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Grief and Loss



1. High achievers are used to making sense of things intellectually. The emotionality of grief can be overwhelming.

2. High achievers may experience secondary stress from feeling “weak.”

3. High achievers are used to being able to “work a plan” to solve a problem. There is no way to speed up grief, but the ongoing struggle can make high achievers wonder if they are failing at managing it properly.

What kind of love would it be, if we could let go so easily, without it hurting? It does not make you a weak person, to have cared so deeply.
– Dr. Tricia


Loss: Taylor's 16-year-old son died in a car accident. Although Taylor was not held responsible for the accident, she was driving 15 miles over the speed limit when it occurred.
People are often worried that letting go of grief means letting go of one more parts of their loved one. In addition to this struggle, Taylor's guilt caused deep depression. Her only sibling had just been diagnosed with a chronic illness and was relying on Taylor to help coordinate housing needs. Taylor had difficulty performing at work. Her social support was low. Her husband coped through working long hours, and her acquaintances assumed that she would fine because she is such a strong person.
Taylor and I talked about the mixed messages and cultural expectations of grief. Most noticeably, there is a tendency for people to assuming grieving individuals should feel better in a certain amount of time. I wanted to normalize her experience to lower the degree of isolation she felt. I also wanted her to reduce the pressure on herself. From there, we worked on some basic problem-solving to give her a firmer foundation before beginning the grief work. We discussed crucial tasks at work and those which could be passed to a colleague. We also worked on strategies to compensate for her short-term memory loss (common in high stress, depression and anxiety). Finally, I wanted to ensure that she had some basic boundaries around helping others so that she would literally have the time to "fall apart." After the set-up, we worked with grief processing through sandtray therapy. Taylor was a visual person and a very intellectual person. Sandtray therapy allowed her to connect to her emotions in a more effective way than talk therapy. I knew that this was working well for her when she commented in one session that she had "begun to accept the grief and wasn't fighting it as much anymore." As the grief loosened it's hold, we gradually worked on bringing the areas of life that had been neglected back into balance. This focus helped Taylor gain a sense of forward movement as she continued to process through the grief.



1. The high achiever may internalize the expectations of others that they should “move on.” The expectation is unrealistic, and it makes the high achiever feel like a failure.

2. The high achiever often does not give him/herself permission to adequately grieve losses apart from human death (i.e., professional losses, pets, infertility, dreams, health). Intellectually, they say “other people have it worse, so I shouldn’t feel this way.” Intellectualizing sadness blocks a person from healing emotionally.

3. The high achiever may push aside emotion in order to maintain the usual standard of daily functioning. While it can be necessary to do this for periods of the day, completely pushing aside emotion inhibits the natural grief process. This way of coping causes more problems long-term.

1. You will not lose yourself. You are tenacious. Even though you don’t feel like yourself right now, you ARE  still in there.

2. I know it’s easier to push aside the emotion and get lost in busyness.  This strategy will make it worse. I know it feels like the grief will kill you, but it will not hurt you as much long-term if you allow it to move through you now.

3. One step at a time.

4. Exercise–walking, yoga, swimming. All are helpful, and any exercise will help you feel stronger.

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