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The Phases Of Healing

The Hidden Elements of Healing
Our own thought patterns effect the health of our body. Each emotional thought pattern is really an underlying "cause" of a physical illness, understanding the illness can help you address the cause and thereby riding the body of the disease. But how do you go about understanding the underlying cause?
These thought patterns we set up within our consciousness find their control over our subconsciousness through a form of grief. Even if it seems to be a tiny issue, there is an element of loss and grief within the situation. By identifying what the grief component is, we can begin the process of healing from the loss and find a better way to think about who we are, our life and our place in the spiritual universe.
What Is Grief
Grief occurs from any event in an individual's life. It is during Grief that many people feel the most alone and segregated from the world around them. Perhaps in this context, Grief is the ultimate example of Existentialism in action.
Grief comes in many forms of loss. Loss of a loved one, a relationship, a family pet, a job, one's health or independence, even one's own freedom. And dealing with loss comes in many forms, from depression to denial or more serious reactions that affect an individual's well being and mental health. We all have a way of dealing with every day grief, but I think everyone would agree that prolonged grief is never a good idea and can be detrimental to the wholeness of mind, body and spirit.
Additionally it can come from a side door that you didn't even expect. Diane Sawyer conducted an interview with a psychology professor in the mid 90's, and a piece of that interview stuck with me. The professor explained that every person takes in information about them self, especially negative information, even when they know it's not true. As an example he told Ms. Sawyer that she was a great reporter and the interview was in his view going well. But even if he said as an example "You're a terrible interviewer and cannot cover this story" that is the comment she will remember most about their meeting. Even though it was an example and not his true feelings, the mere inner critical view we hold within ourselves will latch onto those negative comments and save them to memory. Over time, we process these thoughts and play them over and over. In many cases we learn to dismiss some of these thoughts, but many last within our thoughts and we slowly begin to believe what they say about who we are. This is when we set up negative patterns in our sub-conscious that slowly seep into our daily lives and begin to affect our physical health.
But how do we turn these negative events and thoughts into grief? What we grieve can be as varied as the people who read this article. When we talk about a loss, those events are easy to understand where the grief comes from. When the event comes from a negative thought pattern, the loss can be an idea or another way of saying it, a bruise to our ego. We mourn the loss of respect, not just of our self but from others. We may mourn the loss of an emotion such as not feeling nurtured by the ones we love. We might mourn the feeling of support even if it's from a physical perspective such as losing a job, or feeling as though our partner or family won't provide for us in a manner we think we deserve.
Understanding these underlying thought patterns and processing them through the phases of grief we can work through the trials and tribulations, to over come their long lasting effects. No longer should an individual feel segregated from the norm, when they realize their progression of thoughts and feelings follow a pattern of emotion. This in and of itself can bring about peace of mind as an individual deals with the trauma or bereavement of a relationship or loved one.
The Phases of Grief
Grieving itself is a very individualistic emotion. No two people will approach grief in the same way. It has been my experience that it can be sometimes dangerous to assume that everyone will react in the same way to a traumatic situation or event. Individuals can through extremes of emotions from shock, denial, and anger or experience a total break down in emotion that boarders on emotionless expressions or the alternative extreme, hysteria.
How is someone expected to react, what is the pre-formed package of emotion that an individual is supposed to feel? The problem with this approach is that not everyone goes through the same life experiences as another person. Additionally, the influences of an individuals spiritual beliefs and understandings will also play a role in their expression of emotions. Because of this, there isn't an expected package for grieving. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
However an individual expresses their emotion, there is a pattern of emotion seen in grief that is universal. Understanding these different phases can help an individual understand where they are in the mourning process. Thereby allowing the individual to understand their grief, empower their reactions and provide knowledge that enables them to move toward healing. These phases of grief are similar to the stages of dealing with issues in your life, those being Acknowledgment, Acceptance, Forgiveness, Action and Letting Go. But when dealing with grief, we may approach these stages a little differently or in more detailed stages.
Before I continue with this section, let me add what I believe to be an important element to Spiritual Psychology as it relates to professional Psychiatric Therapy. Not all Spiritual Psychologists are trained in the professional field of Psychiatric Therapy. It's important to know your limits and understand the triggers for when a client needs to be referred to the professional field.
Phases of Depression and Anger in dealing with Grief, or any type of therapeutic event in an individual's life, can bring about violent punishments, not only to the individual, but also to others. An individual might turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain and memories. Thoughts of suicide or harming others in acts of vengeance can arise. These cases should not be solely monitored by a Spiritual Psychologist, but should involve Psychiatric professionals as well. It is the responsibility of any therapist, spiritual or other wise to pay close attention to their client's needs and evolution through the healing process. When situations occur that can put an individual or others in danger, it's time to involve other professions who can assist in monitoring, assisting and providing a great in-depth range of healing.
According to Irving Yalom, M.D. (2002) there are several stages of grief that can be dealt with through the four major themes of existential thought death, freedom/responsibility, isolation/loneliness, and meaninglessness.
How we think and set up recurring patterns of thought directly affect how we feel physically. Louise Hay (1982, 1999) who describes her understanding of how metaphysical causality affects our lives and our health. Ms. Hay outlines how to change these patterns with affirmations to bring about change and turn the negative patterns into positive ones.
In her books, Energy Medicine (1998/2008) and Energy Medicine for Women (2008), Donna Eden outlines how to work with the body's energy system to live a healthy and happy life. Mental health cannot be achieved in many cases when an individual's physical health is over shadowing their daily lives. Ms. Eden provides insight and exercises for the reader to change their own life into a positive future.
Taking those practical psychological approaches and applying them to the spiritual path we walk, we can begin a process of healing from within and affecting outer physical being.
To start we can define the phases of grief into a structured and simplified set of stages for any individual to review within their life.
Shock / Acknowledgement
Shock is often the first stage of grief. It is accompanied with disbelief or not wanting to acknowledge the loss.
Individuals who are faced with an unexpected death certainly go through this phase of grief. This can be especially true if the passing results from an accident, unexpected health event, or a violent crime.
Relatives of fallen soldier may face a prolonged exposure to this phase, if the deceased has been taken in battle from an overseas theater. They worry about the care, respect and shipment of their soldier's remains to return home. The extended time between hearing the news from Military officials and seeing their loved one helps to maintain this period of disbelief. For some that can be helpful in that it allows the family to plan and organize burial before the soldier is returned home. For others it can be a time of terror and extreme denial.
A family facing the sudden loss of a loved one through an accident or violent crime can be hit hard news of this type of passing.
Victims of abuse also may see a prolonged exposure to this phase of grief, as shock is often the more common emotion seen here. This is often more accurate for victims of sexual rape and assault. But this can occur with victims of physical assault and battery. Even if the victim reports the assault to medical or law enforcement officials, there is a feeling of numbness and disbelief.
For victims of sexual assault, answering questions, feeling violated again by medical probing to collect evidence is just another step in what many feel as the continuation of the assault. A large number of these victims slowly move from shock to denial as they are returned to some form of control over their situation. Often a rape victim will immediately find a hot shower to wash away any remnants of the rapist. Only to find a few hours later their conscious mind thinking through the trauma feels the need to take yet another hotter shower to wash the feeling and images away.
Individuals who face notification of news that ends a relationship may have varying responses during this phase. The nature of the break up, the type of relationship and the circumstances surrounding the situation all play a role in how an individual may respond.
One thing that is common between all these types of circumstances is the initial response to the sudden loss of the principles of trust and security. The soldier looses trust in his or her ability to back up the team or unit. The survivors loose trust in the their understanding of the world, the military, police, spirituality, or even God. A victim of a violent crime loose trust in society and law enforcement to protect their community. In addition they share a sense of loss of safety, and their own sense of personal security. A person dealing with the end of a relationship also faces a sense of loss of trust that strikes at the core of what some belief is the purpose of human existence.
The initial incident that kicks off the flow of emotions facing grief may be wide ranging, but the initial damage to the psyche affects more than just the sense of loss of an individual in death or a relationship.
On some level most people acknowledge the notification of news of a loss. Assault victims may subconsciously acknowledge the event, even if they attempt to block out what happened. But it's important to note here that acknowledgement doesn't mean acceptance. Acknowledgement on this level refers to the taking in of information. A crude comparison would be the acknowledgement of seeing an email in your in-box. You know it's there, even if you haven't accepted it's delivery.
Denial / Acceptance
Not wanting to accept that the loss has occurred is very common and follows quickly on the heels of shock. Denial can be a powerful response when dealing with grief and loss. "I don't believe it" or "No, this can't be happening" are very common thoughts during this phase.
Denial can evolve into a greater issue once the initial shock of a situation has subsided. In an attempt to protect the conscious mind, many rape victims will fall into a complete state of denial and sometimes face a self-imposed amnesia to escape the pain of the assault.
Victims of physical assault can mirror this response depending on the circumstances surrounding the attack and the severity of physical damage. But they may also create a block in memory for the initial cause or reason behind the assault as a means of dealing with their own emotional turmoil. A precursor so to speak, that cuts off the concepts of feeling self-guilt before it has a chance to get started.
One group of individuals that I've worked with that don't seem to spend a lot of time in denial, are soldiers of war. The horrors of death are something they saw face to face in an instant, or witnessed as the aftermath of an attack. When the events of loss occur on a more personal level, the concept of denial is rarely a thought. They know what they have been through, what happened and can often recount it in vivid detail. For them, this phase deals more with the concepts of acceptance than denial.
But in all these types of scenarios, an individual will come to terms with the traumatic event. Even if the situation isn't one of violence, but rather the passing of a loved one through illness. An admission that the loss has occurred will at some point set down into reality and acknowledged.
I have yet to counsel a client that is dealing with a loss that hasn't had feelings of guilt on some level. It's common for people to start blaming themselves for what has occurred. "If only I had done this", "If only I had not done that" are questions an individual may begin to ask of themselves. Especially if the loss is something you think you could have controlled, such as being laid off from a job, a relationship or a suicide of someone close.
Parents of soldiers face this phase just as anyone else. Looking for answers as to why it was their child that was taken. What did they do wrong that caused their child to be punished, as if their sin or crime was carried out upon their child.
Military Soldiers often find the phase of Guilt the hardest to overcome. Especially if the loss they are facing was related to a war effort. Not only do they face the guilt of being a member of their team to survive, in some cases, they may be the only one who wasn't killed. Additionally, they replay the scene of battle in their consciousness mind allowing the images and guilt to permeate their subconscious and establish thought patterns that develop into personal illness. In a manner of speaking, they establish scenarios of self-punishment to attack the guilt they feel for surviving or being the only one unharmed.
Soldiers who return home with their unit can find themselves falling into guilt because they are not there in the war theater backing up their company, or division. Those who fall into Post traumatic Stress may find they are left behind when their unit is reassigned overseas, adding to their guilt that they are home safe and sound, while their compatriots are now in harms way.
The end of a relationship can create similar inner turmoil and conflicts. Especially when an individual is unaware of situations that create the separation. They begin to replay each day in the relationship through their conscious minds looking for the ultimate questions of "why" or "what did I do". Once again taking on the blame and guilt into their subconscious being. This same scenario can be seen in individuals who have lost their job, failed at an intensely personal goal or project, or a variety of other situations where an individual feels personally responsible.
Abuse victims are conditioned to believe their beating or abuse is self-inflicted and they are the cause of the abuse. After prolonged abuse, individuals begin to believe what they are told and that message is transferred from their conscious minds into their subconscious.
Anyone who has worked with Rape victims knows this scenario all to well. Though society doesn't help with its approach to blame the victim for their assault. Whither a person shouldn't have been wearing a certain type of attire, they shouldn't have been walking in a certain area during that time, or they shouldn't have left the window open at that time or in that neighborhood.
It's important to remember that there are always things going on in the background of these situations that an individual cannot control, no matter how hard they try to convince them self otherwise. If the loss comes from the result of a suicide for instance, it's hard to remember that the person who passed made their choice on their own and the resulting passing was their responsibility.
Depression often comes and goes through out all stages of grief. But it maybe exceptionally difficult in the early stages when an individual is begging the Divine for help and their prayers seem to go unanswered. Everyone needs time to cry, feel sad or lonely and feel the loss they've experienced. Without an individual giving time to the self to be sad, they are not able to release and heal the emotions that have been opened.
But there are varying levels of depression that should be monitored. Severe and deep depression can cause new issues and sometimes can create new dangers. Clinical depression can be triggered by a variety of stresses in an individual's life. The losses of a loved one, a relationship or some type of violent situation are certainly big triggers for kicking off a serious condition of depression.
At some point everyone gets angry after a loss. Blaming the person who left, the people or organization involved, or the situation that caused the loss takes some of the burden off the guilt the individual may feel toward them self.
Families loosing a loved one to war or a violent crime may shift blame to the enemy or criminal. Sometimes taking this level of anger to a passionate effort that prevents the situation from happening to someone else's child. This can be a good avenue of release as an individual works through the healing of the loss as they channel their energy into a project that still connects them to what they lost. We have seen this in our generation with the fight for MADD, Megan's Law and a variety of other legislation that have been enacted as the result of survivors taking their anger and channeling it into personal goals that benefit society
But sadly the phase of anger can be detrimental as well. Especially when feelings are turned outward onto others and even inwards toward the self. Just like the concerns of individuals falling into depression, Therapists are warned about the signs of anger becoming harmful to an individual or those around them.
Anger serves little purpose in grief, but it is a release of emotion and can be the predecessor to healing. At some point an individual grows tired of crying, or being silent and begins to seethe with anger. The energy it takes to stay angry can be draining physically. The negative thoughts that permeate the conscious and subconscious can create negative patterns that build into physical illness in the body. What one expresses outwardly, will be used to attract the similar energy back into ones life. If not dealt with, these emotions can slowly create a snowball effect and what was once a sad situation can migrate into a bad situation that evolves into seriously destructive life.
Anger can also be one of the more important phases of grief on the opposite side of the emotional coin as well. When an individual acknowledges their anger how it affects their life, they can use it as the catalyst for change and healing from the situation. On some level that makes the phase Anger a necessary component for instigating a desire to change and healing from grief.
The first step to healing in grief is Forgiveness. Absolving the self, the situation or others involved who have shared in some way with this loss. Forgiveness comes in many forms and for many reasons. Each situation is going to be different. And each person is going to have specific details from their own perspectives about what has occurred, what needs to be addressed and what needs to be forgiven. It's not about what others think an individual should do or address, because those outside influences may or may not have any affect on the inner sub-consciousness of the individual. This is about the individual self and how they look at the grieving situation through their eyes and sub-conscious mind.
It's also important to state that forgiveness on this level isn't about passing judgments, or absolving someone of a crime or abusive act. It's about releasing the negative energy an individual holds within their conscious minds that cause detrimental harm to their mental and potentially physical health.
This type of forgiveness can be especially difficult from the perspective of an abuse victim. The last thing many victims want to do is absolve their perpetrator of the harm and suffering they caused. But holding onto the anger and hate one may feel toward that individual is only allowing them to continue their abusive control. An individual can forgive the self for allowing their attacker to control their emotions, energy, and perspectives of life. In other words, victims may not want to absolve their abuser, but they can absolve their own guilt and anger toward themselves that may have developed from the abusive event. In doing so they can make a stance to take that control back and release the connection they have with their abuser. In doing this, the Victim can become an abuse survivor and the perpetrator moves into the realm of a non-entity. No longer having the ability to intimidate, control or threaten the survivors sense of trust, security, or emotional connections to themselves and those around them.
Soldiers have an equally hard time pinpointing who or what to forgive. They seem to have a common focus in blaming them self for not being fast enough, or reacting a certain way after a military confrontation. Others facing PTSD may not have a specific event to pinpoint, but rather hold guilt of not being able to be there for their unit as it returns to a combat theater. Or they may hold anxiety concerning a feeling of not being 'whole', supportive or being able to interactive with their family. Once again the issue comes down to forgiving the self.
Hope / Action and Letting Go
The forgiveness, action and letting go are the hard parts to dealing with any loss. But through inner reflection, counseling and meditation, an individual can learn to forgive and let go. Sometimes forgiving and letting go on a spiritual level can help release the pain and emotional hurt felt on a physical level as well. Through all this a person can rediscover hope.
An abuse victim who has forgiven them self of allowing others to control their actions and emotions, can release that control and take back their life. Letting go of the past actions of others, and looking forward into their own future with hope.
A soldier can release their guilt, fear and feelings of always having to look over their shoulder. In doing so, they can learn to move forward in trusting their own instincts, actions and others around them helping to provide a sense of self-assuredness and security.
When the loss deals with a death of a loved one, letting go can be especially hard. But individuals can let go of the past and still maintain a sense of the relationship through spiritual interaction. Letting go of the traditional understanding of communication, and moving forward into a new spiritual communication.
There's no way to pinpoint which of these phases is the most difficult to move through, as each individual is different along with their situation. Putting thoughts into action is one way of moving through grief and discovering the steps of healing. One way this can be done is through a "Letting Go" meditation. The method I use for clients is provided in Appendix A and lays out a step by step process for putting thoughts to paper and releasing the anxiety, pain and anger associated with mourning and loss.
Individuals face a myriad of issues in their conscious minds during these phases of grief. Their emotions ride on the surface and often times anything another person may say can burrow into their consciousness and add fuel to the fire. Even if the words are not meant to do so, an innocent comment meant as support can be a trigger for an emotion break down. This continual self-attack on the emotions and psyche of an individual is detrimental to healing from the issue that caused the mourning process to begin with.
Here is where Spiritual Psychology can step in and provide guidance to understanding the real circumstances behind the issues.
Healing The Spirit and Mind
Sometimes sitting down and trying to meditate is the last thing an individual wants to do. But this type of inner reflection can provide insight into what an individual faces on a subconscious and super-conscious level. Even if an individual feels to distraught to relax for meditation, a Spiritual Therapist has the ability to help guide an individual through the process. The most successful therapies adapt to the strengths of the individual, but also to the potential of the Therapist as well. The healing process is a joint effort. Even though the primary burden is on the client to allow healing to take place, the Therapist has the ability to guide or direct the client toward a path of understanding and healing.
Shirley MacLaine (1989) suggests that going within our own spiritual consciousness allows us to see the world and the events around us with Divine sight. Dr. Paul Master (2007) teaches this similar approach, sighting our ability to connect with the Divine knowledge within our own spiritual consciousness and developing a personal connection with the Universal Divine wisdom to look at the events in our life though God's eyes.
While mainstream psychology would frown upon these types of approaches to find closure and healing, spiritual psychology may promote these concepts. These spiritual approaches not only allow the individual to understand the situations that occurred, but also provides a gateway for communication to gain additional information and even answers to address the 'why' questions that torture so many during grief.
For instance, the physical loss of someone or something doesn't mean we can't communicate on a spiritual level. Whither that communication occurs through dream, meditation or a consultation through psychic talents. Individuals sometimes only need an opportunity to say goodbye, apologize for a perceived injustice or inquire as to why a situation occurred and what they could have done differently. We may not communicate in the same way as when they were alive, but in some cases we might be able to communicate more often or even on a more compassionate and loving level. A Spiritual Therapist has in their armory of tools, access to psychic mediums (if they are not one themselves) that can assist a client in connecting to and interacting with spiritual communications.
From a metaphysical perspective, an individual can find comfort in understanding the lesson behind the situation or what karmic issues were involved. Noel Langley (1967) reports the approach taken by Edgar Cayce on the concepts of reincarnation, the soul's ability to choose lessons and take accountability for the events in our lives.
Michelle Lusson (1994) describes the spirit as the culmination of all our lifetimes, energies, and spiritual essence. The spirit is that which we are in the totality of being. Every life, every memory and every action ever taken on ones spiritual path is the essence of a spirit. The soul is a subset or smaller section of our spirit. It is the section of our total being that we chose to pull into a single physical incarnation to work with and work through for karmic issues and spiritual lessons.
For those who hold a belief in reincarnation these concepts can open doors to understanding the spiritual connotations behind the physical situations they are confronted with in the physical embodiment. While it may be difficult to gain an understanding of going through pain and grief as the result of a karmic issue from a previous lifetime, it still gives an individual insight into what they are going through. It provides meaning to an otherwise meaningless situation in their life.
An abuse victim can discover if their attack was karmic, or if the event was chosen to provide an experience that gives them knowledge and understanding of other victims. Allowing them to become healers of abuse later in their own lives. A soldier might discover that the loss of a buddy in combat was designed by that person's soul as a means to provide spiritual lessons to their family or friends in the realm of compassion, support and unconditional love. There are just as many potential reasons and possibilities for why something has occurred on a spiritual level, as there are people on the planet. For some, this approach gives an individual meaning, acceptance and the ability to discover peace over the events that have taken place.
According to White Eagle (1983) once the soul has made its choices to learn lessons or work through karmic issues, it will leave or put to rest a relationship that no longer benefits the progression of enlightenment. Or if the soul has completed its mission, it will leave this physical world in a manner that leaves the gift of enlightenment for those it leaves behind.
From these perspectives of the spiritual purpose of a chosen lifetime, individuals can learn that choices are being made every moment through out the life of the soul that causes adjustments to the spiritual blue print. At some point, the soul will see the life it has built and decide the construction has been completed. When the physical body dies, the soul detaches itself and prepares to return to the larger spiritual body.
The biggest issue people face when dealing with grief of any type is "why". Why did a parent have to die, why did a buddy have to be killed in battle, why did a young woman have to be raped, why did a relationship end with betrayal. It is human nature to want to understand the reason behind situations that cross our path. The not knowing 'why' often provides the ammunition for what many people use to create self inflicted guilt and anger. Seeking answers on the physical plane that may not become apparent, creating frustration and hopelessness, a feeling that there is no meaning to life or the situations that occur within it.
By using meditation to seek answers within the Divine Self, an individual gains a powerful tool that can guide their physical actions through out the immediate situation and through out the grieving process. This helps each person walk the path of their soul, making choices that lead them closer to fulfilling the purpose of their soul and the intent of their life in this incarnation. While at the same time, helping them to see through Divine eyes the issues and circumstances, or the meaning behind why situations have occurred as they have. From working on karma, spiritual lessons and working through grief the view of spirit can bring about comfort and peace within the person in mourning.
Additional Reading
Evolving the Spirit through Affirmations
Letting Go Mediation
This article is based on my Ph.D. Doctoral Dissertation - Spiritual Psychology and Dealing With Grief (PDF)

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Created: 09.28.2001            Updated: 01.25.2011


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