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Grief is complicated. The need for, and the actual deep feelings of love associated with attachment is universal. The actual loss of that attachment and the fear of the loss of that attachment is universal.  We all love deeply, whether we are aware of it or not, we all grieve deeply, whether we are aware of it or not. We carry that bitter-sweet experience with us and within us throughout the whole of our lifespan.

Many bereavement or grief counselling therapies are based on the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who identified denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as crucial stages in the grieving process. Although these are undoubtedly important stages, most of the people I work with, and, I would add, most people in general, bring an already complicated relationship with grief to any new loss they experience in the present, whether that be the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship or the loss of a job.

Interestingly, panic is not mentioned in the above stages, yet panic is inseparable from grief. The seminal work of Pankseep identified grief, or sadness or you prefer that word, as being one of our oldest emotions dating back millions of years in our evolutionary history. He linked this emotion to a certain part of our brain, yet the full name for this emotion is the Panic-Grief System. There is never grief without panic and there is never panic without grief. I would argue that panic attacks and OCD have strong associations to this panic-grief system and are a consequence of the fear of being overwhelmed by panic and grief.

The origin of this system lies in our earliest relationship with our parents. Most children are afraid of their parents dying, usually with the underling question Who will look after me? looming large in their minds. Issues such as emotional neglect, actual loss, abuse and other types of trauma, complicate even further this already complicated experience. I would argue that it is the panic aspect of the panic-grief system which people find the most difficult to navigate. Who will look after me? could really be translated as a fear of fragmentation, of falling, of isolation, of loneliness, of unbearable grief.

In life, or in therapy, there is no easy solution to the above dynamic. The total avoidance of experiencing the above system will result in dysfunctional coping strategies. On the other hand the total submersion in this emotion is unbearable for most people. It is necessary to find a coping strategy which suits you. Sometimes it is necessary to feel the grief, sometimes it is necessary to avoid it, sometimes it is necessary just to survive the day, sometimes it is necessary to find another outlet such as the arts, music, literature or dancing. Therapy can help you understand your own relationship with this panic-grief system and how you can manage/change both the panic and grief you are experiencing.

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