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The Sibling Connection

Healing and Self Care


The Importance of Self-Care

             One of the most notable characteristics of bereaved siblings is their ability to help others who are grieving. In research studies, this particular characteristic is mentioned again and again. However, bereaved siblings are often unable to help themselves with their own grief. I wrote the poem on the right side of the page to highlight the importance of self-care in healing.

       One of the patterns of dynamics that is often seen in bereaved siblings is as follows. The surviving siblings have been so hurt and become so vulnerable that they cannot tolerate their own feelings. They would like to dis-own their own vulnerability. So they project their feelings on to others who are grieving, and then take care of the other person. If this dynamic is operating in your life, you need to work on self-care. Withdrawing the projection from others, and accepting your own vulnerability is not easy, but is essential for healing.

        In order to take care of yourself, you have to know yourself and know what your needs are. Sometimes we spend more time trying to get someone else to take care of us than we do in actively caring for ourselves. First, you must learn what your needs are. Everyone knows about needs--we know that babies need love and attention as well as food. Needs do not go away when we become adults. Some of the needs that we all share are: needs for food, security, love, acceptance, beauty, order, appreciation, and self-expression. Get to know yourself and what it takes to make you happy.

Learn about the process

        You can help yourself to heal in other ways too. One is to educate yourself about the process of grief--just being able to give a name to what is happening to you is helpful. As you consider the phases and stages of grief, you don't have to agree with any particular theory. In fact, you might make up your own theory of grief stages, based on your own experience. Who else is better qualified? Learning about the stages helps you to put your experience into a specific context. This feels better than living with the vague ill-defined "soup" of mixed emotions and thoughts about your loss.

        It is also helpful to learn about the lifelong impact of sibling loss, so you can compare and contrast your experience with what has been learned through research. Every time you read about someone else's experience or the results of research on sibling loss, you have an opportunity to sort out your experience. You say to yourself, "my experience wasn't like that" or "that's exactly what I felt." This process of turning the experience over and over in your mind works somewhat like a rock tumbler--you put in jagged rocks and tumble them until they become smooth. Comparing and contrasting your experience helps you to work it through.

       A word of warning, however--if this process is especially painful or anxiety producing for you, you may need a professional to help you process this part of your healing.

Connect with other bereaved siblings

       Connecting with others by reading about or sharing experiences is an essential part of your healing. At the moment you learn that your brother or sister is going to die or has died, you begin to form a special place within you to put this experience and keep it away from the rest of your life. This "trauma membrane" keeps others away from your pain and your experience. Other bereaved siblings can often get inside this trauma membrane when no one else can. Once you open this part of yourself to another person whom you trust, healing can begin.


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Copyright 2000-2011 P.G.White, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved






Heartroom


When I first took the measure
of my heart,
I could not see,
The light was dim.
A friend held
the lamp while I looked in.

There was room for someone's sorrow and another person's pain
And plenty of room for other people's tears,
that fell like rain.

The depth of my compassion
Everyone could see.
But none of it really mattered until
There was room in my heart
For me.

by P.G. White
First published in Changes magazine, Aug. 1994