The positives and negatives of “selfish” grieving

Published 5:32 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2019

By Jenny Filush-Glaze

One word that tends to come up a lot when talking about grief is the word “selfish.” It is often one of those Catch 22 words that means something positive in one sentence and something negative in another — the key is trying to figure out how to use it appropriately. For example, the bereaved often describe their grief as being “selfish” because their loved one was suffering so much and the desire to keep them here in that state, they feel, is self-serving. Whenever I have the opportunity, I validate their feelings and let them know that many people experience the same feelings and then also beat themselves up for feeling this way. For some, this helps almost immediately to dispel the guilt they have been experiencing for engaging in this thought process, however for others, it takes much longer to reach that point- and some never even get there at all.

On the flipside, sometimes our support system grows “weary” of our constant state of grieving, and they look at our inability to move forward in our lives as being “selfish.” I have heard some of the most hurtful statements come from loved ones, accusing the bereaved of being “selfish” and content with “giving up.” Some use this line of speaking in an attempt to motivate or “jump start” those who they feel “just need a swift kick in the pants” to get up and moving again. To say that I have been “shocked” at some of the things spoken to people who are broken and desperate to find their way, is an understatement.

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Let me be clear — words can be used to help or to harm. Additionally, how we choose to receive those words also plays a factor in to how motivated we become in searching for meaning once again in our lives. For instance, I often tell people that it is “ok to be selfish” when grieving because they absolutely have to put themselves first at times in order to fully be present for others. Parents who have children is a good example of this because if they do not engage in appropriate self-care, the role modeling of healthy grieving takes a hit and the ability to truly care for the kids becomes challenged. However, this should not be mistaken with those who “choose to be selfish” and make grief “all about them.” There has to be some level of ownership, of sharing, of looking for those cracks in the darkness in order to let in the light once again.

In summary, it is not “selfish” to take your time while grieving and to place your needs ahead of others while attempting to land back on your feet.

The word “selfish” can be a motivator as well as a destroyer, so think long and hard about how we use it because as a support system. We should choose to err on “helping versus hurting.”