Kids are back to school but if this is a new school, your child may be grieving for their old friends, the old neighborhood. Remember in the movie Inside Out how what happened when Sadness was excluded from the little girl's emotions? Things fell apart rapidly, she didn't thrive at home or at school. Her parents made her feel she had to be their "happy girl" and she was burdened with having to smile all the time, making her parents think she was ok when inside she was sad and not at all happy with her new home or school. This is all too common, unfortunately. When kids aren't allowed to express their full range of emotions, their future wellbeing and happiness is at stake. I know because it happened to me.
At the age of 11 years, in London, I was awarded a scholarship to a college track school out of my neighborhood. My parents were elated and proud. I had to wear an expensive uniform, ride there on a bus and be in class with students whose families didn't look or sound like mine or others in my neighborhood. I felt out of place and lost. My parents complained about the cost of the uniform and bragged about my new school placement to their friends. How could I tell them I felt so lost and sad?
Despite the high academic grades necessary to get my placement at this new school, once I was there, by my second year, my grades were only average and then began sliding down. It wasn't so much the work itself as my inability to speak honestly to my parents and teachers about how I felt about fitting in,how embarrassed I was to ask for help with subjects like math which were now too challenging and beyond my parents to help me with. By now I couldn't feel that I was sad, I just felt very very uncomforable.
I began hanging out with boys after school, going to clubs on weekends, soon I started drinking a litle beer, then wine, then hard liquor. It became more important for me to "have fun" than do homework. I began to lie about where I was and what I was doing. I forged excuse notes at school and nearly got expelled. By the age of 15 I began to run off the rails seriously. I couldn't wait to get out of school and away from home. I didn't care about future planning for a career. I skimmed through classes without studying and it's a miracle I made it through to college at all. Even classes I enjoyed, like art, I neglected in favor of having fun. I needed something to make me feel ok, because deep down, I didn't feel ok at all. My suppressed emotions were building and needed an outlet. When I was dancing and drinking and playing around with boys and later older men, I was distracted from the pain of my inner struggles about fitting in, belonging and for a while I felt relief. It never lasted.
My emotional growth became seriously stunted. I married too young, got bored at work easily, was never satisfied and never happy. Years later, after 3 failed marriages, the death of my mother threw me into the pit of despair and I felt like ending it all, except that I had two children whom I dearly loved and didn't want them to suffer as they would if I had taken my own life.
By a miracle a friend referred me to the Grief Recovery Institute, and I began a journey of self discovery that revealed how early suppression of sadness and grief had steered me down the wrong path. I was way along that path and thought I couldn't find a turnaround. But to my surprise, little by little, one page at a time in the Grief Recovery Handbook, doing the assignments and talking about my history of loss with another woman in the Grief Recovery Program, a new perspective emerged.
Today, I'm smiling most of the time. Naturally and without forcing it, as I used to have to. Today, when I feel sad, I let it come out. I try to understand the reason for it, which sometimes isn't immediately obvious and then I allow myself to be with it, talk about it with another trusted person. When there's no backlog, no heavy sack of accumulated sadness, the pain dissipates so much faster. The Grief Recovery Method helped me clear the backlog and see what self destructive habits I had developed to cope with my grief in the past. I no longer have to suffer as I used to.
My emotional flexibility is in good shape these days and I am so grateful I found out what was preventing me from the natural state of happiness that is our birthright, regardless of social status, education, health or wealth. Unresolved grief had accumulated like plaque in the arteries, reducing my flow of joy. It doesn't have to be that way.
Tell them how you, too, miss the old neighborhood and how it was for you if you had to move as a kid. Show them it's ok to feel sad and that you'll let them cry if they have to. Teach them that tears are not bad, they are the natural expression of grief and sadness and boys and girls both big and little are entitled to let them flow freely. Let them see you sad, let them see you cry. Don't make the mistake of hiding your grief away in order to "protect" them. They will learn then that grief is something to hide and bear alone, which is one of those myths about grief that bring us trouble later in life.
Instead, let their tears and grief flow now so they will develop emotional resilience and enjoy a much happier life.