In the world we live in today, so many of us are grieving the loss of something. It is not just death that we grieve, but rather we grieve the loss of a relationship, a job, or dream. As we develop and grow, the individual refines who they are, their passions, interests, etc. Through that growth, we may even grieve our old self: the self that may have hurt themselves or others, the self that was naïve or fearful, the self that may have felt lost, or the self that may have been existing in survival mode. While our mind may automatically look back on these past selves with regret or shame, it serves as an opportunity to celebrate the growth that has occurred. In talking with a friend about how I felt sad for my old self because I did not treat her with compassion, she asked me, “Well, what do you think old Emily would think of you now?” The question shook me to my core because I had to look at my friend and say out loud, “I know she would be so proud of me.”
What I have come to realize is that grief is not linear. We do not just simply get better over time, it is more complex than that. I have grown very fond of a metaphor to describe grief referred to as “the ball in a box.” The metaphor explains that grief is like a ball in a box with a pain button. When the loss first occurs, the ball is enormous and, no matter what move you make, it presses up against the pain button and hurts deeply. As time goes on, the ball begins to shrink ma
king it easier to resume daily life. However, regardless of the time that has passed and though the ball has shrunk, it can still hit the pain button as it bounces around in our box. We often shame ourselves for not “being over something yet.” Yet years later, though our ball has shrunk significantly in size, the pain button can still be pressed on holidays, milestones, or a random Tuesday afternoon… and that is okay. By allowing ourselves space to feel the hurt without self-judgment, healing occurs, the ball continues to shrink, and we learn to carry our “ball in a box” with grace as well as give ourselves permission to set it down now and again.
Emily Salomon, LPC, NCC