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There are many different kinds of grief. We can grieve a lost loved one, an end of a chapter, lost time, and more. It doesn’t have to shatter your world to be worthy of grieving.
Because there are so many different types of grief, it can be helpful to see grief and the grieving process, not as a bad thing, but as another healthy way for us to get in touch with and explore how we’re feeling. Not all emotions feel good to experience, but that doesn’t mean experiencing them is a bad thing.
One way you may be able to see the usefulness in this is in the practice of taking time to grieve your unlived life.
What does that mean?
Whether we consciously construct it or our daydreams just run away, most of us have an idea from a young age of the kind of person we want to be. As we grow we transform over and over again with both our physical growth and maturity (brain chemistry included) as well as our personal & emotional growth and maturity. All of these cycles of change are a good thing, but they can leave lingering grief when our plans or our dreams for our lives suddenly don’t make sense with the life we have anymore.
Your life plan can be altered by forces outside of your own control.
Look at the past few years–no one expected to be living through a pandemic, wearing masks at the grocery store for years on end, but here we are. COVID changed our day to day reality significantly, and forced many people to postpone or put off dreams of getting married, going to school, moving to a new place, looking for a new job, having a baby, etc.
Sometimes, as we grow away from the path we once wanted, we realize that we don’t want those things anymore. So while it might not feel painful to let go of them, there is still a younger, inner version of you who thought that path was meant for them. Can you honor that younger version of yourself by allowing them a moment to grieve for the lost possibilities that unlived life could have brought them?
You may also have deep grieving to do that you don’t realize.
This is especially true for folks who grew up in abusive environments, queer folks, people of color who weren’t allowed to be as loud or visibly emotional due to the dangers of racial bias, etc.
Folks like this who were forced to “grow up” faster, or to deny their youth as a time to be silly, to make mistakes, to be loud and try lots of new things, have actual unlived lives they wanted, but couldn’t participate in due to safety.
No matter the cause, we all have some version of our lives that will “never be.” Whether the grief is a deep and sad grief, or simply a nostalgic acknowledgement of how much you’ve changed over time, giving yourself the time and space to process that grief can help you more fully accept who and where you are right now. When you make peace with your unlived life, you can dive deeper into the one you’re actually living.
Questions to Ask Yourself when Grieving Your Unlived Life:
- Is there a version of my life I see in my mind as the life I was “meant” to live?
- What is it about this vision that compels me?
- What is preventing me from living that life?
- Are they choices I made, or things outside of my control?
- Why does that life feel more authentic than the one I’m living?
- Was there a life I wished I lived in my past (adolescence, young adulthood, etc.) that I wasn’t able to live?
- Who would I have been if I had been allowed to live and behave the way I wanted?
- How would my path have changed?
- What is right about the path I’m on now?
- How does my current place in life reflect my values and who I am?
Grief is complicated and messy sometimes, but you shouldn’t have to go it alone. If you’re looking for someone to talk through your grief with, our therapists are here for you. We offer in-person therapy and online counseling. Our therapists are licensed to provide online counseling services in the state of California, Texas, and Colorado.