A major loss (death of a child, parent, parent partner, job, etc.) rattles our beliefs. We temporarily doubt those beliefs and ourselves for believing in those beliefs in the first place. Fear sets in. We ask ourselves questions like, “how can I possibly move on?” “How can I support myself and/or my family?” “Will I ever experience joy again?” We find ourselves going through the classic stages of grief introduced by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first presented in 1969; shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Every person moves through each of these stages at their own pace. Slowly, over time, we find our way back to those beliefs or a somewhat revised version of them to comfort us, shedding our doubts, and helping ourselves to move on with our lives.
But what if the loss experienced is the loss of the very belief system that supports us? What if forests belief system is so shaken and damaged we reject our belief structure? What if an organized belief system rejects us? What if the system changes its beliefs so drastically we cannot bring ourselves to continue being part of it? This may feel like a major loss as well, our entire spiritual belief system.
Belief system loss is also a grieving experience-and being a situation of grief has to be worked through by experiencing the same stages of grief when experiencing loss of a loved one, job, or any other life circumstance.
First we are in complete shock that this belief system “failure” has happened at all. We can’t believe it! This is a defense mechanism by our brains to prevent an extended or permanent shutdown we move through these initial days apart from ourselves. We feel like someone else’s they are moving through this torturous life and even speaking our words for us.
Then we experienced denial. We ask ourselves how can this be happening? This cannot be happening! This cannot be true! This did not happen and even if it did it has no effect on me! We become overwhelmed by the contradictory thoughts of living a life with the truth yet denying that it exists.
Anger is the next stage and is an integral part to be experienced in order to heal. It may show up fast and furious until there is no more anger within us to express or we may seethe in a slow burn, slowly releasing bit by bit the anger that we feel. Anger is pain expressed and is in response to a fear or fears. Anger, oddly enough gives us a foundational structure to that “numb” feeling of shock and denial. It gives us the reappearance of energy and strength to build something new in our future.
Bargaining comes next. We now have recognized deep within us we need to move on, but we still want “the way it was before” the loss. We play “let’s make a deal” inside our heads. Oddly enough, this adds to that foundational structure- we are making a tenuous truce inside ourselves.
Acceptance of the reality of the current situation, that the past is the past, initiating the mindset that we must move on is the next step. Moving on enables us to start building upon the new foundation we have somewhat tentatively constructed. Where depression allowed us to speak to our heart, acceptance allows us to listen to our heart. What do we truly believe? Which parts of this old belief system feels right to keep in our life and which parts should be discarded? We realize we are facing our fears and can now move forward. Once we start moving forward, we regain self-confidence to find our own way and once we are on our own way there will be no stopping us.
These stages are fluid and may overlap, double back, and move back and forth. No matter how hurtful the experience is, once the total grief process is behind us we emerge stronger for. We have a greater understanding of who we are and what we truly believe at this present time and we may be able to realize the importance of our existence in the here and now more clearly.