In our society we have difficulties dealing with emotions, especially grief. This can be very difficult for teenagers and families. We continue to have school shootings, where students and teachers are killed, and the suicide rate for children between 10 years old and 18 years old is at an epidemic rate. In addition, teenagers are dying at epidemic rates for overdosing on drugs. Therefore, many teens and families are dealing with grief on a fairly regular basis, but have little support or education about grief to help them. I see this quite often in my psychotherapy practice.

It’s important to remember that grief is a very unique and individual process. There is not a right way or wrong way to grieve. When someone is grieving it is very important to allow them to grieve how they need to and provide support to them as needed. It is appropriate to offer support, but do not expect someone to grieve the way you would. It may not help them and may create additional problems.

Lauren Hershel posted on Twitter an analogy to help explain grieving. I think it is a good analog so I am repeating it in this article.

Lauren stated, after what has been a surprisingly okayish Christmas, I had a moment today in SuperStore. I saw a lady who reminded me of my 92 year old grandma, who even in the early stages of dementia, completely understood that my mom died.

I thought I’d share the Ball in the Box analogy my Doctor told me

So grief is like this:

There is a box with a ball in it and a pain button. In the beginning, the ball is huge. You can’t move the box without the ball hitting the pain button. It rattles around on its own in there and hits the button over and over. You can’t control it – it just keeps hurting.

Sometimes it seems unrelenting in the beginning because the ball is huge. You can’t move the box without the ball hitting the pain button. It rattles around on its own in there and hits the button over and over. You can’t control it – it just keeps hurting.

Over time, the ball gets smaller. It hits the button less and less but when it does, it hurts just as much. It’s better because you can function day to day easier. But, the downside is that the ball randomly hits that button when you least expect it.

For most people, the ball never really goes away. It might hit less and less and you have more time to recover between hits, unlike when the ball was giant. I thought this was the best description of grief I’ve heard in a long time.

I agree I think this is a good description. Often I have teens that I am working with in therapy who worry or are afraid because they think they are grieving wrong. I explain there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is important that they grieve how they need and ask for help when they need to.

When I was an intern, a supervisor described grief to me as an ocean wave. You know a wave will come in but you never know when, how big or for how long. She said all you can do is your best to roll a long with it and not fight the emotion. You cannot control the wave, but you do know as sure as it came in, it will go out too. Initially the waves will be frequent and then they start to subside and you learn to cope with the grief. Just like with the ball analogy, the waves usually do not disappear. However, it is alright that they do not. It is natural when you think of the loved one you lost that you will feel some sadness. It is a normal reaction.

Given the amount of grief teenagers are having to cope with due to what is happening in our world, it is very important that we provide better access to mental health care. Also at home and at school we need to be teaching children about emotions too. They are a very important part of life and if they are going to succeed in life, they need to learn how to express emotions in a healthy manner. We need to focus especially on boys. I would estimate that 98% of the boys I treat think that emotions are weak. They go to desperate means not to cry or look sad. This is why many boys and men have problems with anger. Socially we accept boys getting mad, but not crying.

Please think about these issues and remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience. He specializes in treating children and teenagers. For more information about his work visit his website, his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter @RubinoTherapy

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