You are listening to the Life Reconstructed podcast with me, Teresa Amaral Beshwate, grief expert, best-selling author and widow. I’m so glad you’re here because in this and every episode, I shine a light on the widowed way forward.
Hello and welcome to episode 18. In this episode, I explain why grief and fear go hand in hand, and how to calm the panicky brain and stop living in fear.
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 the sensation of fear.
After I lost my husband, 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 the feeling as fear. I just called it grief.
Our human brains are hardwired to keep us alive in three specific ways, urging us to avoid pain, to seek pleasure, and to be efficient. With the loss of our spouse, the brain is threatened and launches into overdrive.
The brain analyzes the events associated with the 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 actually makes sense. It loops on these difficult events, in part to try to protect us from ever experiencing such “danger” again. It’s no wonder “widow brain” is so common.
The 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.
The death of a spouse often means we need extra help around the house, and yet having anyone in the house doesn’t feel safe. What if they realize we live there alone?
I remember having a friend change the light fixture in my closet for me. This is someone I’ve known for years as a kind and trustworthy person. And even that didn’t feel completely safe.
My primitive brain was on overdrive, operating on the assumption that danger was around every corner. And this is totally normal.
Luckily, only part of the brain is primitive in nature. Another part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex is wired differently, and it can override those panicky, primitive messages. Generally, if you’re listening to your own thoughts, those thoughts are coming from your primitive brain. If you’re thinking thoughts, on purpose, or directing your thoughts, you’re using your prefrontal cortex. So it’s important that we talk to ourselves as much or more as we listen to ourselves.
Using that prefrontal cortex, we can address those panicky, fear based primitive brain thoughts.
But there’s a catch: we have to approach our primitive brain carefully, without judgment, 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, we are actually okay.”
With this kind and gentle dialogue, we can take small steps forward. While we’ll always experience fear, it can ride in the backseat while we drive the car. Which means we stop letting fear rule our lives.
And then we can slowly but surely create a life that we love. That’s my hope for you.
It’s such a pleasure to walk alongside you in your journey through this podcast. Be sure to subscribe, rate and review it, so that other widowed people can more easily find it. And remember that I believe in you, and I’m here for you. Take care.
If you’ve found this podcast helpful, I invite you to join Life Reconstructed, my coaching program exclusively for widowed people. It will help you step forward toward a life you will love again. Simply go to thesuddenwidowcoach.com and click work with me.