Colin Murray Parkes was a grief expert who studied the phases of grief and the behavior in those who are grieving. Searching behavior often explains why people try to connect with those whom they have just lost to death….but when the person is still out there, still “reachable” it makes it difficult to suspend contact and simply let the searching compulsion pass without doing anything about it.
Parkes quotes Konrad Lorenz who studied the “searching” behavior in the grey lag goose who would search for a mate even if the mate had been killed in plain sight. The goose will fly great distances, calling and wailing for the lost partner, often going such great distances as to get lost or injured in an accident. The frantic goose was detrimental to itself, unable to give up the search for the mate that was lost.
Parkes studied bereaved widows and found the searching behaviors to be similar. He observed their tendency to look for their husbands in a crowd or go to call their name or dial them on the phone…even though they were dead.
These behaviors happen in most bereaved people even though they know their loved one is dead. The bereaved person KNOWS, intellectually, there is no point to look for the person, but they have a strong impulse to search, to put life back together the way they knew it, and they often will search in vain…just like the goose.
This is a very distressing part of grief and EVERYONE experiences it to some degree no matter what the loss. We pine and we search as a way to reattach to the lost loved one, as a way to make the pain and loneliness go away.
Attachment makes us feel safe and secure in the world even if the attachment is unhealthy or destructive.
When the person is alive and there was a breakup, this is often when people will try to open up communications with the ex. The urge to “search” is part of the grieving process but you really should avoid getting back in touch with your ex. When you are pining and searching, you are in a temporary state and anything you say now can and will be held against you at a later date.
The searching/pining phase is extremely uncomfortable to just sit with. People who have had a loved one die find themselves calling them or going by their house during this intensely emotional phase. When the person is alive it makes it that much harder to avoid contact, but you really should. You don’t want to present the pining/searching part of you to your ex right now. Nothing good will come of that. Don’t do it.
Sit through the discomfort because connecting is just going to bring you back to the beginning and you don’t want that.
The urge to search is normal, but the search should not be done.
Searching behaviors such as checking Facebook, texting, emailing, calling, writing, driving by, “bumping into” are all ways to put back together what was lost…but it CANNOT be put back together.
Understand the urge to search is a component of grief…it is a frustrating and uncomfortable part…it might make you feel as if you are going crazy…you might feel incredibly anxious and upset over it…
But it passes…the less you give into it, the easier it gets. The more you give into it, the harder it gets.
You don’t want to lose your way or get into an accident…you want to stay strong and know where you are.
Journal. Write letters to the ex that you don’t mail. Sit on your hands. Call a friend and say you’re going crazy can you talk. Go to a movie. Do SOMETHING…but don’t connect.
Tolerate the searching feelings without reaching back.
It gets better if you don’t give into the searching behavior. Sit with it and know that it passes and that it gets better.
It really does.
Susan J. Elliott, M.Ed., J.D.
Author: Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Da Capo 2009).
To order the book click HERE
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