We all have an inbuilt self-protection system, which is none other than our sense of self-safety. We have been training and using this safety mechanism throughout our life; hence ‘caution’ is an integral element in our inner sense. Though we are not aware, this inbuilt safety system comes to our rescue at the time we are undergoing a great loss in life. Let’s learn more about how our good sense helps us stay safe and sane during bereavement.
Safe limit of grief
Every one of us have a unique way of grieving; so, there is no right and wrong ways. But there is a boundary that we should not exceed in reacting to our loss, in order to avoid severe, or rather irreparable, consequences.
How do we know that the safe limit is crossed? Let me tell you. Intense feelings of grief are normal after the loss of a loved one. However, if the grieving experience is more profound and longer lasting such that it stops the griever from moving on in life, that needs attention. The signs could be;
- having trouble sleeping
- loss of appetite
- all-time feeling hopeless and distressed (instead of in waves)
- refusing support from others
- shunning others completely
- inability to perform daily functions
- grieving getting worse instead of better over time etc.
Simply put, these are the symptoms of depression, that need professional help. So, it is obvious that we need to be cautious about such harmful tendencies developing in us or in our loved ones, who are grieving.
Inner sense of safety
Although the family and friends of grievers keep an eye on whether the said safety limit is reached, the grievers themselves have their own self-protection mechanism within them and that plays a key role in keeping them safe and going. It identifies the potential dangers to our existence from our own vulnerabilities and prevents us from reaching harmful extremes.
For example, even though you have undergone a life-changing loss, still the instincts tell you to take care of yourself – eat, sleep, clean yourself, have medicine etc -, carry on with your job, look after dependents, and most importantly, to seek and accept support from loved ones. This is your inbuilt safety mechanism in action. It knows what is best for you. This is the case for majority of the grievers, so they do not need therapists to recover.
Self-safety triggered by the circumstances
You may have noticed that the functionality of this internal sense of safety is linked to the circumstances we live in. Circumstances with duties and responsibilities (parenthood, career, dependents etc.), or hardships, trigger our sense of safety. Our good sense, in such situations, prevents us from lingering in a mental world, and instead, gets us to fulfil our work in the real world. The good thing is that when we have less time to spend in our emotional realm, our grief does not get a chance to dominate us, and hence to torture us…
For example, our sense of safety reminds us of the probability of job loss, if we neglect our work or of the harsh reality, that if we do not work today, our food and bills tomorrow are at stake. If we have children to look after, it reminds us to attend to their meals, school runs etc on time. With these internal alerts triggered by our responsibilities, we are brought back to the real-life matters.
The absence of responsibilities and work, and the presence of carers around us, could drive our self-protection mechanism into hibernation. In simple terms, when you are privileged to be very well looked after by others, and be free from other burdens, your self-protection system could become redundant.
What will happen when our good sense does not guide us during the painful time of mourning?
- We would probably be omitting our food, personal hygiene, job, parental duties etc.
- Our grief would predominate (in the absence of work and responsibility), driving us into a deep, prolonged suffering.
This is a situation where the devastation is worsened by the luxury of carefree life. But, if this happens to you, don’t worry as it is not your fault. The blame should go to your circumstances. (Our circumstances are not our choice, for most of us, though it should ideally be so.)
Moving back to our topic, in this kind of a situation, your family and friends have to apply a huge effort to console you. The truth is that the more they are worried and attentive about you, more resistant to healing you would be. There again, it’s because, when we feel that we are looked after, we indulge in the freedom to grieve, on full-time basis, ignoring even to take care of ourselves and eliminating the need of our sense of safety in action. This privileged situation itself thus becomes the cause of our persistent grief and leads to necessitate professional help to heal.
With the help of a counsellor, you can awaken your self-protection system. There, you will be guided to recognise the prevailing circumstances and your vulnerabilities, and to learn the importance of looking after yourself, as well as the repercussions, in case you fail to do so.
To wind up today, your self-protection system is the most reliable support you could have during your bereavement. So, keeping our good sense up and running all the time is helpful, particularly as we confront with profound grief. This means, we should keep up responsibilities in our life, specially those involve others as beneficiaries of our work, so that we cannot just slip out abruptly. Keeping ourselves busy with some important work help our sense of self-safety immensely to remain active and to protect us during our difficult times…
I am sure, almost all of you know the existence of your internal sense of safety. How many of you have experienced it working on autopilot to protect you? If you have, then it is good news because it means that your good sense is active.😊
What is your idea about difficult circumstances driving us to sanity? I know, it is arguable, as too much busyness and responsibilities also could cause depression. But what I meant was a moderate commitment that is healthy and useful to keep safe. Hope this clarifies if there were any doubts. Anyway, please voice your thoughts by commenting below, as it would be great to have a useful discussion.
What is your personal experience about your circumstances positively or negatively affecting your recovery from a troublesome situation in your life? I would love to hear your words, so please leave a reply below, to share with everyone.