How to Process Old, Painful Grief So You Can Live Lightly, Creatively

by | Jun 28, 2021 | Resilience When Life is Challenging | 0 comments

I’ve been stretching my brain and my coaching toolkit this week with a new course by life coach, author, and Harvard PhD Martha Beck. Any class with her is fabulous and mentally challenging; she takes us into cutting-edge science and how it can help us lead more authentic lives, even if that means tossing old assumptions and comfortable habits into the bin.

This week’s class focused on unprocessed grief and how it blocks creativity. I’m still digesting one particular concept: that when we don’t honor and process our losses, the pain leads to anxiety and fear, which leads to perfectionism. I could have been the poster child for perfectionism growing up, so this was really interesting to me.

One of the exercises Martha led took me back to when I was a little girl, moving a lot and having to leave my friends. It brought up sadness I wouldn’t have thought I still carried. Another exercise took us into our bodies, where we were encouraged to find the physical sensation of something that’s worrying us now. Then she asked us to imagine taking that out, visualizing it, and setting it on the floor in front of us. (Mine looked like an inflated, spiky puffer fish.) Next, we were asked to see what fear lay underneath the original fear, take that out, and continuing this excavation until all that was left inside felt soft and safe.

Deep stuff. Sometimes hard. Always worthwhile.

I find this kind of thing fascinating, as a life-long learner and someone who’s always been interested in people and what makes us tick. I like finding new ways to unload old baggage that weighs me down and gets in the way of me feeling light and unburdened in my mind and my body.

My dad, a retired psychiatrist, once said that the best thing we can do as supporters of other people is to “help them get out of their own way.” I suppose for all of us, part of our life’s work is to figure out what holds us back and trips us up, and to remove those obstacles.

Processing old grief can be painful, so it’s very tempting to avoid doing it. But here’s what I’ve found: the pain is temporary, and the result is lasting and liberating. Keeping it in is like trying to hold an inflated ball under water: tiring and ultimately futile. Best to let it float to the top, see it for what it is and then let the air out of it.

With our adult perspective and some self-compassion, we can honor what we experienced and let it be part of our history, without letting it impact our present or our future.

What are you holding that might like to rise to the surface and be released? Is there an earlier version of you that would appreciate some empathy and a hug, and to leave its burdens behind?

Would you like to hear more about letting go of the things standing in the way of living lightly and creatively? Let me know by hitting reply and sending me your thoughts.


Do you need kind, compassionate support to bounce back from a negative experience? If so, then get in touch with me now, and let’s make the most of your precious time, energy and love. 


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Kristen Carter

Kristen Carter, Certified coach, author, and breast cancer survivor. More

Self-Love Comes First

Self-Love Comes First

Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful holiday if you’re in a relationship with someone you care for (and who cares for you). But whether you’re in such a partnership or not, there is one person you should love above all others: yourself. “What??” you might ask. “What...

Dealing With Survivor’s Guilt

Dealing With Survivor’s Guilt

Many of us with breast cancer become close friends with others that we meet in support groups, online forums, and through friends. Sadly, some of them pass away, leaving us with grief and, sometimes, survivor’s guilt. Survivor’s guilt is real and we all experience it...

Living Without Regrets

Living Without Regrets

“I wish I’d lived a life true to myself rather than the one others expected of me.” That was the number-one regret expressed by dying people cared for by Australian palliative nurse Bronnie Ware, who worked with hospice patients for almost ten years and who wrote...

Dealing With Breast Cancer-related Weight Gain

Dealing With Breast Cancer-related Weight Gain

As if having breast cancer isn’t bad enough, many women find that they put on unwanted pounds due to the specific treatment they’re on and/or feeling too tired to exercise the way they used to. I am not a metabolism expert but did some research and found that the...

Taming “Scanxiety”

Taming “Scanxiety”

In the same way we can imagine beautiful futures like a cure for cancer and watching our grandchildren thrive, we can imagine the most awful futures: disease progression, painful treatment, devastating side effects, dying. Imagination is a uniquely human capacity,...

Get through this with self-love, a clear focus on what matters most to you, and help from someone who's been there.

Explore what kind, compassionate support can feel like with a no-obligation conversation with me by phone or by Zoom.