I was going to write a blog about an academic issue. Then I decided to share a personal story that causes me great pain instead.
I have a brother who is an alcoholic.
It is a very sad situation in which he is severely ill with this condition and is no longer an independent adult even though he is in his forties. He lives with my parents who house and feed him and take general care of him. He is not able to work as his condition means that when he secures a job, he is soon fired. He is not able to drive as his condition means that he is (thankfully) banned from driving and is likely to remain so in perpetuity unless he recovers. His children do not see him – they do not want to. His friends do not see him – they do not want to. I do not see him – I do want to but it is too difficult because he is aggressive, unpredictable and unsafe to be around. This has absolutely torn my once relatively happy family apart. Without going into all the details, the outcome has been that I do not really have a wider family anymore.
This does not sound very ‘positive psychology’ does it? But, it can be helpful. What I am suffering is grief. I have lost the brother that I once had a great relationship with and I have lost my wider family. So, my challenge then is how to embrace this dark side and deal with that grief.
If any readers have dealt with alcoholics before, you may know that a common feature is the level of manipulation that they are capable of. My parents are in their seventies and, naturally, love my brother and want to protect him. They see the best in him and will excuse the most outrageous behaviour and continue to support him. In my non-acceptance of his behaviour, they view me as ‘unforgiving’ and consequently they have rejected me. I cannot do anything about that even though it saddens me greatly.
So, yes, grief.
How can we do positive grief?
I love a quote from Susan David in Emotional Agility ‘Recognise that life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility. We’re young, until we’re not. We’ve healthy until we’re not. We’re with those that we love, until we’re not’. She encourages us to ‘show up’ and feel our full range of emotions. Those will include loss and pain. So, if I ‘show up’ to my emotions in this situation, I feel anger, injustice, loneliness in the unique relationship that only I have lost, sorrow and regret, frustration at not being able to solve a problem, powerlessness, sadness, guilt and anxiety. A whole big bubbling pot of negative emotions.
Dr Tim Lomas has examined the positive power of negative emotions and describes sadness as an expression of love and compassion. Anger can be a moral emotion – an indication that an ethic has been breached. Guilt is also part of that moral compass – perhaps it is indicative of mistakes in our own behaviour. The loneliness of my loss can illustrate that I had something unique that no one else understood or experienced. None of these are comfortable at all. However, they do make me human and perhaps by ‘showing up’ and feeling them, perhaps this is part of being whole.
And I’m just a person.
Psychologist Stephen Joseph in his book ‘Authentic’ says that there are three main ways of dealing with stress; problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping and avoidance coping. In my life, I will always go for problem-focused coping and try to ‘fix’ the problem, trying many different solutions. I will be future-focused and have a goal. However, in situations of loss, sometimes there is nothing that you can fix. That is where it is wise to concentrate on emotion-focused coping – managing and dealing with our emotions. Mindfulness has really helped me in this regard. Being able to notice my emotion, recognise it and the associated thoughts and physical feelings that go with it and let them be. I cannot avoid this pain, it is part of my life but it does not need to completely dominate me. I can talk to a few trusted friends about it – or write a public blog about it.
So, this was me, not writing an academic article and sharing my emotional range. I hope that it might help someone else.
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