ASK COLETTE: When Support Groups Hold You Back

Here, Zoomer guru Colette Baron-Reid on the stages of grieving – and when it may be time to leave your support group.

Dear Colette,

I lost my husband suddenly and unexpectedly less than two years ago. My world came crashing down, and it has been a very difficult road to travel.  Your blog on your website about warding off other people’s emotions made me rethink my association with a support group I found online and is now on Facebook. We set up the FB group because most of us are past the first year mark and are desperately trying to move forward.  

However, some of the members have made the group a place to come and dump all of their emotional refuse, and the group seems to only respond to posts about problems, illness, death and negativity. I think the group has lost its mission, which is to move away from grief and into a more hopeful and joyful existence. I post positive messages and articles often to try to bring attention to more positive things in life, but most members never comment or click like, which tells me that they are addicted to negative emotions.

I consider some of the most positive members my friends and don’t want to abandon them but I can’t move forward with all these people pulling me back to a place that, instead of healing my wounds, keeps reopening them. Please help me find my way to healing my broken heart without making my friends feel that I don’t want to be their friend by leaving the group.  —Grieving in Stages


Dear Grieving in Stages,

First, let me acknowledge your loss and tell you my thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.

It sounds like you are ready to move on to filling your life with positive thoughts and supporters. So let’s consider this initial concept: you are what and who you surround yourself with and if you are trying to move forward and others are still needing to express the depth of their grief and their sorrow, you may be absorbing the energy of those thoughts, feelings and beliefs, which is in conflict with what your heart wants.

If you are ready to move forward in that way, then my suggestion is you move on. In my work, we talk about empathy overload, that when we tune into other people’s feelings we take them on as our own. When it comes to grieving, the idea that misery loves company can be very strong. In many cases and at different stages, that company can be a very healing and helpful thing. Who knows better how you feel than those who have similar experiences? It’s helpful to know you are not alone and, although bonding over grief is a powerful force, when it comes time for each of you to step up and move forward, you often do that as an individual, not as a group.

Sometimes, people stay in these groups because they feel afraid to move on because they think they are being disrespectful or betraying their own grief. But it sounds like you are ready to move on, without forgetting or dismissing your loss.

Also consider that no matter how similar the circumstances of another person’s grief are to yours, you will move throughout the grief process at different speeds and on different paths.  Trying to remain in or even play catch up is not conducive to your individual healing.

As I am sure you are profoundly aware, there are five stages of grief as first proposed by Elsabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.

5 Stages of Grief

  1. Denial and Isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Even though the stages are numbered and on the surface they appear to be a linear track to less pain, the process of grieving is not linear.  It’s more like a spiral, where you go around and up and around.  At this point it appears you need to be around people who understand, but have already moved forward.

What would be very useful is to join a group that is not focused on grieving, but instead has common interests to other parts of your life.  You will eventually find people who know what it’s like to have suffered, but who are living in the new life.

You will always feel the loss as a part of you—as a fabric of your being and your experiences, but it does not have to debilitate you.   I encourage you to start putting yourself in creative environments, where your feelings can be processed in a way that supports and uplifts you.  For instance, consider going to church, listening to gospel choirs or uplifting music, taking yoga, and participating in meditation groups, etc. Taking positive steps outside of your grief group will provide you with positive experiences and you will find it easy to spend less time with the Facebook group and more time on your own healing.

Love and blessings,
Colette Baron-Reid
Intuitive Counselor

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