Recently, a new client came to me completely burnt out after working in the same mental health agency for over two decades.

As a clinician and manager, she often gets clients who no one else knows how to help, and with her help, they transform their lives. Part of her has thrived off of her phenomenal work. But another part just can’t take it anymore.

She recently decided that to regain the energy and spark she once had, she needs to cut down the days she spends with clients and let go of many of her responsibilities.

This decision was monumental for her. She’s proud of her newfound ability to put herself first and is excited about all the time she’ll have for herself now that she’s making this change.

Like many people who decide to let go of an important part of their lives, though, she was surprised to realize that she feels sad about this change.

Recently, I wrote an article about letting go of that which does not spark joy in your life, and a reader responded with this question—

How do you let go of something that doesn’t spark joy, but is deeply meaningful or represents something that part of you doesn’t really want to let go of?

This is such a good question, and of course, there are many answers. But the one that comes to my mind now—and which applies to my client’s situation and maybe to yours, if you’re preparing to let go of part of your life that you’ve loved—is this:

Mourning is a need.

Often, to make sense of what’s going on in our lives, it can help to name what we need. Non-Violent Communication is a framework for communication and personal transformation that is renowned for how it skillfully articulates needs. The Non-Violent Communication Needs Inventory (www.cnvc.org/Training/needs-inventory) is a list of over seventy different needs including connection, meanings, and physical well-being; “mourning” is included on this list.

You may ask— Why would mourning be a need?

No matter how good for us it might be, it can hurt to say “no” or let go of something that was important to us. We human beings often feel sadness when we experience a loss. And to let go of sadness, we need to feel it. Mourning and grieving are what we do when we allow ourselves to feel sadness.

What can make this so hard is that while American culture prizes happiness, we often don’t do a great job at teaching our kids how to feel sadness. Instead, many people try to push sadness away saying, “It’s not so bad!” or “It’ll get better!” or “Suck it up!” or “Boys (or girls) aren’t supposed to cry!” Ironically, when we block our sadness, it becomes much harder to feel joy.

So, how exactly are you supposed to mourn?

If you are in a space where you have privacy and feel safe, I invite you to take five minutes for this exercise. (And, if you don’t have a safe space now, I invite you to do this later today. Just make sure to set an alarm to remind yourself!)

  • Place one hand on the opposite cheek and your other hand on your opposite upper arm, as if you were giving yourself a hug with one hand on your cheek. Although this may initially feel silly, take a moment to feel how good it can feel to be held.
  • Then, bring to mind something that you need to let go of or say “no” to.
  • As if it were a small child who was hurting, ask the part of yourself that feels sadness what it’s feeling right now.
  • Get curious about what you feel, and allow whatever emotion comes to come. If you cry, cry. If you feel numb, notice the numbness. If you feel mad, let yourself feel mad. If nothing happens right now, that’s okay. Grieving happens on its own schedule. The key thing is to pay attention to when the sadness arises and then do your best to pause and compassionately feel what you feel.
  • Give yourself the same tenderness and care that you’d offer a small child. If you feel sad, you might say something like, “Oh, you feel really sad.” Or, if you feel scared, you might say, “Wow, you’re really scared right now.” At first, this may seem weird, but I invite you to try it and see how it feels. You might be surprised.

For right now, don’t try to figure out how to make things better. Just witness what you feel, without judgment. It can help to write down what’s coming up.

If you need to stop before you feel complete, schedule a time when you can come back to this practice. Then, commit to coming back. Sometimes, simply showing up for yourself can help you learn to trust yourself, and this can make it easier for tough emotions to pass.

If you know someone who’s going through a challenging life transition and could benefit from a little self-compassion, please share this message with them. They deserve it!

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