Why You Need To Grieve The Old Normal
There is no denying that things have changed a great deal lately, and most will agree it’s not been for the better. Regardless of your opinion about the whys behind the changes, we’ve all been thrust into what’s being called a “new normal.”
The unspoken consensus is that we need to carry on, keep moving forward, and try to stay as positive as possible. And, yes, we really do, but it’s also not that simple.
The many changes 2020 has brought about mean that most of us have had to make some abrupt alterations to the way we do things. Whether it’s school, work, worship, socializing, or shopping, almost nothing is the same.
Changing suddenly to a new way of doing things on such a large scale comes with some pain and not acknowledging that pain can lead to bigger problems down the road. So, in addition to maintaining a chin-up attitude, there are some very good reasons to grieve the old normal.
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Your Feelings Are Valid – No Matter What Your Situation
No matter what your circumstances are, it probably feels like your world’s been turned upside down. Nothing feels secure anymore and it may seem like everything you could count on before is now gone.
So, the routines, process, and people that used to provide a stable framework for everyday life are now scrambled – and it probably feels bad, uncomfortable, wrong, and you feel powerless to change it.
But you’re okay, right? You look around and know that there are others who have it so much worse. So, what business do you have feeling sad and complaining about the way things are? You’re making it work.
The problem with that thinking, however, is that feeling guilty about feeling sad, frustrated, and scared, and ignoring those feelings doesn’t help things. No matter how well you are coping, it’s alright to feel upset and even angry.
And you need to acknowledge these feelings in order to get through them and on to a healthy place in this new environment. Of course, being angry and moping around complaining won’t change the state of things, but these feelings also won’t go away on their own.
Bottling Up Emotions Does Not Eliminate Them
If you don’t face them, share them, and give them their moment to be expressed, they will fester and eventually bubble up to the surface in a more destructive way. This is especially true when it comes to our children and teaching them to handle their emotions.
In an effort to make things less scary and difficult for kids, adults often set a poor example when it comes to handling uncomfortable feelings. We smile, tell the kids it’s all fine, that they need to stay positive, and many other well-intentioned platitudes.
What we don’t do very well is help them face their own feelings of sadness and let them grieve for the old normal. School, friends, sports, and all of the routines that made them feel safe and helped them define themselves and understand their place in their own world are now gone (or at least wildly different).
Kids need to be able to talk about how they feel and know that their feelings are normal, that they’re okay to have, and then be taught (and shown) how to cope with them. A skill that many adults still struggle with themselves.
Consequences – Further On
The repercussions of not acknowledging negative feelings can be even harder to deal with. Anxiety and depression are on the rise right now for many reasons and pretending that you’re okay and everything is fine is partially to blame. Things aren’t normal – it’s okay to say it.
Think about it like losing a loved one. Saying you shouldn’t be sad because they’re in a better place doesn’t make the sadness go away. It just makes you feel like you need to hide it and suffer alone. Neither adults nor children should feel like that.
So, take the time to let yourself feel all of those things. They’re normal, understandable, and we are all feeling them. It doesn’t matter if you’re making it work and getting through things – let’s just say it – it still sucks.
I Admit It – I’m Sad. Now What?
Now it’s time to focus on the good parts of what’s new in your world. Yes, if you’re making a list of bad versus good, the bad column is going to be a long one. That just means you have to look a bit harder to fill in the good one.
Your feelings of grief don’t change the reality of what we are all going through right now, so once you’ve acknowledged them you can’t allow them to become the only thing you feel. You can’t force them away either, but you can start to replace them by finding the positives. And you can also manage them by taking care of and being honest with yourself.
New routines come with new comforts. They may be hard to find at first, but they are there. Maybe it’s the pleasure of working in sweatpants, or an afternoon cup of tea or nap. I heard from one woman that her teenage daughter has now discovered the fun of talking on the phone – talking, not texting.
Finding The Silver Lining
Normal right now is a moving target, and there are likely to be several versions of it before we all feel connected to a secure and comfortable new routine. When and, if, we go back to some form of the “old normal”, there will be things we will miss about our current circumstances, too.
We may not grieve in the same way – political strife and pandemics won’t be missed – but we might look back and think it was good to have slowed down a bit, spent time with the family more, and to have found a little appreciation for being forced into reprioritizing and taking a new look at the old way of doing things.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.