What Mourners Tell Themselves

Faulty beliefs in grief

Posted Sep 01, 2016

"woman, thinking"/ Robert Couse-Baker/CC BY 2.0
Source: "woman, thinking"/ Robert Couse-Baker/CC BY 2.0

While we know that comments made to the bereaved can be helpful or harmful, many times what we tell ourselves can be just as harmful as what others might say to us. We all carry faulty, irrational beliefs about ourselves, such as “I have to be perfect.” So it is not surprising that we would have irrational thoughts about ourselves in our grief. A major focus of psychotherapy is helping clients recognize and free themselves from self-limiting beliefs.

These distortions keep us unhappy and stuck. They create and prolong emotional problems. The following are examples of some of these beliefs that mourners have:

God did this to me.

I should be over this by now. It has been two months.

If I smile or laugh, I am being disloyal to my loved one.

If I give away his possessions, it will mean that I no longer love him.

If I wear makeup, it is a sign to others that I am no longer grieving.

I will never be able to manage on my own.

There must be something wrong with me for feeling this way.

I am going crazy.

If only…

I should have…

I’m afraid that if I change her room, I will forget her.

If I see a therapist, it means that I am weak.

It is my fault.

Fear and guilt are powerful emotions for the griever. We blame and judge ourselves in much the same way that others do. There is a myth in America that showing emotion when someone dies is a bad thing. Others tell us, “you must be strong” and we are made to believe that being emotional is somehow a weakness. My father died the year before John F. Kennedy was assassinated. When my Dad died, my Grandmother sat on the back porch and wailed and cried for days until my Uncle came over and told her she was scaring the neighbors. But that was the custom she grew up with in Russia. The following year, Jackie Kennedy became the new model for coping with grief. She appeared reserved and in control with few, if any, public displays of emotion.

As with other faulty beliefs, it is important that we challenge these thoughts. During the time of mourning, we must learn to be gentle with ourselves. Being harsh and critical of ourselves serves no purpose. Aren’t we in enough pain? Here are some ways in which we can comfort ourselves:

Keep yourself hydrated and try to eat. Many people lose their appetite after a loss. If so, now might be the time to occasionally indulge in previously loved but forbidden foods.

Don’t deny yourself things that bring you pleasure. Now is also not the time to go on a diet or give up smoking. Life is hard enough. You can always do that later.

Rock yourself in a rocking chair. The movement of the chair is comforting.

Soak in a tub or take a nice, long shower.

Listen to soothing music.

Watch comedies. It really is ok to laugh.

Say yes when you want to do something and no when you don’t.

Sleep with an article of clothing that belonged to the deceased.

Occupy your mind with something you enjoy, like tending to your garden.

Pet you dog or cat.


Put a blanket or throw in the dryer. Warm it up and wrap it around yourself. It is like a warm hug.

Chew gum. It helps to break up obsessive thoughts.

Eat lots of dark chocolate. It reduces stress hormones.

When you catch yourself holding your breath, remember to breathe.

Reach out to others when you need to talk or just connect.

Accept invitations from others.

Talk about your loved one. Tell funny stories about them and encourage others to do the same.

When it is our turn to mourn a loss, and we are caught up in the turmoil of grief, we do what we can to cope. Incorporating some of the above suggestions just might make it a little easier to get through the day.