"A Piece of Me Went With You" is a Common Sentiment With Acute Grief
Losing a loved one is hard enough. When you feel as though a part of you died too, it makes it even harder to cope with the loss. Whether your grief is acute or prolonged, when you’ve lost someone you have known for many years and very intimately, your personality is influenced by that person, and vice versa. Sharing a life together with your family members and spouses makes it hard to distinguish where your personality is distinct from the other person’s. There's also a natural desire to reconnect with the person you lost, to regain that sense of fulfillment. As I've talked about in previous posts, there are a number of differences between complicated and acute grief. Nonetheless, they both really hurt for a time.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you have good boundaries. If you know your own mind, your own wants and needs, and are comfortable setting limits in order to protect yourself from unwanted intrusions, then having parts of another woven into the tapestry of your personality can be a welcome addition. If you're a passive or mellow person, you might have taken the the edge off your angry, sharp-tongued mate. Alternately, if you are a bold, assertive person, you might encourage your loved ones to be more self-assured and outspoken. The same goes for people you love, whom you've lost to death.
Integration of Your Loved One During Acute Grief
These bits of the other person shine through in the tapestry when necessity calls for it, and also when we make a conscious choice to emulate that loved one’s best qualities. Sometimes it’s automatic and unconscious, however; we are influenced without even knowing it. Of course, in the case of family members influencing each other, there is a genetic component that is also unconscious and at times mysterious.
I often hear from clients who have lost a spouse or long-term lover, “I can’t ever be the same again.” I can understand where it might feel as though that’s true when you first lose someone, but I think it’s a limiting belief that in time is not necessary. It creates worry, anxiety and adds to the pain of grief. In some cases, the loved one’s death does change a person’s personality, and not necessarily for the better. However, I think that personality, and being in general, is fluid.
Time Changes How We Feel About Acute Grief
We generally are not the same at 20 as we are at 10, or at 30, 40, 50, and so on. There are some fundamental qualities like introversion or extroversion that usually remain stable over time, but I think bringing conscious awareness to how we behave and treat ourselves and others makes a huge difference in whether our personalities and psychological health becomes stuck or not.
Pain of loss or trauma can make people feel stuck and stunt their development, but if worked through it can be transformative in a positive, healthy way too.
When I hear someone say, “I will never be the same,” I think that may be true but not necessarily for the reason you think. Since personalities change over time anyway, you very well may never be the same. Your loved one’s death is only part of the picture of your development as a person. The pain of the person’s death will shape your experience as a human being, no doubt.
Changing Emotions with Acute Grief
Yet it isn’t necessarily a permanent change and the pain itself will probably morph over time from intense, sharp and burning to a muted, softer ache. At first you might find yourself wanting to be alone all the time, or feeling angry and very prone to tearful outbursts after the loss.
As that dissipates and becomes less painful, you might find it acceptable to be around people again. With acute grief, you generally will feel gradually better six to 12 months after the loss, depending on how close you were to the deceased. You might even crave others’ company, and that’s okay too. The more you can see what you’re going through as part of an ongoing process, the less alarmed and fearful you need to be about the changes you’re going through.
Ultimately, you get to decide the person you want to be. When you first lose someone, very little feels within your control. This might include your personality and what you feel was taken away from you when you lost your loved one. With time and consciousness, however, you can restore those parts of your loved one and who you were when you were with them, and maybe improve upon those aspects as well. If you're struggling with the loss of a loved one and want help, please call me at 661-233-6771.