Tin Man’s Heart of the Matter: The positive results of grief

Posted by on Dec 8, 2014 in adult survivor of child abuse, healing, self-healing, strength, Tin Man's Heart of the Matter | 0 comments

Tin Man
The Positive Results of Grief

The dictionary definition of grief is as follows:  “noun: 1. keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow;painful regret. / 2. a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow.”   It certainly doesn’t sound positive, but it depends on which side of the coin you look at.  

There are negative and positive results from an emotional situation, even a grief-filled one.   An example would be if you’ve attended a funeral for a loved one.  You’ve witnessed it, or experienced it yourself.  It happens when you are feeling deep sorrow over the loss of the loved one, and then smile or laugh when you share a funny story about them with others.  It’s also when you feel love in your heart while recalling a good memory, as you have tears of sorrow because they are no longer physically on this Earth.  You are simply shifting your focus from a painful view, to a happier one.

How does this apply to the grief that an adult survivor experiences?

Adult survivors may experience some form of loss, sorrow, or regret during their life time.  I personally struggled with mourning and loss over my painful past.  I battled negative emotions: anger, rage, pain, and sorrow.  I allowed myself to be immersed and defined by them. Little did I know that there was a positive side to the childhood coin that I carried.  Once I started reading books about finding the good in painful experiences, such as “The Other Side of Sadness” by Dr. George Bonanno, I learned how to shift my focus, instead of only seeing the grief itself.

How do we begin?

Learn to define what we are grieving, instead of letting it define us.  Step back and observe our emotions. Some questions that can help this process:  Is it the loss of our childhood, our joy, our happiness, or our innocence?  Could it be the sorrow of not having a healthy, and balanced upbringing?   Maybe it is the simple fact that we didn’t get what we deserved, which was unconditional love, support, and protection from the ones who were supposed to provide it. When we allow ourselves to define it, we can accept it.

Once we define and accept what caused our grief, we can start shifting our focus on how it has positively impacted us as an adult.

One of the four categories from Dr. Bonanno’s book, “The Other Side of Sadness” is:
Resilience – “The ability of adults in otherwise normal circumstances who are exposed to an isolated and potentially highly disruptive event, such as the death of a close relation or a violent or life-threatening situation, to maintain relatively stable, healthy levels of psychological and physical functioning” as well as “the capacity for generative experiences and positive emotions.”

Being resilient is a major positive result of a painful childhood situation.  Some survivors seem to have an abundance of this attribute.  I knew I had the skill of snapping back, because my common statement was that life could knock me on my knees, but I would always get back up.  I didn’t realize I was describing the essence of this word.  With this new view, I started to look for other positive results.

Some of the many possibilities:  Maybe you have the ability to recognize when a parent is losing control, risking possible harm to their child.  Perhaps you can excellently read human body language, because you had to learn how at a young age for self-preservation. You may have strong adaptation skills, and the innate ability to get through any adverse situation.  You could be like me, and be passionate about helping other survivors realize that they aren’t alone, and life CAN be a positive experience. Once we start looking for our strong adult skills that we have developed because of our past, the positive side of the coin starts to become visible.

Take a look at your own personal survivor coin.  You’ve looked at the negative side, you know it by heart.  Now, it’s time to flip it to the positive one.  You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find about yourself, when you shift your focus to your strengths.

-Heather Durling, The Phoenix Gathering
“One starfish at a time.”


Bonanno, G. (2010). The other side of sadness: What the new science of bereavement tells us about life after loss. New York: Basic Books

Wortman, C. (2011). The emotional life and positive emotions: Do they have a role in grieving? Washington, DC: PBShttp://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/positive-emotions-do-they-have-role-grieving-process

copyright 2014 The Phoenix Gathering.  All rights reserved.

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