The only cure for grief is action.” –G. H. Lewis

Over the years, much of my writing has evolved from my metaphor of the “snowman.”  Its assumption is that all of our behaviors flow from our thoughts.  Or, more descriptively, they come from our operative beliefs.  The path to a happier, more rational life, proceeds from a clear understanding of what those operative beliefs are.

Gathering a clear recognition of those beliefs, however, isn’t as easy as it might seem.  Let me pose an example to demonstrate this point, drawn from the world of grief and loss.  Based upon the research of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross about the stages of grieving, we have come to learn that any loss involves fairly established steps.  Be it the loss of a loved one, a job, or some element of our health or well-being, we handle these sad events predictably.  We first deny the loss, deal with anger and sadness, irrationally bargain for more time in order to plan for an uncertain future and, eventually, come to accept the situation.

Imagine that a woman has experienced the loss of a spouse.  The couple had a long, successful marriage and the partner’s passing lead to the stages described above, via Kubler–Ross.  But, along with those difficult emotional reactions, come a handful of “shoulds.” 

    What should I be doing now?

    What do others think that I should be doing?

    How long should I be grieving?

These “shoulds” flow from our societal expectations and, even more powerfully, from our friends and family members.  Some of those “shoulds” come from our fears over the reactions of others.  What will my family and friends think of me if I start socializing?  How should I be acting?   Shouldn’t I appear to be happy?   Do others think that I should still be in mourning?

It has been said that “all dysfunction flows from fear.”  What does the grieving spouse, trying to move forward in their new life circumstances, fear?  This is where “a bad case of the “shoulds” might present itself:

If I’m not behaving as others think I should, I fear their disapproval.

I fear the rejection of others if I don’t live up to their expectations.

Going back to our operative beliefs, let’s shift to rational thoughts rather than the other, fear-based, ones.  For example:

Am I doing what I sincerely believe are appropriate choices and actions?  Am I acting in accordance with my values, rather than fearing the judgment of others?

Homework:  Ask yourself:  Am I doing what I know (or at least believe) is correct, or am I acting as others think I should?  Are my actions rationally based or flowing from fear and other negative emotions?

Decide.  Then act accordingly

Excess of grief for the dead is madness; for it is an injury to the living, and the dead know it not.” – Xenophon