17 July 2018

By Margaret Gray

Avoid the three Ps

1.     Personalisation

Personalisation is the belief that you are at fault for what happened. Guilt adds to grief, making sadness even more unbearable. Sandberg writes, “I immediately blamed myself for Dave’s death… I worried incessantly that I could have saved him.” Not only did she personalise this aspect of death, she also blamed herself for the disruption her husband’s death caused to the people around her. “Over the next few months, the thing I found myself saying most often was, ‘I’m sorry’.” Co-author Adam eventually convinced her to ban the word from her vocabulary. This helped her let go of personalisation and accept what happened.

2.     Pervasiveness

This is the belief that a tragic event will impact all areas of your life – that death has cast a shadow over even your happiest moments and most cherished passions. It is important to recognise that hardships won’t affect every single area of your life.

3.     Permanence

“The belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.” It is hard to believe that life will not always be this awful when grieving, but day-to-day life does improve with time. Sheryl writes that “just as I had to banish ‘sorry’ from my vocabulary, I tried to eliminate ‘never’ and ‘always’ and replace them with ‘sometimes’ and ‘lately’. ‘I will always feel this awful’ became ‘I will sometimes feel this awful’.”

Get back into your routine as soon as possible

Going back to work or to your routine helps with pervasiveness, allowing you to experience situations that have not been affected by your loss. Even if only for a few seconds, you can live in a world that isn’t consumed by your grief. Even though she recalls being in a “complete haze” during those first few days back at work, Sandberg’s job gave her a temporary release from sadness. She writes that at one point, during a meeting, “I was drawn into the discussion and for a second – maybe half a second – I forgot. I forgot about death.”

Prove yourself wrong

A popular cognitive behavioural therapy technique involves writing down a belief that’s causing you anguish, and then following it with proof that the belief is false. For example, Sandberg feared that her children would never have a happy childhood or experience joy. She wrote this down and stared at it, facing her fear. Next, she talked about the people she knew that had lost parents at a young age, going on to lead happy and successful lives. She used this tactic to disprove the beliefs that frightened her.

Fight back against second-derivative feelings

It is important not to attach judgement to the feelings you have. Like Sandberg, those suffering from sadness or anxiety often attach guilt or further sadness to that feeling, making it doubly upsetting. Rather than feeling sad about being sad, or anxious about being anxious, just let the emotions wash over you in due time. “Part of every misery,” C. S. Lewis wrote, is “misery’s shadow… the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep thinking about the fact that you suffer.”

Reach out

Despite their best intentions, some friends may not know where to start, or may be afraid of upsetting you, so they avoid bringing up the subject of how you’re really doing. Let your friends know you need their support, and accept the support of those already offering to help without feeling that you are burdening them. Sandberg reminds us that reaching out also means “consoling the people who are closer to the tragedy than you are.”

Coping with bereavement

Use double-sorries

When people are grieving or angry, they tend to get upset much more easily, lashing out at their friends and family in moments of frustration. Sandberg used ‘double-sorries’ with her daughter to keep their bond strong during a difficult time. “When two people hurt each other’s feelings, you both apologize quickly so that you forgive each other and yourselves… when we lost control of our emotions, we would say we were sorry right away.”

Focus on small wins

It can be difficult to accomplish even the most basic of tasks during a period of grief, but focusing on the small things you did really well each day can improve stress levels and your mental health. At the end of each day, try to write down three moments of success you had, no matter how small. Sandberg started off with these:

-       made tea

-       got through all of my emails

-       went to work and focused for most of one meeting

She says this helped her rebuild her self-confidence “to navigate the present and future.”

Recognise your post-traumatic growth

“More than half the people who experience a traumatic event report at least one positive change, compared to the less than 15 per cent who develop PTSD.” This means that most people who suffer and bereave actually bounce forward, finding personal strength, gaining appreciation for small things, forming deeper relationships, discovering meaning in life, and seeing new possibilities.

View milestones as moments to be cherished

As the milestones you once cherished before a tragedy roll around, you may start to feel as though you have nothing to celebrate. Your anniversary with your departed husband or the birthday of a friend you lost can feel insurmountable without them, a yearly reminder of their absence. Use these days to celebrate the time you spent with the person you lost, and to celebrate the fact that you are still here to remember the happiness you shared.

Make a record of this moment

It might seem unimaginable now, but memories of people do fade over time, especially for children. Sandberg decided to make a video of her, her family, and her friends talking about her husband as they remembered him very soon after his death. This way, her and her children will always be able to remember what he was really like in those final days, and remind themselves how they felt about him at the time.

Find moments of laughter

According to Sandberg, “humour can provide a dash of morality in which wrongs are righted… when you take a horrible situation and add a punch line to it, for at least a moment you have shifted the balance of power.” Finding a moment to make a joke with a close friend gives you back power over your emotions, rather than having them controlling you.

We all live some form of Option B. Sheryl Sandberg’s book showed me how to make the most of it.

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