From the Undertow: Overcoming the Depths of Grief and Finding Emotional Attunement

When our most fundamental ties are severed, and standard rules, expectations, or dreams about the future no longer apply, how can we expect to move on in “X” amount of time? When I experienced this, I couldn’t tell anyone—it was unacceptable. And it led me down a path where I became consumed by continuously reinforced self-hate.

On the most understandable end of the spectrum, some people just misinterpreted my words or actions or missed me altogether. We each have complex inner lives, and it’s understandable that we’re often too preoccupied to pay attention to everyone around us.

On the most sinister, disturbing end of the spectrum, there were people with a vested interest in keeping me exactly where I was—unempowered to say anything, consumed by shame, guilt, and self-hate. I perpetuated the cycle of abuse through my passivity.

I had an insecure-avoidant attachment style from infancy to the age of 23, and I know how daunting the idea of emotional attunement can be. I’ve also experienced disenfranchised grief, which is how I learned, after years of intense emotional pain, that attachment bonds can change for the better.

A successful path through grief doesn’t just involve emotional connection—it hinges on it.

I yearned for real connections, but I’d never actually seen a healthy model of love. So I isolated myself from others—I don’t want to hurt or be hurt. I wasn’t “born angry,” no one is. But through decades of experiencing neglect and emotional and verbal violence, which eventually resulted in me perpetuating it, I became a very angry adult.

As an added bonus, I cultivated extremely unhealthy relationships (because love is supposed to hurt, own, and degrade—that’s love, right?), and I had no idea how to reach out, or even who was appropriate to reach out to when I knew I needed help.

Years of pain, presenting as deep bouts of depression and isolation coupled with unpredictable and explosive outbursts of anger left me feeling despondent. I had several real, tangible, but unacceptable—and therefore unspoken—losses. I’d been grieving for years, with no support, and it became unbearable.

At 23, I gave myself two options: either tell someone or cease to exist. I took a massive risk in saying, “I’m not okay, and I need help. Now.”

My first therapy session was like popping the cork of a shaken bottle of champagne. Years of grief came pouring out—I named the losses, I named the coping mechanisms, and I was allowed to do so without interruption or judgment. I can remember heaving, “And… And… I just can’t hold this all by myself anymore. Please, it’s too much for one person to hold all by themselves.” It was. I’ll never forget the physical sensation of that massive weight lifting off my shoulders for the first time.

Changing emotional attachment style hinges on conscious effort and experience. A conscious effort, made weekly when I allow myself to be honest with someone who’s trained to untangle my emotional spider’s web. Unfortunately, personal effort alone wasn’t enough to compensate for my environment. To give myself a chance at getting through disenfranchised grief I had to change my situation and the people and relationships I allowed to exist within it. I had to accept responsibility for myself.

I deserve better.  I remember how selfish and ashamed I felt as that thought popped into my mind. When you feel you have nothing, it’s easy to dream of everything.

It’s taken the better part of a year just to learn the correct vocabulary to describe my feelings, thoughts, and perceptions. I’m learning how to communicate like a real adult—meaning I am personally responsible for my own emotions and actions, no one “makes” me feel anything. My existence doesn’t “make” someone feel anything or give them the right to hurt me. I am allowed to exist, and I’m allowed to take up space. I am allowed to feel safe wherever I go. I am allowed to leave.

There are people in my old environment who I love and thought I could somehow save by staying and toughing it out with them emotionally. But I can’t. It’s not my responsibility to save anyone except myself. All I can do is communicate with unconditional love, respect, and patience. Through consistent practice, maybe I can plant that crazy “you deserve better, you deserve more” seed in their mind. I hope so, that’s a nice thought, and it gives me hope.

I’ve found it’s easiest to practice self-compassion when I allow myself to connect with other people—especially children. I wish I’d had this version of me looking out for me as a child. All’s not lost—I have hope.

I’m able to give them things I didn’t even know I had in me: love, kindness, compassion, patience, respect, and time. I still have a lot to learn, but that doesn’t mean I have nothing to give. When we share we grow.

My anger has gone from being dialed up to a constant 11 down to a 2, and when I’m giving back and connecting with others, it’s at a 0. This is how I know emotional attunement is a skill which can be learned and honed through continuous practice.

If you are mentally and emotionally present with others and willing to try, it becomes more comfortable, and at some point, it becomes second nature. I’ll never forget the moment I first looked up and felt my love, enthusiasm, presence, and excitement returned towards me in equal measure.

My first secure attachment caught me off guard. But, surprisingly, it allowed my focus to shift from survival toward the idea of one day having a future in which I thrive.

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Flexibly analytical. A paradox, but that's me. With an insatiable appetite for research and an equally deep yearning for connection through artistic expression, I'm frequently pulled in opposing directions. In an attempt to integrate both sides of my personality, I write. I explore topics​ others often​ ​find uncomfortable, those moments in life when we're expected to look or “move on from,” without pause. But sometimes we can’t, or we won’t. So let's not, let's talk.

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From the Undertow: Overcoming the Depths of Grief and Finding Emotional Attunement

When our most fundamental ties are severed, and standard rules, expectations, or dreams about the future no longer apply, how can we expect to move on in “X” amount of time? When I experienced this, I couldn’t tell anyone—it was unacceptable. And it led me down a path where I became consumed by continuously reinforced self-hate.

On the most understandable end of the spectrum, some people just misinterpreted my words or actions or missed me altogether. We each have complex inner lives, and it’s understandable that we’re often too preoccupied to pay attention to everyone around us.

On the most sinister, disturbing end of the spectrum, there were people with a vested interest in keeping me exactly where I was—unempowered to say anything, consumed by shame, guilt, and self-hate. I perpetuated the cycle of abuse through my passivity.

I had an insecure-avoidant attachment style from infancy to the age of 23, and I know how daunting the idea of emotional attunement can be. I’ve also experienced disenfranchised grief, which is how I learned, after years of intense emotional pain, that attachment bonds can change for the better.

A successful path through grief doesn’t just involve emotional connection—it hinges on it.

I yearned for real connections, but I’d never actually seen a healthy model of love. So I isolated myself from others—I don’t want to hurt or be hurt. I wasn’t “born angry,” no one is. But through decades of experiencing neglect and emotional and verbal violence, which eventually resulted in me perpetuating it, I became a very angry adult.

As an added bonus, I cultivated extremely unhealthy relationships (because love is supposed to hurt, own, and degrade—that’s love, right?), and I had no idea how to reach out, or even who was appropriate to reach out to when I knew I needed help.

Years of pain, presenting as deep bouts of depression and isolation coupled with unpredictable and explosive outbursts of anger left me feeling despondent. I had several real, tangible, but unacceptable—and therefore unspoken—losses. I’d been grieving for years, with no support, and it became unbearable.

At 23, I gave myself two options: either tell someone or cease to exist. I took a massive risk in saying, “I’m not okay, and I need help. Now.”

My first therapy session was like popping the cork of a shaken bottle of champagne. Years of grief came pouring out—I named the losses, I named the coping mechanisms, and I was allowed to do so without interruption or judgment. I can remember heaving, “And… And… I just can’t hold this all by myself anymore. Please, it’s too much for one person to hold all by themselves.” It was. I’ll never forget the physical sensation of that massive weight lifting off my shoulders for the first time.

Changing emotional attachment style hinges on conscious effort and experience. A conscious effort, made weekly when I allow myself to be honest with someone who’s trained to untangle my emotional spider’s web. Unfortunately, personal effort alone wasn’t enough to compensate for my environment. To give myself a chance at getting through disenfranchised grief I had to change my situation and the people and relationships I allowed to exist within it. I had to accept responsibility for myself.

I deserve better.  I remember how selfish and ashamed I felt as that thought popped into my mind. When you feel you have nothing, it’s easy to dream of everything.

It’s taken the better part of a year just to learn the correct vocabulary to describe my feelings, thoughts, and perceptions. I’m learning how to communicate like a real adult—meaning I am personally responsible for my own emotions and actions, no one “makes” me feel anything. My existence doesn’t “make” someone feel anything or give them the right to hurt me. I am allowed to exist, and I’m allowed to take up space. I am allowed to feel safe wherever I go. I am allowed to leave.

There are people in my old environment who I love and thought I could somehow save by staying and toughing it out with them emotionally. But I can’t. It’s not my responsibility to save anyone except myself. All I can do is communicate with unconditional love, respect, and patience. Through consistent practice, maybe I can plant that crazy “you deserve better, you deserve more” seed in their mind. I hope so, that’s a nice thought, and it gives me hope.

I’ve found it’s easiest to practice self-compassion when I allow myself to connect with other people—especially children. I wish I’d had this version of me looking out for me as a child. All’s not lost—I have hope.

I’m able to give them things I didn’t even know I had in me: love, kindness, compassion, patience, respect, and time. I still have a lot to learn, but that doesn’t mean I have nothing to give. When we share we grow.

My anger has gone from being dialed up to a constant 11 down to a 2, and when I’m giving back and connecting with others, it’s at a 0. This is how I know emotional attunement is a skill which can be learned and honed through continuous practice.

If you are mentally and emotionally present with others and willing to try, it becomes more comfortable, and at some point, it becomes second nature. I’ll never forget the moment I first looked up and felt my love, enthusiasm, presence, and excitement returned towards me in equal measure.

My first secure attachment caught me off guard. But, surprisingly, it allowed my focus to shift from survival toward the idea of one day having a future in which I thrive.

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