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  • Helen Dempsey-Henofer

#9: Tuning in post-tragedy

What can be learned from listening to your feelings?

In May 2022 I'd written the following letter.

Fellow Human, Hi.

Recent events in Buffalo and Uvalde weigh heavily on my heart.

I want to take a moment to reach out and offer some thoughts, hopefully helpful, in the midst of all this.


There's a part of me that balks at the notion of being helpful when in the face of such horrendous violence I feel pretty helpless.


 

These past few years have been surreal. Living in large-scale upheaval may contribute to feeling unbalanced. It's hard to find your footing when the times you live in are sands shifting beneath your feet. Sometimes I notice myself wanting to shout into the void, "Can we catch a fucking break?" Maybe you've caught some anger too. In tending to grief, let's start simple: there's no wrong way to feel. Grief is not linear. Sometimes it's described as stages, but there aren't consecutive steps. Common experiences include denial, anger, bargaining, depression. If you've got these going on, it could be directly related to your personal experience but also (here's me gesturing wildly to all of this). The grief experience that often throws folks off is the experience of numbness. I want you to know that if you're questioning yourself, "Is something wrong with me? I see the loss and disruption, but am feeling nothing," please know that numbness is a normal grief experience.

One asset you've got in figuring out what you need is that feelings contain information. If you've spent a lot of your life distancing yourself from your feelings it can be difficult to recognize them. Working with a somatic therapist can help you to reconnect with your body and notice feelings as they arise. Janina Fisher, Ukranian writer and psychologist, describes the functions and needs indicated by feelings in her book Super-Women. Among them: Anger

  • Function: To protect against a threat, seeking safety or peace

  • Need: Safety from threat or to find peace

Sadness

  • Function: To receive support

  • Need: Compassion, acceptance, soothing

Regret

  • Function: To change unhelpful behavior in the future

  • Need: Acceptance, compassion, soothing

Happy

  • Function: To experience joy and promote engagement in meaningful experiences

  • Need: Savoring, gratitude

Noticing what you feel can help you know what you need. Reality, the context we live in, can be a lot and it makes sense that you might have some feelings - or numbness - along with it. I invite you to notice your experience and, as best you can, tend to what you need. If you happen to notice yourself wanting to help and called to action, the link below takes you to verified fundraisers for survivors in Texas.

Reading a letter isn't therapy. If you're in Virginia and looking for a therapist, visit the website to schedule a free consultation. While not a substitution for the individual care of mental health treatment, what the letter does is it puts therapy concepts into writing so that they can be accessed more widely. If you know someone who'd benefit, forward this on to them. There are two ways to sign up, a consent checkbox for new clients in intake, or easy-peasy from the website... available for anyone.


 

Finally, Fellow Human, I invite you to take a moment to breathe with me. We could use a breather. Just notice the inhale and exhale and allow yourself to rest in the moment.

Thanks for being here with me, sitting with these thoughts. Whatever you're feeling, whatever you're going through I'm glad you're taking this time to attend to you. That's worth noticing.





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