For an introvert, grief can be especially challenging. While people may want to comfort us, we often need to be alone to process our feelings.
Grief is a painful experience. It strips you of all those things that make you who you are. You are confronted with a side of yourself that you have never encountered before: You become vulnerable, exposed to an emotion that overwhelms you and even alienates you from yourself. Your identity is shaken to its core and you are faced with an unfathomable challenge — to grow and move on, or to get stuck.
Grief is overwhelming, yet it is different for everyone. We don’t experience grief the same way, nor do we handle it the same way. But as an introvert, I do think we experience it differently than others.
The Introvert’s Experience of Grief
The introvert’s experience of grief is different. When my father died, my world came to a standstill. I felt paralyzed, almost unable to process what happened. It was sudden and unexpected. I was numb with shock. My world came crashing down on me. Everything was different. My sense of what was normal changed. There was a new normal, a different normal, a totally strange normal. It was almost an out-of-body experience. I felt different. I became a stranger to myself.
My whole existence centered around survival — emotional survival. I felt as if I was lost in the woods, falling over a cliff and barely holding on. I started to live day by day, taking it step by step. Things that were previously important suddenly became mundane. Life as I had known it would never be the same. Everything had changed. And, deep down inside, in the innermost part of my being, in the core of my existence, I had to face myself. And I had to confront emotions that I’d never felt before.
When a loved one dies, it changes you and it challenges you. For an introvert, this can be especially challenging. We process things differently. When my father died, there were lots of people around. One family member came to visit every day. These well-meaning people didn’t understand that I needed to be by myself. I needed to be alone. I needed space! It is especially hard to process things when you have to listen to chit-chat of everyday trivialities that no longer seem important or that do not even make sense anymore.
So how should introverts handle their grief when no one seems to understand? In my case, I eventually exploded. Finally, I had to be open about what I needed. I had to openly ask for space. However, people still didn’t understand. In fact, my request was met with disbelief. I was labeled “selfish,” “self-centered,” and even “immature.” Looking back, perhaps I could have communicated my feelings and needs differently. Maybe then people would have understood better. Maybe then it would have been more acceptable. What advice would I give to others in a similar situation? I found certain “solutions” for handling grief as an introvert — and you may be able to relate.
7 Ways to Cope With Grief as an Introvert
1. Give yourself permission to grieve — acknowledge your feelings of grief and know they are valid.
You are in charge of your own ship. You are the captain that has to steer your ship toward calmer waters. It is your responsibility to deal with your grief. Realize that it is normal to experience all the emotions that come with grief and know it will take time to work through them. Also keep in mind that grief produces a wide array of emotions, ranging from depression to anger to guilt, and so forth. All of these emotions form part of grief and it is okay to feel each and every one of them. And if you find yourself happy about something one day — perhaps you notice a new flower sprouting in the garden — don’t feel bad for having a momentary reprieve from the grief. Eventually, you want many such moments…
2. Recognize your need for solitude and know that it is a very real need.
Grief and death challenge you. They place certain demands upon you. You need time to mend your wings. Mourning forces introverts to delve deep into their innermost beings, to find inner strength, the courage to go on, and even the will to fly again. If we are unable to do so, we get stuck. We struggle to walk. Our minds become cluttered, unable to focus, unable to process the severity of our pain.
As introverts, we live inside our heads. We experience inner turmoil differently, maybe even more intensely than others. In order for us to meet the challenges and demands that grief places upon us, we need solitude. It gives us time to work through our feelings, which we cannot do among groups or crowds of people. The outside world, and especially extroverts, don’t always understand this. Oftentimes, they think they need to distract us, that it is unhealthy for us to focus on the trauma of our experience. Yet it is that exact trauma which allows us to face a part of us that never existed before. In fact, by facing the trauma, the pain, and the grief, we become transformed. It is then that we discover there is a new day and a new dawn. Although our lives will never be the same, we are now changed forever — yet we can become a better version of ourselves.
In order to learn to fly again, in order to mend our broken wings, we need the medicine of solitude. It gives introverts space to think and heal, as well as the opportunity to work through your feelings. It is okay to need alone time: Don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel like socializing or entertaining friends.
3. Be good to yourself.
When you’re grieving, self-care is essential. Take time to indulge — have a nice warm bath, nourish yourself with delicious food, have a guilty pleasure (like your favorite chocolate), and try to remind yourself that you still have a lot to live for. Be good to yourself and become your own best friend. Do things that you enjoy, and comfort yourself and have compassion for what you are going through.
Having empathy for yourself goes along with this, so that you nurture your inner psyche. Silence your inner critic and realize that this is a time when you need to have mercy with yourself.
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4. Take a break from your usual activities and do some soul-searching, like journaling.
You need time away from your normal activities to look inward and deal with what is happening inside of you. You need to become still in order to recuperate and heal. Break away for the week, or at least a weeked. Go to the country or the seaside. Take long walks on the beach and make time to think about — and work through — your emotions.
Journaling can help with this. By looking inward and writing it down, you can identify what is going on and which emotions you are experiencing. The first step toward emotional intelligence is to identify and recognize your feelings. Try to label these emotions. Is it hurt? Anger? Depression? Once you’ve identified these emotions, you can start to confront how you feel and find ways to deal with it.
If you’re not the journaling type, you can try another outlet to get your feelings out. For instance, being creative has a healing effect. By taking time to create, you are tapping into your inner muse. It is this muse that works like a therapist, helping you discover that life is still worthwhile and enjoyable. You don’t need to be Picasso to create. Try something simple, like fabric painting or decoupage. The objective is to step into another world where you can discover your inner healing properties.
5. Explore who you are in the midst of all the turmoil.
Your identity is affected when you lose a loved one. You need to get to know yourself all over again. Who is this new person that has to deal with loss? Who are you without the other person? Where do you fit in? These are questions that only you can find answers to. We introverts are already self-aware, but this is about finding that self-awareness again.
All the while, try to hold onto your identity and find that part in your inner core that makes you who you are. In essence, you are still the same person. You still have the same personality traits, strengths, weaknesses, and peculiarities. Lock into your sense of self. Your sense of self is part of your inner core; it is your constant companion. That is where your strengths lie.
6. Communicate your needs to those around you.
You’ve heard that “communication is key,” and it’s true. Clear, respectful communication is a bridge to better understanding and all about boundary-setting. Don’t bottle things up. Explain what you need, how you feel, and why it is important for you to be alone (for example).
If people don’t understand, there is only so much you can do. You are only responsible for your actions. You are not responsible for other people’s reactions toward you.
7. Give yourself time… lots of time.
At the end of the day, only time can heal your pain. Rome wasn’t built in a day — and you won’t get over the trauma of losing a loved one in a day either. Although every person is different, there is no quick fix to work through grief. You just have to do the best you can, day in and day out.