When a Grieving Friend Pushes You Away: Helpful Advice
Losing a loved one can be a traumatic experience. Whether the loss is the result of a prolonged illness or a sudden tragic accident, the world of the bereaved is altered forever. It can be quite difficult to comprehend the gravity of the loss. From daily routines to fun activities to meaningful conversations, our departed loved ones have impacted our lives in countless ways. Nothing can truly prepare you for how to pick up the pieces once a loved one has left you. When grief-stricken individuals encounter grief, it can bring about a wide range of feelings and emotions. To the surprise of the bereaved, the overwhelming sorrow and pain can cause them to react in ways that feel out of character for them. In turn, the weight of grief can make the bereaved push people away just when they need love and support the most.
Why Would a Grieving Friend Push You Away?
An encounter with grief can be all-consuming. It can be difficult to see anything besides the overwhelming pain of a life without a loved one. There may be countless reasons why a person may shut people out during their grief process. Here are five of the most common:
Grief is Unique
Even if a person has encountered grief several times, each experience is unique. The relationship they had with the departed was one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable. The bereaved may feel like no one can understand what they are going through, which can be very isolating. They simply may not believe anyone can relate to their profound loss.
When the brain encounters a traumatic event like losing a loved one, it goes into overdrive. All the synapses are on fire. Overstimulated, the mind begins to shut down certain signals to cope with the demand. This defense mechanism is known as grief brain. With so much mental activity, they can seem absent-minded, forgetful, or need more time than usual to complete simple tasks. Grief can cause people to push everything else on their to-do list by the wayside, including family and friends.
With grief exhaustion, the experience of socializing may be too much for the bereaved. They may harbor fears that people will want to talk about the loss. While the memory of their loved one is always on their mind, they may not be up for sharing their pain with others. Staying away from people can give them a way out from facing grief head-on. Even though they prefer to hide from the trauma, they’ll need to deal with it eventually if they want to heal.
The isolating experience of their unique grief can make people feel ashamed. They may be wondering why their grief feels unending. Pressure to “get over it” may mount, whether self-imposed or from others. It’s as if they are the only ones suffering when everyone else seems to be able to enjoy life. Rather than subject people to their pain, they may feel safer cutting themselves off from others.
As one of the five stages of grief, depression can sometimes play a part in a person’s grief experience. Sometimes, people engulfed in depression lose the motivation to live their lives. It can manifest itself in many ways. For instance, grief-stricken people may stay in bed all day, give up caring for themselves, or ignore phone calls. The exhaustion of their grief has sapped their energy. It can feel like they may never feel happy or cheerful ever again.
While the burden of grief may cause your friend to shun you, there are helpful things you can do to support them.
Reach Out With Unconditional Support
It may be confusing and frustrating to realize “my friend is grieving and pushing me away!” While it may feel personal to you, it isn’t. Isolation is a perfectly natural response for those encountering grief. There is no timeline when it comes to the grief process. It’s important to still show up with unconditional support as best as possible. Even though they may not respond, reaching out can let them know you care.
When someone is experiencing extreme pain and sorrow, their emotions are raw, and their sensitivities are heightened. If you breach their walls of isolation, be mindful of how you speak to them. In this case, lean into quality over quantity; less is more. It’s not your responsibility to “fix” their grief. When interacting with them, be present and allow your words and actions to come from a genuine and honest place.
With constant rejection, you may feel your efforts to reach out are fruitless. It’s not a reflection of your attempts. Your friend is struggling because grief can be very difficult to deal with. While it may be frustrating, hang in there. Eventually, their grief will dissipate. Remove the pressure of a timeframe by giving them all the time they need. In the long run, it will help preserve your relationship.
Once your grief-stricken friend has invited you in, listen to them. It’s one of the best ways you can support them. They have a lot of emotions and feelings to express; let them. Feeling seen and heard can help the bereaved feel validated in their experience. It will also allow them to open up to you even more.
No Strings Attached
Leave expectations at the door if you commit to supporting a grieving friend. Often, people offer support with the hopes of it being reciprocated down the road. That can be a heavy price to pay for a grief-stricken person. When you’re expectations aren’t met, it can leave you feeling angry, frustrated, and resentful. Focus on helping your friend in the here and now. It will allow you to give genuine support, which can inspire your friend to be available to you in the future.
The grief process can take a toll on friendships. There’s no predicting how one person will respond to the next. Just because a friend pushes you away doesn’t mean they don’t value your friendship. All you can do is allow your authentic self to show up as best you can. With your support, the clouds can lift, and life can be beautiful once more!
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