~ Thoughts on "Letting Go" ~
New Paradigm for Grief
for the 21st Century
A distinctive feature of contemporary grief theory
is its re-evaluation of the traditional assumption that successful grieving
involves "letting go" of one's emotional attachments in particular to the
deceased. This article explores the changing of traditional views on grief
and the new paradigm for grief in the 21st century.
Changing Traditional Views on Grief [1-4]
For most of the 20th century, the modern view
of bereavement involved "letting go" of one’s attachment to the lost loved
one, "moving on" with one’s life, and gradually "recovering" from the grief
response to the loss, resulting in a return to "normal" behavior. When
a person experiences a major loss, it is a life altering event and they
are forever changed by that loss. In the last 50 years, the emphasis in
grief study has been a focus on universal phases, stages or tasks that
must be progressed through or completed. These traditional views on grief
and mourning have been changing particularly in the last decade of the
20th century. Several notable changes have been:
An increasing number of grief scholars, researchers
and counselors began recognizing the limitations of conceiving of mourning
as the relinquishment of emotional ties and a stagic progression toward
recovery. In addition, scientific studies failed to support any appreciable
sequence of emotional phases of adaptation to loss or to identify any clear
endpoint to grieving that would designate a state of "recovery." Critics
have begin to draw attention to ways in which conventional models indirectly
dis-empower both the bereaved person and the would-be caregiver by implying
that grieving people must passively negotiate a sequence of psychological
transitions forced on them by external events. 
The long-held ideas that people need to "get over
it" and "let go;" grief is eventually "resolved" by "detaching" and "moving
on" to new relationships.
Breaking ties to the deceased is key to healing.
Instead, the current thinking now suggests that maintaining emotional bonds
enriches the survivor's life.
The notion that grief progresses in an unvarying
sequence of stages. Instead recognizing that the grieving process is a
highly individualized unique process that may be a very different experience
even for those experiencing the same loss.
Sensing the presence of the dead or communicating
with the deceased are no being longer viewed as abnormal, "hallucinations"
or a pathology of mourning, rather communication, dreams, sensing the deceased
are considered an important means of sustaining the bond with the deceased
The "new wave" of grief theory that is emerging
reflects a changing zeitgeist about the role of loss in human experience.
The common elements of these newer models include: 
The New Paradigm for Grief and Journey of Hearts™
Skepticism about the universality of a predictable
emotional trajectory that leads from psychological dis-equilibrium to readjustment,
coupled with an appreciation of more complex patterns of adaptation.
A shift away from the belief that successful grieving
requires withdrawal of psychic energy from the one who has died, and toward
a recognition of the potentially healthy role of continued symbolic bonds
with the deceased person.
Attention to broadly cognitive processes entailed
in mourning, supplementing the traditional focus on the emotional consequences
A de-emphasis on universal syndromes of grieving
and a focus on local practices for accommodating loss among specific categories
of the bereaved or various (sub)cultural groups.
Greater awareness of the implications of major loss
for the individual’s sense of identity, often necessitating deep revisions
in his or her self-definition.
Increased appreciation of the possibility of life-enhancing
"post-traumatic growth" as on integrates the lessons of loss
A broadened focus not only on the experience of individual
survivors but also on the patterns and processes by which loss is negotiated
in families and wider social contexts.
Every person’s grief
experience is unique, even for those experiencing the same loss. Our role
at Journey of Hearts™
is to support the person on their personal journey of grief on whatever
path it may take.
Journey of Hearts™
was designed to be a Healing Place with resources and support to help those
on their personal journey of grief following a loss or a significant life
change. At this site visitors are educated about the "normal" grief response,
including what to anticipate in the transformational process that occurs
following a loss. This website contains a variety of different Grief AIDEs
to support vivitors through the grief process following a loss, how to
survive present and past losses and how to cope when old losses become
felt anew, or new losses occur. In addition, the grieving person is encouraged
to draw upon or discover their internal source of strength to get through
the shock and the grief reaction.
The path to healing from
a loss is different for each person,
one which may have many
unexpected twists and turns,
but a road that has been
traveled by many.
Kirsti A. Dyer,
Each person travels on his or her own unique
journey in experiencing of the loss. It is important for those who are
grieving and those supporting them to realize that people often cope with
loss very differently. The bereaved should be allow their diverse and unique
coping styles and supported in whatever healthy-nondestructive manner works
for them and then let friends and family know.
With time as the grieving person begin to heal
from the loss, the intense initial emotions lessen to a level that allows
him/her to function. The grief is no longer a daily all-consuming emotion.
They learn how to cope with the loss, rather than "letting go" and adapt
to a life forever changed.
1. Walter T. On Bereavement: The
Culture of Grief. Philadelphia, PA: Open Court Press, 1999, p. 57,161-3.
2. Neimeyer RA. (ed) Meaning Reconstruction
& the Experience of Loss. Washington DC: The American Psychological
Association, 2001, p.2-4.
3. Stroebe MS, Hansson RO,
Stroebe W, Schut H. (eds) Handbook of Bereavement Research: Consequences,
Coping, and Care. American Psychological Association, 2001.
4. Neimeyer RA. Meaning Reconstruction
and the Experience of Loss. American Psychological Association, 2001.
This article is part of the syllabus created
for the Professional Course on the "Somatic Aspects of Loss & Grief"
offered in summer 2001 through the University of California Berkeley Extension.
At every point
in the human journey
we find that we have
to let go in order to move forward;
and letting go means
dying a little.
In the process we are
being created anew,
awakened afresh to the
source of our being.
See the Emergency
911 Page for links to immediate resources
if you are feeling helpless,
hopeless, overwhelmingly depressed, or suicidal.
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