Visualization for Healing Grief
The Power of Visualization in Healing Grief (or any goal/desire)
When I work with clients who have experienced loss, many think that they will never be happy again. They think they’ll never experience love or joy again. In 1994, I thought that too.
When grief is raw, people experience difficulty imagining that it is possible for them to ever feel happiness again. This becomes an issue because the heaviness of grief becomes familiar, and it is hard to imagine feeling better. Imagining that happiness, or love, is even possible is a prerequisite for it actually happening.
I often find myself recommending visualization when people come to me asking for specific tools to help heal grief or an attachment to someone à Visualize what that feels like.
If you’d like to read about how I put visualization in to action, you can check out my memoir, I Can See Clearly Now: A Memoir about Love, Grief, and Gratitude. If you’d like to know a bit more about the science and putting it in to action, you can check out chapter 24 in my book, FEELING Good: 35 Proven Ways to Happiness, Even During Tough Times.
Visualization sounds complicated, but there are really only four basis steps, as outlined by Shakti Gawain in her book, Creative Visualization: 1) Set Your Goal, 2) Create a Clear Idea of Picture, 3) Focus on it Often, and 4) Give it Positive Energy
With visualization, anything is possible. If you can imagine something and hold it in your mind, you are more likely to make it happen than if you can’t imagine it.
Visualizing something brings it into your consciousness, even if what you are imagining does not actually exist in your life. Imagination is a way to expand upon our existence and reach our goals.
It’s helpful to understand the way the brain works:
We cannot pay attention to everything that comes our way. That’s not necessary and would be overwhelming.
During the day, our brain is busy with:
- Selective filtering – filtering out information that we do not need to attend to that would be too distracting. (Examples – we filter out traffic while talking with a friend at a coffee shop, we filter out the sensation of wearing clothes while going about out day).
- Selective attention – what you pay attention to, focus on (through concentration, setting your intention, visualizing)
- Prioritizing – putting in order of importance to survive and thrive
Visualizing what your life feels like with less emotional pain and more happiness is making happiness a priority.
With visualization, consider what you would like your life to look like. Include all of your senses. Also, connect to emotions. Doing so is priming your brain to pay attention to what’s important to you.
The brain cannot distinguish between visualizing and what is really happening. Through visualization, your brain begins to accept the possibility of something new. This is powerful for visualizing how you would like your life to be. In the context of grief, it’s accepting the possibility of a future without intense emotional pain, and more happiness and joy. You’re showing your brain that it’s possible.
One crucial component is that you must take action. This is not just about wishful thinking. First visualize that it’s possible, then take small action every day.
There are 2 times of day where visualization may be more powerful. These are when our brain is most susceptible to messages.
- Upon waking – the hypnopompic state – leading out of sleep
- Right before falling asleep – the hypnagogic state.
When you visualize, it is important that you are imagining that what you desire is true. In other words, imagining that it is real, something you already have, and all of the feelings and sensations that coma along with that. That is very different from merely wishing it were true.
You could simply sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, burn a candle or incense, have light music playing, and visualize what you would like for as long as that feels comfortable to you.
A visualization practice is really a series of events. It starts with intention/visualization, which leads to taking action, which leads to neurotransmitters released in brain, which leads to positive feedback/feel good, which leads to more courage and confidence progress toward goal.
I don’t like the phrase, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” There is nothing “fake” about this. It is real. You are taking deliberate, real action.
Finally, it’s helpful to have some accountability. You could journal, or talk about it with a trusted friend, or engage in a group visualization practice. One study found that visualizing one’s life and goals in the future and then writing about them improved mood. So there is a bonus for writing about your visualized aspirations – a boost in mood!
Be patient. It will take some time. The good news is that with visualization, it feels good along the way.
Also remember that everything you see, feel, talk about, and listen to exposes your brain. So pay attention to what you’re exposing your brain to. It matters. When you want to feel better, expose your brain to uplifting things, not sad or negative things. Expose your brain to stories of hope and inspiration, further demonstrating to your brain that what you desire is possible.
For a wearable reminder to practice visualization, check out The Visualization Bracelet
For a downloadable growsheet to help you put this into action, go to https://drpeggydelong.com/freebie