Chapter 1 Excerpt – The Foundation For Healing

This chapter is based primarily on the work of Paul & Mary Blackburn of Beyond Success, for which I am truly indebted. I have also been inspired by Nicholas de Castella’s work with emotions and have incorporated some of his ideas into this chapter. My heartfelt thanks go to all three of you.

As young children, we are often taught to hide our emotions, or we are shamed and ridiculed when we do express them. When we are sad we are told to cheer up or look on the bright side.  Boys are told that they are weak if they cry and girls are told that they are unladylike if they get angry. As we grow up we are told not to be so emotional, not to be so sensitive, to forgive and forget – to do anything other than acknowledge that we are actually experiencing an emotion.

However, hiding our emotions does not mean they don’t exist. Each of us has a limited capacity to hold back any particular emotion. When our emotional ‘storage facilities’ become full, the excess tends to show up in uncontrolled bursts of that particular emotion, often at the worst possible time.

There are six basic emotions: joy, peace, love, anger, sadness and fear.  All other emotions flow from these basic six.  For example, frustration is a form of anger and nervousness stems from fear.

We tend to label the first three emotions good and the others bad, but they are not good or bad and they each have an important place in our lives.  The challenge, as we learn and grow from our experiences, is to master our emotions. Then instead of allowing them to control us, we are able to experience and express them when we choose to, at the right intensity for the given situation.

An important point we must acknowledge on the path toward healing is that our emotions are very real. They are an energy force that needs to be released, regardless of their social acceptability. We need to find safe ways to get them out instead of bottling them up. Ignoring them just means pushing them deeper inside where they will fester. It doesn’t make them go away. In our society we have developed a number of coping mechanisms designed to cover up the least preferred of the six emotions – anger, sadness and fear.

We learn to detach physically, mentally and emotionally. We distract ourselves by focusing on other things or we alter our moods by taking drugs, abusing alcohol, over-eating or creating drama in our lives. We find ways to keep feelings hidden so that we avoid internal conflict. We hold our emotions in check, constantly restraining them. All of these strategies require a lot of energy and often result in fatigue, lower quality of life and lower self-esteem.

It’s also important to acknowledge that we are fully responsible for how we feel. When a particular event creates an emotion for us we often blame outside forces by saying things like, “She made me angry”. In doing so we lose our power by handing over responsibility for our feelings. The result of this type of thinking is that we become victims.

Rather than becoming powerless and allowing our emotions to be out of our control, we can choose to become emotionally aware. We can acknowledge our feelings and master the way we respond when they arise for us. This is an important choice to make if we want to maximise our ability to heal – particularly from emotionally intense experiences like pregnancy loss.

The most common emotions experienced after pregnancy loss are anger and sadness. Given the lack of understanding surrounding pregnancy loss (in general and on a personal level) we often become resistant to expressing any of our feelings, which is an unnatural response that intensifies the pain and suffering.

It is critical that we learn to stop running away from how we feel. Instead, we must turn toward our emotions and explore them. This approach provides us with the opportunity to examine what we are feeling and express it when we feel safe. The simple acknowledgement and expression of emotion causes the feeling to lose its intensity and start to fade. Of course, this is not to say we no longer feel sad, but we are no longer hijacked by that emotion.

What Determines our Response?

People who experience a similar loss can respond completely differently. This can leave us questioning our own responses after comparing them to others. We are all different and for the sake of greater understanding it is helpful to know a few of the reasons that may affect the way we respond to our loss.

Family patterns can be an influencing factor in determining how we respond to situations. We choose these patterns either because our parents have them and we want to be like them or we choose the reverse because we are rebelling against them. We can also pick patterns up unconsciously. It is quite possible that three children from the same family environment could have very different emotional responses to a similar loss.

Our own life experiences also help to establish our individual patterns. Previous challenges we have encountered leave an imprint on our memories and we can behave emotionally based on history. After all, if we feel that something has worked for us at one time we are likely to stick with it when a similar situation arises.

When any event occurs in our lives, it is the decision that we make about ourselves as a result of that event that has a long-term effect. The conclusions we have come to about ourselves in the past have a significant effect on our emotional responses in the present. The emotional response from someone who decided, “I am not good enough”, would be quite different to the response from someone who decided, “I never get what I want”.  One could result in greater sadness and the other anger. These decisions are usually subconscious and until identified can control our emotional responses to life and everything it throws at us – often to our own detriment.

We can also be influenced by how we think we ‘should’ be responding, whether from our own experiences or the opinions of others. This logical approach to grieving for our babies doesn’t do us a great deal of service and can in fact serve to lengthen the grieving process. It doesn’t matter if what we are feeling makes sense or not – the emotion is there and needs to be expressed before it can be released. Many of us look for permission to grieve in these situations, when we don’t need permission at all. What we need is to express our heartfelt emotions in a safe environment free from the fear of judgement.

The Emotional Healing Process

Emotional healing is about becoming whole.  When we shut down our feelings in order to survive traumatic experiences, we lose touch with our emotions and our sense of who we are.

For any long‑term effective emotional healing to take place, it is essential to work through a process that enables us to explore our feelings and express them fully. The process may take some time and can be repeated as often as necessary for the emotions to be completely understood and experienced.

The first two steps along the emotional healing process within the context of this book are emotional exploration and emotional expression.

Effective Emotional Exploration

As we revisit the story of our loss throughout this book the objective is to acknowledge our pain, anger and fear completely.  To do this effectively, we must focus on what we experienced – not anyone else’s experience or perception of what happened. It is not about who may be to blame (or any other judgement). We simply need to bring to our minds what happened, how we felt, the physical symptoms that those feelings gave us and how we feel now when we revisit that moment.

During the revisiting stage of the process we may discover feelings that have been locked away for a long period of time. This is called repression.  Repression may be necessary to get you through a social gathering or give you time to get home from work, but it is by no means a long-term solution. We often lock unpleasant feelings away thinking it is for the best, but these suppressed emotions end up causing long-term pain. These feelings can still be explored and as you move through each chapter don’t be surprised if you uncover feelings you weren’t prepared for or aware of.

Safely Expressing Our Emotions

As we move through each chapter, the self-awareness exercises will prompt reflection on your thoughts and feelings. With each emotion that arises, first explore and then express, but when only you feel safe to do so.

Our aim here is to allow ourselves to feel our emotions wherever we experience them in our bodies, then make time for natural and safe expression.

Before we can express our feelings, we may have to go to battle with our mental programming. Because we have been trained to hold back our emotions we may still find ourselves choking back tears and appearing cool in spite of our anger or fear. This will only keep us stuck. It will not serve our objective to heal. This is not the time to be sensible, courageous or strong.

For this strategy to be effective we simply need to reconnect with each feeling and allow whatever needs to happen, to happen. Before starting it is important to create an environment where you feel safe and are unlikely to experience unwanted interruptions. It is not necessary to force the feelings out – we only need to make some kind of connection with the emotion for healing to begin.

Exploring and Expressing Anger

Anger occurs when we get something we don’t want or value.  When it comes to pregnancy loss, we are often quick to dismiss anger and bury it deep within. Like all emotions, anger must be expressed completely before we can let it go. Our objective is to release it all so that we can access any sadness, which may be hidden underneath. Many women who experience pregnancy loss naturally gravitate towards sadness because it seems more acceptable or understandable than anger. However, if the anger is present (though perhaps hidden) it won’t matter how much sadness we release – we will not heal until the anger is expressed too.

Anger is always there, deep down, but I try not to think about it. It doesn’t do me any good. I prefer to cry about missing Bethany than be angry that she was taken away. Crying is a better release of emotion for me. Anger pushes people away.

Renee, 19 weeks, Victoria, Australia

It has been a very rough road for me these last ten years. Going through six miscarriages and two stillbirths has taken a toll on me. But this last one really was tough because I thought this time would be different. I just can’t explain the heartbreak and anger that I feel right now. I try not to take it out on my husband but it’s hard because I want to blame somebody but there is no one to blame!

Latresha, 27 weeks, Fort Worth, USA

Physically, anger resides in the gut and can also show up as tightness in the back of the neck and shoulders, headaches, clenched jaws, grinding teeth and inappropriate outbursts. As we revisit our experience we need to identify where in our body we are feeling the emotion. This serves to confirm whether the emotion is likely to be anger.

Since our healing is in the expression of the feeling, we need to create situations where we feel safe to express anger.  As children, many of us were taught that displays of anger were not nice and in our attempts to be good boys and girls we learned to hide it well. This does not serve us as adults, so we need to find ways to express anger until we are spent, having emptied our anger ‘storage facility’ in the process.

Try beating up a pillow or punching bag, smashing plates (although this does require significant clean up and can get expensive!), screaming underwater, or even chopping wood. Choose something that does not involve hurting anyone else – this is called expressing anger ‘cleanly’. Yelling at someone who cuts you off in traffic will not help.

The most important thing to remember when expressing anger is the vocal component. Just punching something isn’t enough, we need to yell and scream. If you live in the city, this can be tricky, but there are ways around it – just get creative and find what works for you.

Exploring and Expressing Sadness

Sadness occurs when we lose something we want and value. In our society we tend to try to stop people from crying, instead of encouraging them to continue and helping them to explore the depths of their feelings.

Most people put a lot of effort into shaking sadness but it has its advantages. It enforces a reflective retreat and leaves us in a suspended state to mourn our loss and then make adjustments and new plans that will allow us to move forward. However, we need to be careful that sadness does not turn into depression – the same feeling without the adjusting and planning for the future. Sadness is useful, however depression is not and should be addressed with the help of a professional.

Expressing sadness is a critical part of the grieving process. This emotion may need to be released regularly and in large quantities for a period of time until the sadness reaches a level that is manageable and allows us to move forward. Simply watching sad movies is usually enough to get us started and make a dent in the sadness ‘storage facility’. The movie itself isn’t important – it’s just a trigger to evoke the sadness and you may find another type of trigger works better for you. The important thing is to find your trigger, use it, and then let the tears come.

Sadness may never leave completely – in fact it’s highly likely it won’t. With any significant loss there will always be a sense of sadness as we remember what we have lost.

As mentioned above, sadness usually sits underneath anger so it is critical that we address any feelings of anger first so that we can connect fully with our sadness.

We experience sadness in our chest area, specifically in our hearts.  We can all relate to the feeling of our hearts aching with the thought of our loss. Sadness can also show up as constricted sensations in the chest, a dull heavy or numb feeling in the chest, pain along the breastbone, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, congested sinuses and chest and thoughts that dwell on the negative.  As we revisit our experience we can become more aware of where we are experiencing the feeling in our body. This serves to confirm whether the emotion is likely to be sadness.

Sadness, like anger, needs to be expressed fully, openly and wholeheartedly so that it doesn’t creep up on us unexpectedly.

Exploring and Expressing Fear

Fear occurs when we know we may lose something we want and value. While anger and sadness may seem the most obvious responses to the loss of our babies, it is important to explore any fears that have been created from the experience.

Physically, fear lives in the solar plexus – the area at the base of our ribs. Fear often causes paralysis, nausea, tightness in the stomach and chest and an elevated heart rate. As we revisit our experience we can take note of where we are experiencing the feeling in our body. This helps to confirm whether the emotion is likely to be fear.

Like the other emotions, the way to deal with fear is to explore it in a safe environment. What are you afraid of? Not having any living children? Not having another child? Not being good enough to be a parent? When we feel overwhelmed by fear then we need to genuinely explore each one. Only then can we gain a different perspective, which will enable the fear to fade. The best way to explore fear is gently – there is no need to crush it. Ask yourself questions about the nature of the fear. Where in your body does it live? What colour is it? How big is it? Would it hold water? Is it stagnant or volatile? How long has it been there? What would you like to do with it? Questions like these may seem odd, but they help you examine the feeling without forcing you to confront it head on. Once you have come to understand the fear, it will fade.

It can also be useful to express our emotions in a journal. Writing emotionally (don’t think, just write what you feel) often gives us the opportunity to express how we are feeling, and then let go.

Our healing lies in the expression of our feelings. Fear, sadness and anger are all essential to the human experience. To be complete we need to acknowledge all of our emotions – positive and negative.

Expressing positive emotions in the midst of a tragedy like pregnancy loss can leave many of us feeling horribly guilty. We relentlessly berate ourselves for any joy or peace we find in a situation where we are expected to be sad. Many of us feel like it isn’t right to have a moment of peace when we simultaneously feel sad, angry and scared. This is typical of emotions – they don’t appear one at a time in a neat, orderly fashion. Instead, they surface in a whirlwind of intensity that can be very confusing if we try to analyse it. Ridiculous as it may sound, difficult experiences like pregnancy loss are often interspersed with funny moments, and it is imperative that we don’t make ourselves wrong for anything we feel.

Healing involves reclaiming and releasing all of the emotions that we have suppressed. As this energy is released, we automatically strengthen our confidence in ourselves.

The most valuable learning we can grasp is this: we are not our emotions. Emotions are transitory. We experience a feeling; we don’t become it. Emotions come and go – who we are remains constant.

This is not a complicated process but it can be quite challenging. Expressing our emotions is the only way we will learn from our experience and get closer to a place of healing.

We need to become emotionally proficient to lead fulfilling lives. Emotional wellbeing leads to satisfying relationships, inner happiness, personal power and harmony with life..