Developing Resilience through Grief

If you’re in the depths of grief, it’s probably hard to imagine that anything good will come out of it. In fact, post-traumatic growth is at least as common as post-traumatic stress—there’s evidence that many people really do become stronger and more resilient after experiencing a tragedy like the death of a loved one. 

Not everyone experiences this kind of growth, but there are ways to increase your own resilience in the face of a major loss. 

Things to Avoid

If you’d like to increase your chances of developing resilience—and in fact, research shows that resilience is like a muscle and can be trained—there are a couple of types of thoughts that you need to work on avoiding. 

The first is personalization—that’s the idea that what happened to you or to your loved one is your fault. Guilt is often a major part of grief, but accepting that you weren’t at fault in your loved one’s death is an important part of moving forward and building resilience. 

The second thought process to avoid is pervasiveness or the idea that everything in your life is bad. This can be difficult if the loss you suffered has triggered a series of secondary losses—financial difficulties, relationships gone sour, etc. However, it’s important to recognize that you’re loved one’s death was horrible but that there are still parts of your life that are still going well. 

Third, avoid assuming that things will always be this bad or the idea of permanence. Bad luck will not follow you forever, and recognizing that will help you move your life forward. 

What to Embrace

Building your resilience muscles is also about embracing the recovery process. Here are some things to do to help you build resilience after a major loss. 

Talk about the loss. It can be isolating to completely avoid the topic of your loved one and his or her death, and isolation will not help you recover. It can be difficult at first, but talking about your loved one in social situations or at work will generally help you recover a sense of normalcy faster. 

Find joy. Even after a major loss, there will still be room for joy in your life—but you might not recognize it at first. Finding space to celebrate the things that bring you joy, or even specifically do activities you enjoy, is the first step towards bringing bright moments into an otherwise dark time in your life. Most people find that as these moments accumulate, there is more and more room for joy and their life becomes happier and more fulfilled. 

Working with a counselor can help you find ways to find resilience in your grief. I can help you avoid damaging thought patterns, work through and let go of guilt and identify ways to invite more joy into your life. Many people find that they grow in the years following a major loss and that they paradoxically feel happier after the loss than they ever did before. This can be hard to believe immediately after a loss, but I can help you get there.

Photo by Austin Schmid