Grief, we are all feeling it these days, some more than others, and more than ever some are going at it alone. At our core, we all understand that one day life will present us with individualized grief and suffering, and under healthy circumstances, grief is a complex process that is not linear. As the reality of Covid-19 set in over the past 12-months, our familiarity with grief became unavoidable. What Covid-19 has done to complicate an already complex human condition is the abrupt dismantling of the external distractions that once helped us cope with grief, loss, and suffering. We are aware that our most successful attempts at healing grief and loss are found through the bonds and connections we have with our family, friends, and social supports. Within these deep bonds and connections, true healing occurs. Covid-19 has forced many into abrupt isolation, uncertainty, and away from the very connections our mind, body, brain, spirit require for healing. We have been stuck in an intense form of uncertainty for the past 12-months, uncertainty of how and when this new normal will end. This shift in our ways of coping has created a deeper schism. One that has shattered our internal and external constructs of how we view ourselves and the world. Loss of the assumptive world view is not a new concept, but it is a theory on grief and suffering that seems most fitting for these unprecedented times.
What are the internal constructs that human beings make about the self and the world? According to the theory developed by Jeffrey Kauffman, the assumptive world is an organized schema reflecting all that a person assumes to be true about the world and the self. These assumptions are based on previous experiences; it refers to the assumptions and beliefs that ground, secure, and orient people, beliefs that give a sense of reality, meaning, or purpose to life. The three core assumptions that shape our worldview are: the world is benevolent; the world is meaningful; the self is worthy.
The assumptive grief that we are all facing and living through is the cause of the ache we experience when we have lost those things that we believed were a stable, consistent, or predictable part of our lives. This includes personal and professional opportunities and those planned vacations or life milestones we were counting on celebrating. Covid-19 has created this ache, and any semblance of predictability for living has been removed from our control.
In addition to the dismantling of internal-external constructs, we have plunged into loneliness unlike we have ever known. The work of Dr. Vivek Murthy on loneliness comes to mind when thinking of our current collective grief. Dr. Murthy’s research found that as human beings, we require three dimensions of connection. Beginning with intimate connections (family or intimate partner), relational connections (friendships, people you can be yourself around), and collective connections (a community of like-minded individuals) and it takes only one of these dimensions to be absent in order for a person to experience intense loneliness. As stated earlier, Covid-19 has disconnected many of us from these three dimensions. We have been pushed out of our comfort zones and forced to learn how to grieve, heal, and create new meaning without these three dimensions of social connection.
So, what do we do? How can we manage and cope with this complex grief, loneliness and shattered world views when so much is not in our control?
We can take action, action that is based on our values. When every other choice is removed from our control, we are left with one option: to engage in values-based action. Whether you value truth, integrity, being of service, or loving and healthy relationships, remaining focused on our values is the only choice left. Remaining true to your internal value system will provide a healthy internal and external environment for healing. Values-based action is a strategy taken from the therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, as one of the six core principles aimed at developing psychological flexibility that leads to living a rich, full, and meaningful life.
Dr. Russ Harris adapted several strategies for the popular therapy Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) developed by Dr. Steven Hayes. The one technique developed by Dr. Harris, ACE (acknowledge/acceptance, come back into the body, engage in values-based action) and the 6-core processes of ACT, work to help individuals come to the acceptance that we all will find ourselves in pain and suffering but we can find our way through the suffering with acceptance and values-based action.
Below is a description of the strategy developed by Dr. Russ Harris and ACT.
Acknowledge and Accept (the things we cannot change)
Come back into the body (through mindfulness, meditation, grounding/resourcing)
Engage in values-based action (your guiding principles to living)
Although we have been thrust into a new normal and many of our internal constructs of the self and world have been shattered, we must still remember to connect whenever possible. Our biology is organized around our social needs, and we cannot go long without meeting this need. So, begin to find any way to connect, and when a connection is not possible through others, continue to allow your values to guide your actions.
Janie Montiel, AMFT
If the theory of Assumptive Grief developed by Jeffrey Kauffman or the research on loneliness by Dr. Murthy, or the simple yet effective strategy developed by Dr. Harris resonates, below are a few resources.
Loss of the Assumptive World
A Theory of Traumatic Loss By: Jeffrey Kauffman
The Happiness Trap
How to Stop Struggling and Start Living By: Dr. Russ Harris
Unlocking Us with Brene Brown
Dr. Vivek Murthy and Brene on loneliness and connection