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Dealing with loss, grief and Haiti

Dealing with loss, grief and Haiti

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to talk about ways to deal with the grief and tragedy of Haiti, as well as grief and loss in general.

First a quick update:

“Valentine’s Day and personality test”
Wondering if your Valentine is the right one? Take the personality test and find out if you are perfectly matched, truly mismatched and which is the most suitable personality type for you.

“Helping the helpers”
As my way of helping with the Haiti devastation, I have created two special audio programs to help in dealing with fear, anxiety, stress and trauma. By special request, I have designed these audio programs particularly for volunteers, workers, friends and family of people in Haiti who are also experiencing extreme challenges and stress. Of course, anyone can use them to neutralize fear, anxiety and bad memories. I am giving them away. Please help by also spreading the word and forwarding this link:

Now, let’s talk about the tragedy of Haiti and ways to deal with it as well as grief and loss in general.

It is truly hard to imagine the real pain and suffering that the people of Haiti are experiencing right now, particularly in light of the second 6.1 magnitude aftershock this morning. And it is a challenge to escape the traumatic images that fill the radio, Television and internet.

It is also a common reaction that we begin almost immediately asking “Why did a tragedy and disaster of such a magnitude occur? Why did it happen?”

The US Televangelist Pat Robertson shocked and offended many people when he claimed that the earthquake was the result of Haitians forming a pact with the devil to liberate Haiti from France 200 years ago.

We need to be careful about asking why such tragedies occur and instead focus on the solution to what has happened. It’s often our fear and anxiety that drive us to seek a reason for this tragedy or even someone to blame, hoping that we can understand what happened, find meaning and possibly protect ourselves in the future. In other words, we seek ways to feel safe, and we believe that if we can explain the tragedy then we can reassure ourselves that we are safe. But when we turn to extreme answers for the cause of tragedies it is easy to make all sorts of wild assertions, even blaming the victims. For if we follow Pat Robertson’s assertion and logic, then he would also ask us to believe that the more than 3,000 victims of 9/11 attacks, the 400,000 people killed in Darfur and the six million Jews that died in the Holocaust must have brought it upon themselves. This dangerous line of thinking results in the wiping out of human compassion and the desire to help those in need. Compassion, love and concrete support & help are the things that we need to focus on – the solution to the massive pain and suffering; the solution to the struggle for survival in Haiti.

In an interview with a reporter, I explained that people everywhere feel the pain and loss of the tragedy of Haiti because the world is so much more closely connected than ever before via technology – internet, skyping, Facebook and so forth.

There are many people here in the US who have family or friends in Haiti. One of them, my client, reached out to me for help, and of course, she like many survivors and friends of survivors experience various emotional responses to the loss and devastation:

  1. Survival guilt (“Why them and not me?”)
  2. Fear and uncertainty
  3. Emotional overwhelm due to conflicting emotions and thoughts
  4. Helplessness and powerlessness for not being able to change the situation or control it and for being/feeling disconnected from community
  5. A sense of loss of control
  6. Anger and despair over the loss and devastation
  7. Desire to be strong for others
  8. Trauma and shock from seeing and internalizing images of pain and suffering
  9. Physical aliments
  10. Inability to experience any joy due to guilt (“I must suffer because my family and others have and are suffering.”)

Here is some of the advice that I gave to my client that anyone can apply to move quickly through the grieving process and to find peace amidst a whirl of anxiety and uncertainty:

  •  Write out a list of what you can and cannot control (this eases anxiety)
  • Take action to control what you can
  • Relax by accepting that there is always a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity
  • Take action to feel connected to your community (giving, donating, corresponding, etc)
  • Establish supportive people around you
  • Ensure that you have at least one person that you truly trust and that you can feel emotionally intimate enough with to talk about anything on our mind
  • Let go of the Survival Guilt or guilt that you are having a good time (i.e. stop feeling bad when you feel good); What would your friends and family want you to be doing now that they are gone – suffering or enjoying life? Stop asking “Why them and not me?” and understand it’s not your fault; there is no need for self-punishment;
  • Become aware of the extent that the grieving is taking over your life and instead, organize your grief and give yourself a break (allow set time for yourself to grieve and honor those that you have lost, and enjoy your life at the same time)
  • Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep & rest and, eating regularly and well
  • Keep your mind connected to day to day current reality; stay in touch with reality and current events;
  • Have a sense of goals for the future; find new meaning and purpose
  • Take action to make a difference

Learning to handle survival guilt and thus releasing yourself from that prison is critical. In September, 2008, a small plane crash in South Carolina killed four people but left its two survivors, DJ AM (Adam Goldstein) and Travis Barker (from the band Blink 182), with deep guilt. And it’s believed that it was that survival guilt that overtook DJ AM and eventually led to his death after an overdose.

The paradox is that while we must learn to accept the uncertainty of the future, we must also take action to control what we can and to give our lives meaning. In other words: taking action to help survivors. My client began donating her time to the Red Cross and getting heavily involved with the Haiti relief telethon with her friend Wyclef Jean and George Clooney.

She also told me that she was struggling to be strong, particularly when she was receiving conflicting messages from survivors in Haiti about some of her friends and whether or not they had survived. “Who told you that you must be strong?” I asked her. “And what does it mean to be strong?”

Most of us confuse a lack of emotion, coldness and aloofness for strength. The truth is that strength is about being able to give people the help that they need. “Your friends and family who have experienced extreme trauma and those that lost loved ones need your support, acceptance and understanding. They need you to listen and express empathy and compassion. And if you feel their pain, and you cry, that is OK. Make it OK.”

For the rest of us, many of the same principles and advice apply. How can we help? What action can we take to know that we are making a difference, that we are connected as human beings to the people suffering in Haiti?

We can give to Haiti and its people, in whatever way we can (time, talent, gifts, donations) and we can express gratitude for what we have; our problems generally become insignificant when compared to the tragedies in Haiti where people struggle to find food, water and shelter, and are surrounded by dead bodies of friends and family.

Remember, too, if you are highly sensitive, then avoid over exposure to the images of pain and suffering. The best thing anyone can do is to focus on helping rather than wallowing in the pain or misery. Our collective action is a message for the people of Haiti to hold onto hope – help is on its way, people around the world do care, we feel your pain, we are all giving.

I have created two special audio programs to help people neutralize fear, anxiety and trauma – and these programs are particularly critical and helpful for people who are workers and volunteers helping Haiti and for the friends and family of people in Haiti. I am giving away these audio programs as my way of helping, and you can download them instantly here and please help and forward this link to anyone who might benefit from my audio programs.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist

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