Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

The Selfishness of Grief

In A God of Infinite Possibility on September 23, 2013 at 3:57 pm

All human interaction is based on our desire to have our needs met. All relationships are based on a sharing of needs and agreements to help each other satisfy needs appropriate to the relationship. In other words, we desire and expect our relationships to help us meet our needs. The greater the need, the more we move from desiring, to expecting, to requiring that the other meet our needs. The more intense the emotion, the more intensely selfish we may become.
Thus it is with the selfishness of grief.
Grief is a response to real or perceived loss. There are times when we can know very directly what it is we have lost. At other times, we infer that we have lost something because we are aware of an emptiness that cannot always be named, but we grieve whatever was where the emptiness now is; or what was supposed to fill the emptiness, but hasn’t. And we turn that need, that emptiness, outward. We desire, expect, require that others help us to fill in that space or help us to understand and reconcile the emptiness.
At first, we are rewarded for our grief. Others see that we are grieving and come forward to comfort us, to express their love for us and their caring for what has happened, their understanding of the emptiness which has caused our grief. But the others in our lives have lives of their own. At some point they will move on and we are less and less able to call on them to help us with our grief. This is natural, but also hurtful. We don’t understand. We are still grieving, how can it be that others are no longer available to fill the emptiness, to resolve the grief. This can lead us to anger. The other has abandoned us. How selfish it is of them to get on with their lives while we still grieve. Our need is greater than theirs and they must acknowledge that and satisfy our need.
This process is especially difficult when it is expressed in the relationships between people who are both grieving the same loss; which is, of course, not the same loss at all. The same thing may have been lost, but the loss is different for each of us; and so is the grieving. It’s easy to assume that because what has been lost is the same, then the other must be grieving as we are. So when either of behaves in ways that do not meet the needs of our grief, we are hurt by that. Clearly, our grief must be greater than theirs, more important, even superior. We require them to know this and to do what we need, rather than what they need. We may even understand that what the other is doing is related to their own process of grief, but our own needs are more important.
This gets all mixed up with love, also. If the other does not grieve as we do, does not continue to meet our needs as we desire and expect, then how can we trust that they love us? If our grief is superior, so must be our love. How can they not see this? We begin to want our grief, our love, to “win.” I may know that you love me, and I may know that you are grieving; but not nearly as much as I love you, not nearly as much as I am grieving. And each of these proves the other. And in this circular argument I am convinced that your responsibility for meeting my need is self-evident.
We are all selfish in our need and more selfish when our need is greater. This is natural. But it is a good thing to be aware of our own and others’ selfishness, to consider how that is affecting our relationships, and to forgive ourselves and others for the things we do that are hurtful to each other. It is good, I think, to try to stay conscious of this common selfishness that grief creates and remember to say to one another, “I love you and I honor your grief, but I am taking care of myself right now. If what you need is in conflict with what I need, we may both feel hurt by that; but I haven’t stopped loving you, and I haven’t stopped grieving, and I haven’t stopped needing.

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