The fear factor

May 29, 2020

C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear,” and he went on to describe the way he physically experienced the sensation of grief, which for him, was similar to fear.

For me, grief and fear were one. They were welded together so seamlessly that I couldn’t tell them apart. I lived in fear. I made decisions out of fear. I looked at most people as a threat. I feared everything about the future. Fear ruled my life after loss so completely, yet I never recognized it as fear. I just called it grief.

Our human brains are hard wired with only three main objectives: to keep us safe, to keep us comfortable and to be efficient. Profound loss turns these most basic objectives into near impossible tasks. With the loss of our spouse, our primitive brains are shaken as if we were just attacked by a tiger. The brain perceives it as a threat and launches into danger zone mode.

It analyzes the events associated with our loss, replays them and studies them from every angle in an effort to relate the event to something understandable, something in the past or something that makes sense. It loops on these difficult events in an effort to protect us from ever experiencing such “danger” again. It’s no wonder widow brain is so prevalent.

In an effort to keep us comfortable, our primitive brains avoid the dark, difficult and unfamiliar feelings that come with loss. We find other things to do instead, like overeating, over-drinking, overspending, Netflix binging and the like. But grief is patient; it waits for us. And while it waits, it grows. We can run, but we can’t hide.

Our primitive brain plays a significant role in the decisions we make in our life after loss. As it seeks to keep us safe and comfortable, it tells us to stay away from anything that is not familiar because it perceives anything new as potentially unsafe. In an effort to do its job, our primitive brains keep us stuck in the quicksand of grief.

Luckily, only part of our brain is primitive in nature. Other parts of our brain are wired differently, helping us to override primitive messages. But there’s a catch: we have to approach it carefully, without judgement  and with compassion and kindness. It goes something like this.

“I hear you, primitive brain, I can see that you’re doing your job. Your opinion is noted. But we’re going to do this instead. We’re going to try this new thing. We’re going to entertain new thoughts. And although you are sensing danger, actually, we’re going to be okay.”   

With this dialogue, we can take small steps into life after loss. We can stop looping in pain, guilt and fear. We can slowly reconstruct our identity and create a live that we love.

Teresa Amaral Beshwate, MPH, The Sudden Widow Coach, helps widows who have experienced the sudden loss of their spouse or significant other learn to live and love their life again. Her coaching program is exclusively for widowed people and offers the perfect mix of private and group coaching along with the most life changing tools for the uniquely challenging widowed journey. 

Learn more about Life Reconstructed.

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