Also last week, I received a text from a friend and colleague from many years ago who stumbled upon my book on loss, “Come as You Are: Meditation & Grief.” As I read her words, I was overcome with tears. These were not tears of sadness. These were tears prompted by empathy. These were tears prompted by validation. These were tears prompted by gratitude.
Here is what she wrote:
I read your thoughts on your grief through the loss of your beloved husband. I have so many mixed emotions when I think of you and communicating with you. I think of you far more often than you would have reason to believe! And often wonder how you are doing. I know your life is full. Always.
So, I have been blind to expressing my heartfelt words of comfort. When I think of reaching out to you, I hesitate. I don’t denigrate my self-worth but rather I think, our contact minimal to nonexistent over the past decade, that there would be little value to my words.
So, I care about you. From afar with admiration. Your words re your grieving will resonate and help me express to you and others an ongoing care and concern.
Warmest thoughts your way.
What do you notice about what she wrote?
Do you notice that she simply stated how she felt? She shared her experience, her thoughts, her emotions.
No platitudes. No profound words of wisdom. No crafty poetry.
Just an honest and adroit sharing of her own experience and her experience of me and my grief.
Aspects of Emotional Intelligence Critical for Grief
Depending on which “guru” you read, you will be told there are as few as three critical elements of Emotional Intelligence to as many as twelve. But across most of these models there are two that are consistent:
• Self-awareness, and
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize, identify, feel and understand your own emotions. You do that through honest, introspection, and courageous self-assessment. People who experience people who are grieving often don’t know how they themselves feel and struggle to express their own emotions around grief and loss. They default to catchy platitudes and sympathy cards in their effort to express what they are going through internally as they experience the person who is grieving. My friend took the time to recognize, identify, feel and understand her own emotions and simply shared those emotions with me. That is, in part, why reading her words affected me so powerfully.
Empathy is the ability to recognize, identify, feel and understand others’ emotions. You do that by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. People who experience people who are grieving often don’t know the depths of grief and loss that a person can experience. They default to sympathy because empathy escapes them. Empathy is more than simply stating “I know you how feel.” When you are truly empathetic, you don’t have to say that. People just know. You can feel the empathy in my friend’s post.
You cannot be emotionally intelligent in the absence of self-awareness and the absence of empathy. Though it seems, as many who grieve will attest to you, those that seek to support us seem to have undeveloped skills of self-awareness and empathy. It is almost like the world has a level of grief-alexithymia. I think that, in part, is because we are so consumed with happiness. (But that is at minimum another article and at most a book or two).
What Can You Do?
If you think you might struggle with grief-alexithymia, you can take action to bolster your skills. The best thing you can do is to take a course in Emotional Intelligence like those I referenced at the start of this article. You could also pick up Dan Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” You can even take brief do-it-yourself assessments in Emotional Intelligence to kick-start your efforts.
Your efforts to grow now will ensure you have the skills to support others when they are grieving as well as ensure you have the skills to gently push back against those who have grief-alexithymia should you find yourself in the depths of grief and loss.
These articles, as well as my book, “Come As You Are: Meditation & Grief,” expose the truth about grief. I am blunt. I don’t sugar-coat what I have discovered about grief and how we deal (and don’t deal) with it. Grief is too important of a topic for me to beat around the bush.
I want you to know that until Brian died and I directly experienced powerful personal grief and loss on a level that completely rocked my world, I had my head up my ass just like some of you reading this article probably do. And I was a therapist. I hurt a lot of people because I didn’t have enough self-awareness and I didn’t have enough empathy. I thoughtlessly bought into the lie that we are told about grieving.
When I wrote the book “Come As You Are: Meditation & Grief,” I thought that my understanding was complete. I was wrong. That is why I continue to share my insights in these articles. Thank you for reading this, and I invite you to learn more about what grief truly is. You can read other posts right here on Medium, and you can get my book in digital, audio, and print versions.