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Section 8
Perceptions about Grief

Question 8 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed the physiology of grief as it relates to clients suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.  I have found that there are three major physiological aspects of grief.  They are the mind-body connection, acute stress reactions, and emotional triggers. 

In this section, we will discuss Mind Sets of Grief.  In my practice, I have found that there are three basic mind sets of grief.  They are absolutist thinking, intolerance of mistakes, and denial of personal difficulties.  As I describe these three mind sets of grief, you may want to use this section as a checklist for clients you may be treating.

Three Basic Mind Sets of Grief

♦ #1 Absolutist Thinking

Tony, age 33, experienced absolutist thinking.  Tony’s absolutist thinking led him to believe that the people in his life were either for him or against him.  Tony, grieved the loss of his son Robert, age 6, in a boating accident.  Tony and Robert were fishing when Robert fell overboard and drowned.  Tony stated, "Ever since Robert drowned, everyone I know has taken a side.  People either think it was a total accident or they think it was my fault.  It has to be all or nothing.  There is no in-between." 

Tony’s absolutist thinking applied to others.  To find out if he applied absolutist thinking to himself, I asked Tony if he put his feelings into extreme categories and assessed them according to extreme standards.  Tony stated, "Yeah.  I’m a total failure, if that’s what you mean.  My son died and I was just six feet away the whole time."  Would you agree that Tony had applied absolutist thinking to himself as well as others. 

I stated to Tony, "Judging yourself with the same "all or nothing" attitude will prevent you from making allowances for partial success or failure. Absolutist thinking is sometimes a characteristic of grieving clients, but is it possible for you to feel you can make mistakes and still have some successes."  Are you treating a client like Tony who has applied absolutist thinking to himself as well as others regarding the events surrounding his or her loss?

♦ #2 Intolerance of Mistakes
Robert’s drowning death had also reinforced Tony’s intolerance of mistakes.  Tony stated, "I did everything right until I let him stand up.  We were both wearing life jackets.  But he kept asking if he could stand up. I told him no several times.  But then we stopped to fish and after I anchored the boat, Robert asked to stand up again and I let him.  It was no problem.  The kid had good balance.  But then we were motoring back across the lake and he stood up to get a better view and went over.  Now I know how the tiniest error can result in death." 

Tony believed he had made a mistake that caused the needless death of his son, Robert.  As a result, Tony had increased his feeling of intolerance for mistakes.  Tony stated, "Sometimes even harmless mistakes make me relive Robert’s death.  Last week my wife, Jenny, accidentally put salt in her coffee.  I got so depressed and started crying. I know Jenny is getting really sick of my inability to cope."

♦ 3-Step "Internal Shouting" Technique
To help Tony overcome his intolerance of mistakes, I tried a simple technique called the "Internal Shouting" technique.  Evaluate the "Internal Shouting" technique to decide if a client you are treating could benefit. 

a. To begin the "Internal Shouting" technique, I first asked Tony to choose a short phrase he could use to respond to himself when he noticed his mounting feeling of intolerance.  I offered Tony examples like  "Stop it!" or "That’s enough!"   I suggested that the phrase might be one that helps him to feel angry. 

b. Second, I explained to Tony that any time he felt intolerant, he should shout the phrase internally.  I stated, "Mentally shout at yourself and try to drown out your intolerance."   

c. In addition to choosing a short phrase and shouting internally, the third step I explained to Tony was that he might reward himself if he successfully avoids intolerance after using his phrase.  Tony chose a watching a little more sports on TV as his reward.  As you know, the reward was positive reinforcement so that Tony became less likely to continue his intolerance.  I explained this to Tony and stated, "The important thing is to catch yourself just as you start, in order to avoid intolerance of mistakes."  Would Internal Shouting work for your Tony?

♦ #3 Denial of Personal Difficulties
In addition to absolutist thinking and intolerance of mistakes, the third mind set of grief I have identified in my practice is the denial of personal difficulties.  For example, Leo, age 72, grieved the loss of his wife, Doris.  The couple had been married for 51 years.  Leo stated, "In the last few years, I really had to start counting on Doris.  Lots of things get real hard when you get old like me with arthritis and poor eye site."  Leo depended on Doris to help him with personal difficulties such as reading, getting dressed, and walking up and down stairs.  Leo denied his personal difficulties to his family. 

Leo stated, "I’m the man in the family, so I can’t be seen as weak or incompetent."  Would you agree Leo could have benefited from sharing his personal difficulties with a family member?   I stated to Leo, "How would Doris have wanted your problems handled?"  Leo explained "I  know Doris would have wanted me to get help.  I guess I better tell my daughter.  She’ll know what to do."  Have you had experience treating a client like Leo who is denying his or her personal difficulties resulting from a loss in order to appear competent and strong?

In this section, we have discussed three basic mind sets of grief.  They are absolutist thinking, intolerance of mistakes, and denial of personal difficulties.

In the next section, we will discuss The Positive Side of Grief.  I have found three positive sides of grief.  They are the appreciation of life, strengthening of family ties, and finding meaning in suffering.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Barlé, N., Wortman, C. B., & Latack, J. A. (2017). Traumatic bereavement: Basic research and clinical implications. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 27(2), 127–139.

Diminich, E. D., & Bonanno, G. A. (2014). Faces, feelings, words: Divergence across channels of emotional responding in complicated grief. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 123(2), 350–361. 

Katz, A. C., Norr, A. M., Buck, B., Fantelli, E., Edwards-Stewart, A., Koenen-Woods, P., Zetocha, K., Smolenski, D. J., Holloway, K., Rothbaum, B. O., Difede, J., Rizzo, A., Skopp, N., Mishkind, M., Gahm, G., Reger, G. M., & Andrasik, F. (2020). Changes in physiological reactivity in response to the trauma memory during prolonged exposure and virtual reality exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder.Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. 

Taylor, S. (2020). Transformation through loss and grief: A study of personal transformation following bereavement. The Humanistic Psychologist. Advance online publication. 

Tignor, S. M., & Colvin, C. R. (2019). The meaning of guilt: Reconciling the past to inform the future. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(6), 989–1010.

Ruscher, J. B. (2011). Moving forward: The effect of spatiotemporal metaphors on perceptions about grief. Social Psychology, 42(3), 225–230. 

QUESTION 8
What are the three basic mind sets of grief? To select and enter your answer go to Test.


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