A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of uniting with fellow overcontrolled types at the RO DBT conference in Chicago. There the developer of the treatment, Thomas Lynch, PhD, presented a new research-backed skill in progress, the Grief Protocol.
I also had the pleasure (j/k) of test-driving this skill vis-à-vis a recent loss I've suffered, so I can personally vouch for it as a powerful tool for processing and letting go of difficult emotions. (Although I will note that the first time I sat down to do it, my gut said “Nope, not ready to let go yet,” so I waited another couple of days to try again and that felt better.)
Drawing on the principles of CBT and exposure therapy, the five main parts are as follows:
1. Identify the area in your life that may require grieving (through prompts to help clarify this).
2. Acknowledge that a loss occurred. We use the word “loss” for two reasons: First, to place the event in the past tense, helping establish psychological distance from it. Second, to avoid getting stuck on blame, judgment, or determinations of fairness of the event, which can impede moving on.
3. Identify the emotions triggered by the loss and the beliefs or expectations it violates (again, with the aid of prompts—and your therapist).
4. Practice grieving. Begin by telling the story of the loss using the third person (e.g., John had landed what he thought was his dream job, only to realize… or Kate was in her eighth week of pregnancy when…). This too helps establish a sense of healing distance from the event, which results, through repetition, in reduced pain.
5. Lastly, read a grief script template aloud, which we are encouraged to edit to taste, as desired. Here it is in full:
For today’s practice, I need to grieve the loss of my expectations that [insert unmet expectation or belief here]. It is sad to not have this expectation met.
By feeling the sadness of my loss, I open myself up for the possibility of new learning and new meaning to emerge. What is my loss trying to teach me today?
My sadness reminds me that the world is not always as I expect it or want it to be. It allows me to let go of useless anger, shame, guilt, yearning, resentment, or rumination.
Feeling sad about my unmet expectation for [unmet expectation or belief] allows me to reclaim my life and live more fully in the present.
As I end the practice today, I recognize that although it is sad to not get what I want, I am able to move on. I am committed to practicing this grieving process again, whenever thoughts or memories about my loss arise in the future. I will allow myself to feel the sadness of my loss while remaining open to any new learning that may emerge—and then I will let it go, by turning my mind back to the present moment and using an emotion regulation skill as needed. I will repeat this process—again, and again—until the memory of the past injury no longer dominates my life or triggers a strong reaction.
This loss will not defeat me.
If you think you would benefit from such a practice, feel free to reach out, or discuss with your own therapist.
Wishing you healing, learning, and growth,
Rebecca Robinson, LMFT provides expert online, evidence-based therapy to deep-thinking/deep-feeling adults in California and Pennsylvania.