“Nurture the negative”. This phrase came to me a few days ago while meditating and I have been contemplating the idea of it since.
Examining the semantics of the phrase leaves us wondering why one would choose to nurture negativity. It sounds counterintuitive. We want to nurture positivity and let that grow. Ultimately that is the goal. My journey has revealed to me, however, growing in positivity doesn’t happen unless we allow the negativity to be seen, to be accepted.
When a negative idea about self arises, it triggers uncomfortable emotions. Human nature is to find a way to avoid this distress, but the growth is in sitting with the distress that arises within us. Reflecting on it is where the healing happens. The popular catch phrase, “What we resist persists” rings true because if we fail to accept all of ourselves, the positive and the negative, we limit our capacity for self love.
As a bereaved mother, self acceptance and self love have been elusive. I was never particularly strong in this area to begin with but when Christian died in my care, it became non-existent. Ask any child what their parents do and one of the top answers they give is, “they protect me”. How much can you love yourself if you perceive that you failed at the most important job in life?
This does not only pertain to losing a child at a young age. Every single bereaved parent I’ve ever spoken to has one thing in common. They feel guilty that they couldn’t do more for their child. This is a main theme in grieving parent groups. Self love and forgiveness are extremely tough to recover after your child dies. It takes time to find the path and way forward.
The only way forward is through the grief and unbelievably torturous emotions. Avoidance and distraction are attractive alternatives but with time it is apparent that they are not advantageous. In my experience, being forced into this deep relationship with self and self awareness has been a gift of grief. I likely would not have dove so deep into myself if my entire life was not turned upside down. I can assure you, it is a gift that is not worth the price of losing Christian.
The more I worked on myself, however, and realized that part of my purpose in this world is to honor Christian through my life, the more it became evident that I could absolutely live and be healthy by feeling all my emotions. It also became apparent that I have the potential to thrive if I cultivate self love. It’s not an easy road to travel but when everything else in your world is unrecognizable, what is one more thing?
Identifying this did not make the practice any easier. Grief comes in waves. Early in my journey it was impossible not to fall apart because I was constantly being washed over by waves. As time went on, the waves became less frequent but no less scary or emotionally charged. Cue avoidance and distraction. I held it together and then burst open like a dam.
Many therapy sessions and healing modalities have taught me to lean into these waves when they arise. The fear was that if I did that, I would fall down the black hole and never be able to find my way out. The opposite happened though. Being attentive to the emotions and sitting with them, working with them and processing them in healthy ways allows more room for peace and connection to Christian. This was what I was searching for. A way to move forward, given the circumstances I had no power to change.
Now, eight and a half years later, I am still learning. I still miss Christian every day. Waves still knock me over, but I have learned practices that help me get back up. One useful tool I employ is to let the tough emotions, the negative thoughts, fears and anxieties be seen, like I would a child. I sit with them, visualize their color, texture and size. I visualize holding them, hugging them, connecting with them. Instead of ignoring them out of fear and shame, I let them know they are a part of me and I love all of me, including what I don’t like. This is how I am learning how to meet myself where I am. This is how I am learning to love myself as I am.
We must be patient in this process. Patience is another lesson of grief. The changes happen gradually when nurturing that negative. It’s a lot like learning to live after losing a child. We have a choice to fight reality and be miserable or accept the agonizing truth. When we start to practice acceptance, we can begin to feel more love, more joy.
For my entire life, up until now, I’ve tried it the other way. When negative thoughts arose through the lens of grief, body image or any other area that I struggle with, I’ve been hard on myself, shamed myself, compared myself and berated myself. It hasn’t worked all that well for me yet. So I am open to trying something new.
Experiencing a child dying prematurely leaves us trying to make sense of something that just shouldn’t be. At some point we face the question of whether we will acknowledge the pain, giving it the time and space it needs, when it needs it, throughout the rest of our lives or continually avoid it and fight it. Just as the former, the latter doesn’t change anything, but it does breed unhappiness and lack of love and connection, separating us even further from the spirit of our child.
On my vision board this year is a quote I found in a magazine that says, “Every piece of you is allowed to be here”. It reminds me to nurture my entire self, positive and negative. Instead of turning away from what is unpleasant about myself, I am working to embrace it and make space for it. Self acceptance is accepting who we are, as we are. It is not synonymous with complacent. We can accept who we are and work to create better versions of ourselves. I believe this practice leads to beautiful growth.