Why it's hard to leave the house

Jun 12, 2024

If you’ve lost your spouse, leaving the house is no small task. If you know, you know.

You want to.

You know it would be good for you.

You make plans to go out.

And yet when it comes time to get ready and actually go, you don’t want to go.

  • You don’t have a fraction of the energy it would require.
  • You’ll have to talk to people.
  • You’ll have to see couples.
  • You’ll have to face unwanted sympathy.
  • You’ll have to navigate awkward conversations.
  • And you never know when your emotions will get the best of you.

You want to want to go, but you don’t actually want to go.

I want you to know that this is normal. And I want you to understand why. Because if you understand why, then you can understand yourself better. And if you understand yourself better, you will be less likely to be self-critical, to think you’re failing, or otherwise doing it wrong.

Your brain has been through a lot. The primitive part of your brain has just one job, which is to keep you alive. And in life after loss, that primitive part of the brain operates in overdrive.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

No one told me, either. I lived with lots of fear. And I bet you experience more fear now than in your life before your loss.

This is the primitive part of the brain operating on overdrive, trying to keep you safe. And to it, there’s no safer place than home, on your couch.

This instinct is primal and hardwired. So it makes sense that you have a strong desire to stay home.

Add to that that you may have to see couples, and face unwanted sympathy, and navigate awkward conversations, and your emotions may be overwhelming.

And it’s just a lot easier, in some ways, to stay home.

But the truth is that home is hard, too.

You get to pick your hard, whether it’s going out or staying home.

Going out means overriding the primitive brain’s desire to stay home. Here’s how to do that.

First, charge your batteries to the best of your ability. I like to think of 3 battery packs – our mental, physical and spiritual batteries. If any of those are in the red, you won’t have much energy for anything.

You may need to experiment with how best to charge your mental, physical and spiritual batteries, because it likely looks different than before. Stay curious and you’ll figure out what’s good for recharging your brain, body and soul. And make that a priority in your daily life.

Second, think about the why of going out. Why would you want to do it? Maybe it’s a break from your grief, or the social interaction would be good, or you look forward to spending time with people who are good for your soul. Spend a moment feeling the positive feelings you’ll likely feel.

Third, when it’s time to get ready and go, expect that your brain will suggest that it’s a bad idea, that you should simply stay home. Remember, this is your brain doing its job, attempting to keep you safe. In this moment, remember step 2. Remember why you wanted to go in the first place. Commit to going for a short time and then allow yourself to go home whenever you want to.

It's the getting started that is the toughest part. It’s Newton’s first law: A body at rest stays at rest.

Grieving is learning, so as you do go out, you’ll learn. You’ll learn where you can easily go and what locations are tougher for you. You’ll learn who you want to be with and who you’d rather avoid. You’ll learn what feels safe and doable, and what, at least at this point in your journey, is just too hard.

The fourth and final step is to allow yourself to learn. Make note of what went well, what didn’t, and what you’ll do differently next time. Commit now to not judging yourself or your efforts. Self-criticism will not help you heal, in fact it will keep you stuck and spinning. Staying curious instead will help you find your best path forward.

Life Reconstructed, my coaching program exclusively for widowed people, can help. Click below to learn more. 

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