mourning how to deal with it

Mourning, its phases and how to process it

A “hot” topic

The theme of death has become topical as in this period like never before. We are afraid of getting sick, afraid that our loved ones will get sick and we will lose them. There are those who have lost someone and have not even been able to say goodbye. Talking about death is actually very useful, while for us all it is a taboo, it is no coincidence that cemeteries are built far from homes. If we talked more about this topic, we would know better what to say and what to do in front of a person who is passing. Just as we will know better to stay close to those who have suffered a loss. Even contemplating our death could help us to live each day more authentically; listening to our inclinations without being conditioned by the expectations of others; but also, by deciding to devote more time to loved ones and less to work. Two of the most common regrets of dying people are precisely the fact of not having fully lived their aspirations or their affections.

The duration and intensity of the stages of mourning are different depending on how close the emotional bond was with that person and whether it was a sudden loss or after a long illness. There are personal protective factors, which allow us to experience bereavement better, such as a good support network formed by friends, family … Or risk factors, which may not favor a smooth grieving process, such as suffering, or depression, already in the preceding period.

The stages of mourning

The stages listed below are the same that we go through when faced with other types of bereavement, such as when we are broken up with in a love relationship. The first phase is that of denial. It is the phase in which we deny reality and it is a phase that has its own function, to spare the person suffering beyond measure. It is useful not to force the person to quickly become aware of it, but it is necessary to respect his times.

The second phase is the anger phase. There is anger at the loss experienced as an injustice. It is the phase in which we turn a lot to others or, on the contrary, we close in on ourselves. It is a phase to which a lot of attention is paid in therapy, because if a person stays there for too long it prolongs his suffering.

The third is the bargaining phase. We say to ourselves: “Overcoming this moment will make me stronger”. It is the phase in which the person realizes the irreversibility of the loss, even in the alternation of discouragement and hope of being able to regain control of his life. We look for ways and strategies to get better.

The fourth phase is the phase of depression, there is maximum awareness of the loss. We focus on what can no longer be done with that person as this amplifies the suffering.

Symptoms such as headaches, weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleepiness, anger, frustration, persistent sadness, desire to isolate oneself may occur in this phase.

The fifth phase is that of acceptance. During acceptance the person can still be sad and angry but to a lesser extent than before, the person is ready to consider what happened in the natural order of things and to move on.

What can be done?

As I always tell my patients we are designed to survive any type of bereavement and all of these phases occur naturally. What psychotherapy can do is speed up this process or help the person move on to the next stage if they get stuck in one of these. In therapy, the characteristics of the person, their suffering, the bond they had with those who are no longer there are investigated, in order to better adapt the treatment. Sometimes I happen to help the person to stay with the pain; because it is only by passing through it that the pain can go away. For example, withheld sadness becomes anxiety or panic, which is why imaginative exercises to retrace memories can be useful; but they must be proposed only by the “experts”, who know well the most useful ways and times to suggest. Sometimes I recommend writing letters addressed to the person who passed away, to tell him/her/them what there was no time to say, and the person in this case usually feels liberation, but sometimes they can also reach a conscious awareness that helps them get better. Sometimes it is necessary to work to drain the anger. If you are close to someone who has just suffered a loss, try to listen to them without rushing to comfort them. It is much more useful to give them a hug, to tell them that we are there.


On death and dying– Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

No one dies of love

“No one dies of love”

Love has the ability to kidnap our mind whether it is happy or unhappy.

If love works, we can torment ourselves about:

  • How long will it last?
  • Is (will) my partner (be) faithful?
  • Does he really like me?
  • Am I out of his league (beauty, culture, intelligence)?

And if things don’t work out, the repercussions on our life can be devastating; if we fight continuously, we can, for example, not have the strength to do the things that our daily life requires of us or do them but with an enormous effort.

When we are broken up with, strong feelings of shame usually come to light, as if the whole world has told us that we are wrong and that we are not worth enough.

Usually we torment ourselves with a thousand hypotheses about how we could have behaved to make things go differently; sometimes a strong anger, dictated by the frustration of having undergone that choice, grips us; the pain, at certain times, can be so strong that it takes your breath away.

Whether your love is happy, but for fear of losing it you do not enjoy it, or whether it is unhappy or even ended abruptly, here are some tips not to “die”:

  • The pains of love must be lamented, but excessive lamentation can exacerbate your negative mood, making you feel pain even when you could have thought of something else; give your friends and family a chance to distract you. Even the closest friend could get tired of absorbing these outbursts over time, don’t overdo it; let alone the person who barely knows you, to whom you confide your amorous torments (when things don’t work out, we also behave like this, “You don’t die of love”, but for a while it’s easy to lose the ability to discern what is appropriate and what is not).
  • If your life is full because:
    • You play a sport;
    • You have friends to go out with;
    • You have one or more pets to look after;
    • Dedicate some time of your day to reading;
    • Take care of yourself;
    • You have some fixed and reassuring habits such as going for a run every morning, or scheduled appointments with your family of origin…

then it is almost impossible that you will find yourself obsessing over love either for fear that it will end or because it is over. More scopes will keep you afloat.

It is when life is empty, when our whole identity coincides with that love story, that we run the most risks; because the story is compromised or over, we too fall.

“You don’t die of love”, especially if you don’t live only as a function of love.

“Women Wellness” – Practical strategies to increase women’s well-being and balance

As women, every day we are faced with small and large challenges, which is why even in the absence of serious problems we set out to “unravel these skeins”; sometimes, however, these attempts at resolution can complicate our life rather than improve it.

For this reason, I decided to select these simple tips, taking a cue from the work I do in my studio every day, in particular with women, often stressed both by the demands that the environment makes them, and by the rhythms and standards that they self- impose.

No to “multitasking

As a first strategy, I recommend that you do one thing at a time if possible, the multitasking in which we women excel is very stressful, neuroscience tells us that precisely the operation of dividing attention requires a great deal of waste of energy.

Furthermore, by dividing it, it is more superficial on every single task and this can lead us to have to repeat it, thus we also lose the benefit of saving time.

From an educational point of view, children learn more from our example than from what we say; for this reason, if they see us always intent on doing several things at the same time, they can learn this method, which has the side effect of rowing against the creation of prolonged attention spans.

Try at least for a few hours a day to commit yourself to this, you will immediately feel the benefits, you will feel more aware of what you are doing, you will be more centered in the present.

Then who knows, maybe you will decide to make it a lifestyle.

No to complaints

It is common opinion that if there is something wrong it is good to talk about it as much as possible to let off steam, in reality if done beyond measure it can prove to be counterproductive especially if the basic feeling that animates us is fear, anger or pain.

There and then it may seem to feel more relieved, but when these feelings come back, indeed, it could also happen that I make that first illusory relief enough for me to do nothing concrete to really change the situation.

Even the reaction of others to my words can actually worsen my mood, such as when I am very angry and the other person minimizes my feeling, making me even more angry. Or when a person acknowledges my reasons, I might feel legitimated to be angrier than before!

Furthermore, while I am talking about a painful thing, maybe the interlocutor would have talked to me about something else, distracting me, or maybe making me laugh!

Doing too much for others

There is a much higher risk than simple stress if we dedicate ourselves too much to others. The risk is to increase our relational insecurity, in fact I will always be left with the doubt that others care me not for who I am, but for what I do. Learning to delegate and dedicate ourselves to ourselves are the antidotes.

In couples, if there is an imbalance in “giving”, this can create problems, the other can take our attention for granted, those who are more generous can begin to feel a grudge, and so on.

Let’s remember what Erich Fromm used to say: “The main task in everyone’s life is to give birth to himself”.

Self-esteem by the pound! Advice to achieve it

Self-esteem can be reached by everyone, let’s find out together what is the winning strategy to achieve it. Regardless of the problem that leads people to turn to me, the first requests that are made of me are:

“Yes, I would like to solve my difficulty (phobia, relational problem, overcoming a bereavement …), but first help me to increase my self-esteem”.

“Before solving his problem, we need to raise my son’s self-esteem”.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, self-esteem is not a gift to be wrapped and given to the person concerned, everyone must build it independently.

With brief strategic therapy, the person immediately gets involved in overcoming their limits, that is, the problems that led them to ask for help. In fact, indications are given to be put into practice between sessions. It is precisely by putting oneself on the line and overcoming his/her/their own difficulties that he will win twice, via the disturbance and via a welcome increase in self-esteem.

Of course, sometimes it is the only request that is asked of me, but even in this case it is possible to identify challenges to be overcome, which the person is avoiding engaging in fear or had not identified as necessary. In any case, if the fight is done in person (supported by the therapeutic indications), self-esteem rises.

There are those who have suffered for years insults and devaluations by those who instead should have supported them, for example the family, in this case it will be necessary to work both on the past, to ensure that the person is emancipated from it, and on the anger that may have generated all this in him/her/them. They are elaborations, sometimes painful, in which the person is an agent, so once he/she/they have reached inner peace, he/she/they can only compliment themselves.

It is necessary to overcome the belief that others can give us self-esteem, here are some reflections in this regard:

  • It is better to ensure that the people we care about put themselves to the test by risking failure (but also success!), rather than preventing any difficulties that may arise. If the person doesn’t do well, he/she/they will have learned how to do better next time.
  • You don’t need to praise someone to boost their self-esteem, they will notice (at any age!) if compliments are just made to make them feel better.
  • It is essential to take the educational responsibility of “arguing”, if necessary, with children, to encourage them to complete the paths they have taken (e.g. sport). When they come to the end, they will be proud of themselves, they will have more confidence in their abilities, they will learn to be more resistant to effort. If at the first difficulty you accept that they surrender without wanting to, you will pass the idea that you also think they would not have succeeded. If you discuss it, you will show that you believe in him/her/they. Obviously, each case is unique and tenacity as an end in itself is not productive; it is a question of listening to understand the reasons for wanting to interrupt, if these are valid, so be it.
  • If those around us want to help us achieve self-esteem, they must support us, not replace us!

Overcoming betrayal

Betrayal is one of the most traumatic events for a couple.

Exclusivity is one of the foundations of a winning love relationship, unless there are other agreements between the partners, such as in “open couples”. The important thing in these cases is that these decisions are shared and not suffered.

There are rare couples who survive a betrayal or who, if they stay together, then find their balance.
There are people who, in order to feel alive, must constantly have adrenaline rushes, called “sensation seekers”. They often engage in extreme sports and in everything that makes them feel strong sensations, they love the risk and can feel suffocated if they find themselves in an “ordinary” life; who has this characteristic is easy to use the betrayal to achieve this “thrill”.

The less courageous, on the other hand, can limit themselves to virtual betrayals, chats with old flames, sites with webcams, to “communicate” with strangers. Also, in this case, if the betrayal comes to light, the couple suffers an earthquake and risks crumbling.

You can betray because you feel neglected. In this regard, it is useful to underline how much we fall in love with the love we see reflected in the eyes of the partner. If it is missing, we can end up looking elsewhere for someone who makes us feel important. Knowing that the partner “is there”, seeing that he/she/they devote time to us, our need to feel appreciated is a universal need: the partner should be our first fan!

One can betray because love or harmony has ended; in this case, “rebuilding the relationship” will be a titanic undertaking. But, if under the ashes of a love that “seems” exhausted there is actually a small flame, this can be fed by an expert technician who will suggest various moves; brief strategic therapy in this regard has many resources to propose, the couple will be faced with a challenging but not impossible task.

If in the past there was a strong intimacy and transport, it will take little to awaken the “epidermal memory”, that is, that sensation on the skin that the other triggered.

In principle it is better to keep silent about the betrayal, in fact confessing it is a more selfish act than it would seem; common sense often overestimates the importance of sincerity. Those who confess will feel relieved (initially), those who suffer will be torn apart, the relationship will therefore be in serious danger. Better to keep the burden to yourself and commit to ensuring that it was, and remains, only a “parenthesis”, if what is important to us is the health of the couple.

Literally forgiving means “letting go”, a mental attitude that is more difficult to achieve but more productive; then get to no longer take it into consideration, pretend it didn’t happen, “bite the bullet”. If this is always present, it will be very easy to establish recriminations, spite, emotional and physical distances, which will worsen the situation.

The therapist can facilitate this process, for example by using the “add to reduce” stratagem. Helping the couple to create new memories of new and positive experiences to do together, which gradually obscure what we want to drop into oblivion; obviously, before this, it will be essential to work to understand what to do differently to prevent it from happening again.

Couple – Arguing strategically

In couples’ therapy, you have to pay attention to what type of couple you are dealing with. In some cases, making peace between them could be counterproductive, for some of them quarrels are the “engine”.

The important thing is to argue strategically:

In general, it would be better not to avoid quarrels; the integrity of a couple is threatened more by indifference. In fact, their health can be measured by the number of conflicts faced and resolved. Sometimes you decide not to fight because of a passive resignation, because you don’t feel able to face the situation, or because of the very dangerous tendency to accumulate anger within yourself, and then maybe you end up exploding in a bad way. If there is an elephant in the center of the room, we must talk about it, certainly not ignore it. Indifference works in the short term, but in the long run it is counterproductive.

We should not fear the suffering deriving from quarrels (“suffering has the task of awakening us” – J. Morrison), to make us understand what to change, to make us active and not to take the relationship for granted.

Always arguing about the same thing is unproductive and generates boredom. This can be a wake-up call to contact a professional, especially if the content of the quarrel concerns an important issue, such as mutual respect, sexuality or the education of children.

It is important to focus on the present and not on the past; this can no longer be changed, a time machine would be needed but unfortunately it does not exist… Reviving the past can only be a source of discontent; our memory tells us so many lies, so both of us will even have different memories of the experience and this may generate further problems.

Never fight in the bedroom. This must remain a place dedicated to pleasure and rest; if the fight starts there, force yourself to change rooms. Changing the scenario could also change the dynamics of the quarrel itself, but I don’t anticipate anything … you will find out for yourself.

If we want to get some benefit from a fight it is very important to try not to scream; in every type of “communication” the “way” in which things are said is very important, more than the content. By exacerbating the tones, the other person can withdraw and if this happens it does not matter that what we are saying is true, she will never admit it.

If possible, at the end of an argument, calm down, do something pleasant together. This will create the conditions for the quarrel to be perceived as a more or less positive parenthesis but which does not in itself define the relationship.

“Anything that can do very well, in an overdose, turns into a poison” – Hippocrates

rage away

Rage away…

rage away

Anger can be propulsive or destructive. Let’s see when it helps us and when we have to get help.

Anger as an engine

  • After a first period of despair, a great disappointment of love may have led us to take care of ourselves guided by a spirit of revenge – “He will see me, I will be beautiful and he will eat his hands!”.
  • A professor who did not believe in us may have encouraged us to do more as a challenge, so much so that in the end we reached unthinkable goals, even by ourselves.
  • We may have decided to practice a martial art to learn how to defend ourselves from bullies, then discovering a great passion for this discipline, which will accompany us throughout our life.
  • Finding ourselves in a situation that harmed our self-esteem, because we were not considered, or were morally or physically hurt, we may have decided to leave.

Anger as a limit

  • If we are obsessed with something that did not go our way in the past, and that we perceive as an injustice (a dismissal, a rejection, a bereavement …), so much so that it is difficult for us even just imagine building a future.
  • If we “hate” someone, or something in our present to such an extent that we struggle to think of something else, so much so that we develop psychosomatic disorders, struggle to maintain a socially acceptable attitude (insult, be physically aggressive), bore friends and acquaintances with our complaints.

How to get out

The image most used by brief strategic therapy in case of anger (if this limits the person) is: “Being angry is like drinking poison and hoping our enemy will die”. Too much anger poisons, to overcome it you have to drain it, perhaps by writing it, or by practicing physical activity, not necessarily intense, it is more important that it is regular and if possible, not too short (compatibly with one’s health). It is important to admit it to ourselves in order to manage it, denying it would not help.

Alarm bells (i.e. When to contact an expert)

If you feel that you may “act out” in anger, verbally or physically assaulting someone; or you have already done so.

If loved ones are moving away because they no longer want to listen to your complaints, or you don’t feel understood (they minimize, feed the anger by supporting you too much).

If a context (work, family, sport) seems hostile to you, so much so that you can no longer bear to be there.

If your mind is so enraptured that you can’t focus on anything else (minimum or important goals).

Children… dinner’s ready!

positive thinking rimini

The false myth of “think positive”

How many times in the face of a difficult situation have we been told: “Think positive!”, “Be optimistic!”. Whether it’s a minor mishap like puncturing a tire, missing an important appointment due to illness, or a real existential tragedy, such as a critical work situation, relationship problems with children, partners, the possibility of having contracted an illness…usually these words can have a double effect on us:

  • The first, the most obvious: “He says it to encourage me / because he loves me”.
  • The second, which insinuates itself in a slightly less conscious way into our minds is: “It gives little importance to my problem”.

Far from supporting the approach of those who empathically end up “crying with us”; or who with a fatal attitude liquidates everything with: “Life is all a rip off!”

It could be useful to start from the person’s narration, confirming the weight that his problem actually has, and then together look for a solution to get out of it. A solution that is as practical as possible, not mental ruminations or sterile theories; Sometimes a friend who knows us well can help us in this task. Obviously if it is not enough it will be necessary to contact a professional.

N.B. Complaining blocks the action!

Sometimes, however, we ourselves inflict it on ourselves with worse results if possible.

In the book “Psicotrappole” (“Psychotraps”, or the sufferings we build ourselves), Giorgio Nardone indicates that positive thinking is one of the worst “thinking” psychotraps. With positive thinking, in fact, one might end up deluding oneself and the following disappointment can even lead to depressive forms. Moreover, the higher the expectation, the more devastating is the effect of disappointment.

Taking into account that the mechanism of self-fulfilling prophecy works much more in the negative than in the positive; when we voluntarily try to think positively, the paradoxical effect is obtained: I end up depressed more, if I am afraid and I try to think optimistically, I am further scared.

So, what to do?

The “psychosolution” offered in Nardone’s text, which I highly recommend reading, is:

  • Remember that positive thinking in the face of fear, anger or pain exacerbates these feelings rather than reducing them.
  • Positive thinking is only useful when there are already successful results, to amplify the confidence in our resources and abilities, already expressed in the facts. This means increasing efforts on the basis of proven effectiveness, therefore the opposite of an illusory, voluntary expectation.

In conclusion, it is essential to keep the tendency to create voluntary illusions at bay, so as not to say, “the journey was beautiful but the arrival was disappointing”.