In this post I write about the Bargaining and Negotiation phase.
Not every one experiences this phase of grief, but some do. This phase is often either an attempt to anchor into hope; or it is an attempt to negotiate a way out.
Bargaining for future hope
If the curveball event is a health diagnosis, or news of infertility, or other impending crisis event – the bargaining starts with “if” statements that are geared towards buying more time, or making attempts to problem solve. If I take these supplements, start exercising, stop drinking wine or coffee, start looking after myself etc things will change. Sometimes, whether we believe in God or not, the bargaining takes place with God or a Higher Power – making silent promises to change our ways if only our circumstances are changed, our health improves or our loved one is spared.
There is nothing wrong with having hope and taking steps to control or improve our circumstances.
Sometimes miracles do happen, sometimes the changes can make a difference.
But sometimes holding onto “false” hope, can make the grief that follows after an “inevitable” event so much harder to bear.
Bargaining to turn back time
After the loss of a loved one, the bargaining and negotiation can become a little more “abstract”. Sometimes we can bargain or negotiate “unrealistically” begging to have our loved one back. Every fibre in us so desperately wants our loved one back, that we will promise anything to make that happen.
Sometimes the bargaining is not about bringing someone back, but more about trying to go back in time – with thoughts that centre around “what if” questions – so that we wrestle with what might’ve been. What if we had the diagnosis sooner? What if we prayed harder, for longer? What if our loved one wasn’t driving that day? What if there were early warning signs, and we ignored them?
Sometimes we find fault in ourselves. If only we hadn’t played things down. If only we were better people, God might have heard our prayers. If only we had been the one driving. If only we had picked up on things. We battle internally with thoughts on how we could have or should have done things differently.
“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death” Coco Chanel
Bargaining with pain
Other times we bargain with our pain. We try to negotiate our way out of the hurt of the loss, doing anything not to feel the pain. We hope that by keeping busy we won’t feel the pain. Sometimes we turn to alcohol or drugs, or sleeping tablets to dull our feelings.
Remaining in the past
But by doing these things, we remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of feeling the pain of our loss. None of these things change anything, nor help us to deal with our grief so that we can find our new centre of gravity.
Remaining in the past has got to be the number one “hurdle” that I see clients stumble over as they try to navigate the tough pathway that is before them in a disputed estate. So much of what families fight over in estate battles, are past injustices. Many clients feel that every step taken in the court process only amplifies the unfairness, as past memories – often painful ones – surface and are aired in letters exchanged with lawyers or worse still in publicly searchable court documents!
This is one of the reasons why I always prefer to take a collaborative approach if possible. This means that I involve grief counsellors or actively encourage clients to seek out their own counsel. By doing this, clients get the proper, holistic support they need to work through these deeply held past issues. Grief counsellors can help you to better understand why you find certain issues so hurtful, or why you have a strongly-held attachment to certain things. With this type of approach, I see clients find freedom as they come to a better understanding of themselves and their family dynamic. I witness clients empowered to treat what happened in the past as history – so that they can instead focus on the future (their own and their family’s) less affected by those past circumstances or behaviours.
How to support others who are bargaining
If you are supporting someone who is “bargaining” with their circumstances or their pain, the best thing to do, is to listen, and offer compassion not judgement. Slapping people with “reality” can crush the hope that is carrying them through this phase. The “reality” will come soon enough and it will be harsh enough then.
If your friend or loved one gets “stuck” in this bargaining phase, or starts to engage in worrying behaviour like drinking too much or expressing thoughts of wanting to join their loved one, then encourage them to seek professional help from their GP or a counsellor.
Letting go of the past to take control of things beyond our control
“When thinking about life remember this – no amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of anxiety can change the future.” unknown
As you find ways to leave things that have happened in the past, letting go of the hurt and the guilt, instead holding on to the memories that bring a smile to your lips and joy in your heart – you will in small steps begin to gain the strength to respond to your unexpected grief event. And in doing that, you will start to take back some control over your response to the fallout that comes when we are side-swiped by circumstances beyond our control.