Sooner or later in our lives we are all faced with losses. Loved ones die, we go through breakups, we lose the use of a limb, our hearing or eyesight. We lose our dreams, for one reason or another, and have to redirect our lives. Some people who have been abused feel a sense of loss over the happy childhood they never had. Some anticipate a future losses that might (or might not) happen.
NLP offers some remarkable ways to heal grief, to remove the obsessive sense of loss, while retaining, even amplifying the pleasant memories associated with the person or faculty that is gone (or is expected to be lost) and using these as resources for the path ahead.
Marlena phoned me the other week to tell me that Molly, her stepdaughter, had died. It had been out of the blue, unexpected. A lively, bright young woman of just 36, Molly had suffered a heart attack, and by the time they got her to the emergency room, she was gone.
“She was overweight and had diabetes,” Marlena told me, “but otherwise she seemed healthy. No warning, nothing. Gosh, you never know, do you?”
“How is Mark doing?” I asked. “And you,” I added – though Molly had been grown when Marlena had married her father some fifteen years ago, the two women had become very close.
“I’m very sad,” she said. “Very sad.” A long pause. “Mark is totally torn up. We never expected this.”
“Is there something I can do? How can I help?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” She sounded dejected. “I don’t know that there’s anything anyone can do. I guess we’ll just have to go through those different stages. You know. And hold on to each other as best we can.”
“You mean Kubler-Ross’ five stages?”
“Yeah, those. I think I’m somewhere between Denial and Anger just now.
“And the last one is Acceptance, right?”
“Yeah, well I don’t know that I’ll ever get there. Or Mark either.”
“There’s a lot that’s been written about that process,” I said. “And I’m sure that is what many people go through, probably most of them. But I don’t think it has to be that way.”
“Oh really,” she said, sounding skeptical. “There’s something better?”
“There’s a process1 I do with my clients who have had a loss. But do you really want to hear about this right now?” I said, aware that this might not be the best time for her.
“Sure.” From her tone I imagined a shrug. “Can’t hurt, I suppose. I know you want to help.”
“It doesn’t take a long time. It involves helping your brain to change the way you represent, think about, the person you lost. You come to feel her as a positive presence, every day, though you know she’s really gone. You can remember all the good times and feel good about them again. And all of the things that were meaningful, that you valued in the relationship, become amplified and expanded – resources you can draw upon as you move on through your life.”
“And this really works? Don’t you have to wait a while?”
“You can wait, but you don’t have to. People I know have done it the same day. It also works for an expected loss – when someone you love is dying, say – or with a loss you imagine. This is pre-grieving. Jealousy, sometimes, is about being afraid someone might leave you; you feel helpless, at their mercy. This process can address that.”
“This is very interesting. I’m going to bring this up with Mark, when I find the right time. Even more than my own grief, I hate to see what this is doing to him. Maybe sometime you can come over and talk with us. I’ll let you know.”
1The Grief Process, due to Connirae and Steve Andreas. See their book, The Heart of the Mind (Real People Press, 1989).