I have personally learned to be helpful, and I hope it is helpful to others as well.

One of our first big stops on the emotional healing train is validation. “This thing happened, it wasn’t right, and it’s okay to grieve it. You feel what you feel for a reason.” I think a lot of us have a tendency to think in terms of what we “should” be feeling, to the extent that we can invisibilize what we actually are feeling. We may minimize how painful what we are going through is, and how huge our achievement is in facing it. It can be hard to see our resilience in the moment.

Processing an emotionally heavy weight takes a lot out of you. If you’re going through something heavy, just getting up is an achievement. Just taking a shower, going to work, feeding yourself– those are big achievements in the context of healing. It’s important to validate how much time and energy are going into grief, rather than expecting yourself to go out and run a marathon every day. What would actually be abnormal is if you could in one moment be crying in grief and in the other hyper with energy and happiness. It’s unlikely to happen because grief takes energy.

It’s important to our mental well-being to recognize what we are going through so we can have a compassionate view of ourselves and reasonable expectations. We need to give ourselves the permission and space to feel what we feel, and know it’s valid. There isn’t one right way to grieve. It’s okay to need time, support, and even bubble wrapping.

Finding a support system of empathetic people who can validate our experiences and feelings can also be important to healing. Talking to others helps you frame, contextualize and process the meaning of what you’ve experienced. But if you have people in your life who tell you you shouldn’t be feeling what you feel, and who aren’t empathetic about the loss you experienced, that can encourage you to disconnect from yourself, deny your feelings, and thus not take part in the self-care practices that aid healing, because you’re “supposed to be” fine. If you ignore that a wound exists, then how are you going to take care of it and help it heal? In these cases, it’s ideal to try to seek a support system of people who can be a safe, empathetic space, and who may have even gone through similar experiences.

The permission of time is another big one. Oh dear, I don’t want to sound like a cliché, but in situations where the brain was expecting or living in an expectation of one future, and then it has to suddenly face another, it takes a lot of time and mental energy to process that. You can’t rush your grief or compare yourself to others with different lived experiences. If you’re feeling something, it’s for a reason; it’s speaking to who you are. It can take time to collect your thoughts on what happened and what it meant to you, to ground yourself in a new reality. It’s also healthy to validate that grief doesn’t happen all at once. It comes in waves. Needing time to recover shouldn’t be a source of shame. In fact, you may never fully extinguish the sadness of that loss, and it’s perfectly okay for it to remain meaningful to you.

Reclaim happiness. When you’re grieving, it’s really easy to fall into a type of dark hole and to make it your whole lens on life. But it’s important to remind ourselves that there are still things that make us happy. There’s kindness, beauty and the capacity for joy in the world. It can feel super irritating to have someone suggest to you that you should try to still incorporate what brings you some happiness into your life when you’re grieving, but it’s really important advice. It’s important that we don’t make the loss all we can see of the world. If we were hurt by someone, it’s also important to see that that person and their worldview do not make up the world. You can reclaim yourself from their space.

Reclaiming happiness shouldn’t be done in such a way that it denies or minimizes loss, but hopefully with the type of balance that allows us to process our grief while still seeing that life has good to offer us.

It’s not that nothing bad ever happens in this world, it’s that we’re able to continue standing up for and embodying what is good.

Finally, another process you will probably start to take part in automatically is growing from the grief. Listening to and learning lessons from our grief helps heal and empower us. Loss can feel overwhelmingly painful and impact our ability to feel safe. When we’re grieving, we’re thus not only processing the loss itself, but also the loss of our feeling of safety. This drives us into self-protection mode which can hinder us fully taking part in life. We want to know how to prevent ourselves from feeling this hurt again. We want to know how we can feel safe again. Engaging in the process of growing and learning lessons from our loss helps us feel safer and better able to cope. It gives us more faith in our resilience.

At the end of the day, it’s part of what makes us human that we feel and honor our losses, and we should know that our feelings deserve care and space.

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