The Transformative Power of Mourning

by Karl Smerecnik on May 8, 2012

Photo by Thomas Lieser

When I am able to be fully present to my pain, fully encountering the emotions that are within me, while simultaneously connecting with the things I value in life (my needs), I experience a release of the pain, a deep rejuvenation, and inner transformation – this is the transformative power of mourning.

An example from my life serves as a good illustration.

I recently offered an organizational training on empathic communication. It was the largest and longest training I had ever offered and was very important to me. Directly after finishing the training I felt very satisfied with how it went; I felt a sense of peace and contentment and had the inner experience of self-acceptance and hope. The next day though, I didn’t quite feel the same.

The negative shift happened while I was reading the feedback forms I had provided. Though most of the comments were “positive” I unfortunately focused on the “negative” (I use quotes because there really is no such thing as positive or negative comments, those are just interpretive labels). Instead of taking an empathy break to attend to my inner critic that was starting to speak up, I keep reading and kept agreeing with the inner critic.

I concurred with the critic’s opinion that I failed to offer an effective workshop, that I was a poor facilitator, that I won’t be able to make a career pursuing the things I’m passionate about, that my passions don’t contribute to others, and are in fact meaningless. The critic went on and on and I just kept agreeing.

I started feeling very sad, hopeless, discouraged, and uninspired. My energy and motivation felt very low. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. My body felt contracted and constricted. I knew I had to mourn. I had to let myself fully be immersed in these emotions, and simultaneously connect with the deep longings I have. I spent time lying down on my bed really connecting with the sadness, allowing myself experience the feelings without trying to change or fix them.

Though I did my best to connect with the sadness I still didn’t feel a shift and started becoming frustrated that I couldn’t be free of these painful emotions. Being in this low energy state made it easy for me to keep listening to the critic thoughts: “You don’t even know how to mourn or offer yourself empathy, pathetic.” I started despairing and getting angry.

Fortunately I reached out to a dear friend and she offered me some empathic support. During our call I struggled to really get in touch with the sadness, the frustration, the discouragement. It took some time. But then it hit me, I thought to myself “why are you being so hard on yourself Karl.” Suddenly I started crying and was able to mourn that I had given so much attention to the inner critic and had neglected my inner compassion. I was able to release all the pain I had been holding in.

In my mourning, I connected with how I wanted to be known for the care I had felt toward the participants. This was ultimately the original stimulus of the pain, I didn’t feel seen for how much care I was attempting to offer to the participants. I continued crying and letting myself just be with whatever emotions arose.  I continued to connect with how I have so much care and compassion that I want to offer the world and how it’s so painful when that isn’t always received or acknowledged in the way I would like.

After about only 5 minutes of this, I felt a complete shift. My tears stopped as well as all of my self-judgments; the painful emotions were replaced by a sense of inner peace. I felt energized, inspired, and connected to the beauty of life. It was incredible. Though I had experienced similar mourning experiences, this was probably the most rapid mourning process, from stimulus of the pain to release, that I had ever experienced.

As I reflected back over the full experience, I realized that instead of connecting with that need at the first sign of sadness, that longing to be seen for my care for others, I instead went up into my thoughts and allowed the inner critic to run wild and free. If I had connected with the need right away, it wouldn’t nearly have been such a painful and draining experience. It’s when I indulge in the critic-thoughts that the pain goes so much deeper. Each time I agree with the critic, it’s as if I re-experience the original trigger of the pain.

In addition, having another person to support me, even just to witness and hold the space, allowed me to go deeper. It helps me to observe myself and not be so closely attached to my thoughts. I am rarely able to mourn as deeply when I am alone as opposed to with another person.

This is a key reason why it’s so important that we learn how to empathically support one another and create open, honest, and vulnerable relationships, communities, and networks. When we can learn to mourn together, we can release the pain that has been held in for so long and experience empowerment to move forward with creating vibrant, authentic, sustainable, and life-enriching communities. A community that mourns together stays together.

If you are interested in learning more about this, I would be happy to offer you some coaching (send me a message on facebook). Part of my work consists of coaching clients on Empathic Communication – a process of transforming not only our external communication but also our internal communication.

Share your experience of being transformed by the power of mourning.


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