Facebook and other social media platforms have initiated major changes in how we communicate. For the most part, these changes have been wonderful! We can now see and hear about events happening with family and friends in real time. Instead of waiting for someone to send us a picture, we can see it immediately. It has opened doors to sharing our feelings and experiences with a wide audience and getting feedback as well.
The number of people communicating with social media is ever increasing. In 2012, Tech Crunch calculated that that one billion people were utilizing one or more of the many different platforms to reach out to others. By 2016, this number had increased to 4.2 billion, or better than half of the worlds population.
Social media and stories of grief
An important part of the recovery process for grievers is having the opportunity to tell the story of their grief and its impact to others. This works to its greatest advantage when it can be done without analysis, criticism, or judgment. They simply need someone to listen and perhaps offer some direction as to how they can take effective recovery action. Unfortunately, given how so many people feel the need to comment on posts that they read, this is often not the case for grievers sharing their stories via social media.
I recently ran across the post of a friend, who was responding to one of his friends who was sharing the story of the loss of her husband. My friend simply replied, “Thank you so much for sharing the story of your emotional pain.” Unfortunately, his was the only reply of this nature! Other people suggested that she be strong, keep busy, forget her pain in favor of her great memories and become a volunteer in fighting the disease that took her husband’s life, while others gave her a list of very logical reasons why she should not feel bad. One person even voiced surprise, since it had been more than a month since his death that she was not “over it” yet!
Perhaps you remember being in the same situation after an emotional loss of some kind. Perhaps you verbally shared your feelings with others and got similar responses. Stop for a moment and think about it. Did any of those comments really make you feel better? Chances are, the answer to that question is a resounding “No!” The difference in that situation is that you might have been able to ignore those comments, but when you can review them again and again in writing, they can become even more painful and lasting in their impact.
Most of us never learn how to deal with the emotional pain of grief and loss
Rarely does anyone ever sit a child on their knee and explain to them how to effectively deal with the emotional pain they will encounter in life. The early losses that they encounter, that lead to tears, are often discounted. Like the lady in the story above, they are given logical reasons why they should not feel bad. That rarely makes them feel better, but it reinforces the concept that sharing emotional pain is somehow inappropriate. It’s in childhood that most of us learn to “stuff” our feelings of sadness, and not share them with others.
When that reservoir, where all of those sad feelings get stuffed, becomes full, you cannot help but put voice to those feelings, as did that lady on social media. It’s when people make well intentioned, but emotionally worthless comments, that many grievers begin to feel even more alone in their pain. This often results in their trying to put on a “happy face” for others, to protect themselves from hearing more of these comments. This can backfire when their friends tell them “how well” they are doing, when inside they feel totally lost in their emotional pain.
How should your respond when someone shares his or her emotional pain on social media?
None of us ever wants to see a true friend in pain. Unfortunately, no matter what you suggest to help them feel better ever really works. Even if you experienced a similar loss, having someone tell you that they “know how you feel” never really rings true. No one ever really knows how another feels! At best we can only remember how we felt, but that is hardly the same as really knowing the emotional pain of someone else.
Instead of offering reasons why they should not feel whatever it is that they are feeling, you could be a far better asset to them by letting them see that their pain touches your heart! You might simply comment that it breaks your heart to hear of their loss, or tell them that you care. An emoji of a sad face or tears is a far more positive response to their pain, rather than a comment about why they should not feel bad.
You might consider simply sharing a fond memory of that person who died, as a way of letting them know how important they were in your life. That can be a very positive thing to do.
If they live nearby, you might offer to be available to simply listen to what they have to say, with the assurance that you will not analyze, criticize, or judge them. Let them know that you are willing to simply be “a heart with ears,” that listens without judgment.
While you may have found great assistance in your own faith, at times of personal loss, do not assume this is the best way to assist others. Grievers, especially those dealing with an emotional loss cause by a death, might still find themselves in emotional pain while still being strong in their relationship to their faith. Their relationship to their emotions and their faith are two different things! Many Christians often forget that the shortest sentence in the Bible is, “Jesus wept.” Certain, for those of that faith, is He could cry, it’s only reasonable that mere mortals might cry as well, even if their beliefs are strong!
If you want to offer direction to help them on their journey to recovery, there is one thing that can make a difference!
Instead of offering advice on how someone might feel better after a loss of any kind, consider instead offering them something that really works! “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” by John W. James and Russell Friedman is a solid and effective roadmap to dealing with and moving beyond the power of the emotional pain of loss. This is not a “feel good” story of some else’s path to recovery or a textbook that speaks to the griever’s head. The authors of this book speak on a heart to heart level about why grief hurts so much. They lay an emotionally connected groundwork concerning why loss is so painful and walk the griever through the necessary steps to dealing with all the unfinished business in that relationship that is the cause of their bereavement. They accomplish this by walking with the griever, hand in hand, and explain each step with personal examples of how they followed these same steps to take action for themselves.
When I encounter someone on social media talking about their emotional pain, I let them know how their story has touched me and then share with them the value I found in using this book to help me in dealing with loss. If, by chance, they are talking about the loss of a pet, rather than another loss, I tell them about “The Grief Recovery Handbook For Pet Loss,” which follows the same approach as The Handbook, but is pet loss specific. This way, I know that instead of offering them a platitude, I am actually offering assistance that can make a real difference!
The big problem with social media is that, unless it’s deleted, the comments that are expressed last forever. So often, people comment on posts without a clear idea of how others might hear their words and take them to heart. Facebook is not always a griever’s best friend, in that regard. When we respond to the story of someone’s emotional loss, it’s important that we not add to his or her pain with well-intended comments that are actually hurtful to the griever. There is very little anyone might say that can really make them feel better in that moment of pain, other than sharing a fond memory.
That griever will likely read these comments over and over as time goes by. While they may not be ready to take recovery action in the moment that they share their thoughts on social media, they may find themselves looking for recovery actions when they reread it again. Offering them the direction of “The Grief Recovery Handbook” could be just what they are looking for in that moment. It’s a proven action plan that has helped people worldwide for over 35 years.
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