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An Open Letter To Every Person Who Has Lost A Loved One

An Open Letter To Every Person Who Has Lost A Loved One

What a life changing, terrible, excruciating experience it is to lose a loved one. It is a journey we all find ourselves on. One we would never choose.

I lost my father to cancer when he was 45 years old. I had just finished my freshman year of college. It has been almost 5 years since he passed. I cannot imagine how I have gone 5 years without talking to my father. I cannot imagine spending the rest of my life not talking to him. It has not been an easy road since losing him. I have grieved well and not so well. I have at times stuffed it down and tried to be strong. I have also cried and cried and cried. It was messy. It still is. I do not know how to grieve well, as I have made many mistakes, but I do know some important points to know about grief that help during the first few weeks, months and years.

Here are some ways to support yourself during those initial weeks, months and years.

1. Give Yourself Grace

“Grief is a process, not a state.” – Anne Grant

“The thing about grief is that it’s a roller coaster – it’s up, it’s down. The emotions sometimes take over.” – Brent Sexton

Grief is a maze and often it appears the lights are out. To find our way through is a miracle. When you find yourself pulled into this journey, let your first rule be to give yourself grace. Don’t check off the “steps of grief” list or compare your story to another’s. Don’t fret about the fickleness of your emotions. Allow yourself to be. Allow yourself to feel the way you feel. Grief has a mind of its own.

There will be days when you don’t want to do anything. Some days you can just allow yourself to do nothing. Some days you need to force yourself to get out of bed. There is no formula to grief. But the best thing you can do for yourself is to be on your own team. Support yourself by allowing grief to take the reigns and letting go of guilt that comes with not being “okay”.

2. Listen To Advice

“Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope”
― Elizabeth Gilbert

Some of the most wonderful support I had after losing my dad were friends who had also lost a young parent. I lost him during college years, a time when most of my peers were focused on lighter and more positive things. To have a few people who knew this experience, this foreign world I was thrown into, was the most comforting support I needed at that time. The wisdom they passed on to me and the way they knew to love me was just what I needed. When those people come your way, allow them to speak to your grief.

3. Don’t Listen To Advice

“But there is a discomfort that surrounds grief. It makes even the most well-intentioned people unsure of what to say. And so many of the freshly bereaved end up feeling even more alone.” – Meghan O’Rourke

Everyone told me that the holidays would be the hardest. The holidays came and went and I noticed that the pain of loss was no greater and no less than any other day. For many people the first holidays, birthdays and anniversaries without the loved one are incredibly painful, but for me I found other moments without my dad to be more painful than Christmas or my birthday.

Those of us who have lost loved ones will likely have hilarious stories about comments that were made to us during the first few weeks and months. We remind ourselves that the people who have said some shocking statements to us were “well meaning.” Maybe, but they still hurt and surprise. Though our grief may be different, letting some ignorant and ridiculous comments from onlookers roll off our shoulders is something we all have in common.

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We are all so uniquely different right? We will grieve that way. Let your grief be your own. Let it be your own story. The advice from others is incredibly helpful at times, but other times it can make you feel as if you are on their agenda. Take what you need and leave the rest behind.

4. Remember Your Person

“Grief and memory go together. After someone dies, that’s what you’re left with. And the memories are so slippery yet so rich.” – Mike Mills

Don’t be afraid to remember your loved one. Spend time talking about them with the people who will cherish those memories with you. The memories you have will be precious to you for the rest of your life. The beautiful thing about memory is that is sustains us. It is never as good as having our loved one right next to us, but it is much better than no trace of our loved one having ever existed. It is good to remember. One day those memories may bring smiles without tears.

5. Befriend Grief

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

Grief is a response to the power of love. Grief is the price we pay for deep, wonderful love. And when grief arrives at our doorstep, we must let it in. Unaddressed pain will not heal. While grief can feel excruciating, unbearable, it is imperative that you one day show up and choose to feel it. The only way to the other side is through the pain. One day there will come release and peace. Let your tears and your emotions free. Part of giving ourselves permission and grace to grieve is allowing ourselves to feel what we feel without judging ourselves for the erraticism. It is good to cry.

6. Hold On To Hope

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

The loss of the loved one will be like a tattoo on your heart. Permanent. Forever. Grief, however, is not forever. Through time and tears, your heart will mend and heal. Do not feel pressure to “move on”, but in time you can and will move forward, forever carrying their memories along with you.

Yes it gets better, and no it doesn’t. My grief is infinitely less painful, hopeless, devastating and breathtaking than at the beginning. It is better because now I have learned how to live without my dad. The pain of his absence is no longer surprising or shocking. When I think of him I smile and laugh. I can do so without crying, and when I do cry my soul is filled with love and joy at those memories. Peace has taken over my heart in the place where grief reigned upon his death. Peace is a fresh wave of relief in the sea of grief. In the same way that grief gets better, it also does not. I will never forget my dad. My heart will always and forever have a bruise, in the sense that if you press on it I will feel pain. I will carry my dad’s life and tragic death with me in my heart. I will forever mourn that my dad will not get to meet his grandchildren. He would have been such a wonderful grandfather. I am so sad for the things he won’t be able to teach them, things he taught me like singing the alphabet backwards or other silly dad things. I wish he could watch hockey with my husband, as both of them are Canadians and could have used a hockey buddy. I mourn his absence, but I would rather carry his memories with me forever no matter what they cost me.

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Allow your grief to flow through you. Choose to cry hard and laugh hard, remember hard and love hard. Grief will awaken every part of you, if you allow it. It will be painful, excruciating is the word I use. It will feel like you could die from the pain. Sometimes I was surprised that my ribs didn’t crack. Keep showing up. And eventually, healing will make its way into your heart. Grief is not without hope. Hold on to hope.

Featured photo credit: Thomas8047 via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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