Book Review: Healing through the Dark Emotions

Miriam Greenspan dark emotions quoteOne of the wonderful books that was part of studying with the Creative Grief Studio, was Miriam Greenspan’s, “Healing through the Dark Emotions.” In this book Ms. Greenspan guides us in living with our grief, fear, and despair. There is so much profundity in this book that it’s difficult to summarize it all here. However, there are two areas that I’d like to focus on: 1. That our dark emotions are a necessary part of being human. 2. When we shun the dark emotions, they have a way of bubbling up in other ways.

In our “power of positive thinking” culture there is little room for the dark part of our emotional lives. Let’s take grief as an example. When someone is living with grief over the loss of a loved one, there are so many restrictions put on their time with grief. There is almost an “Are you over that yet?” mentality as if losing someone is something that one ever gets over.  One of the things that conspires to create a timeline for our grief is workplace bereavement leave policies. Certain deaths warrant a specific period of leave according to these policies and yet rarely do these exceed four or five days.

In addition, the mental health profession has struggled with the distinction between normal bereavement and a major depressive episode in part because they can resemble each other so much and sometimes one does in fact lead to the other. The current DSM puts a short timeline of two-weeks on the grieving process after which the grief is considered complicated and can qualify as a major depressive disorder. This rush to be done with grieving and to get on with our normal lives (which are no longer normal for us because of our loss) creates a situation where one feels isolated and ashamed of the very normal emotion that they are facing — grief. Ms. Greenspan shows us in her book, how if we stay with the dark emotion, if we feel the grief and don’t automatically push it away, then we’ll come to place of wisdom and gratitude. This place is not one where grief is absent, but, rather, one where we can live with it as a truth-teller in our lives.

The second area that I’d like to explore is how when we shun despair, fear, or grief, they have a way of reappearing in our lives. When despair is dismissed, Ms. Greenspan notes that it transmutes in our lives as depression. She writes: “Depression, as I see it, is unalchemized despair. It’s what happens when despair becomes chronically stuck in the body. Depression is certainly not a medical condition in the way that heart disease is. Rather, what we call depression is a culturally acceptable concept for chronic, toxified despair.” (page 124)  She invites us to go deeper into our selves by accepting the dark but fertile aspects of ourselves, examining the depth of our lives and those who came before us, and moving in this world with knowledge about ourselves and faith in our ability to journey with despair.

Another area where we as a culture show our shunning of the dark emotions is with our fascination with violent movies. Ms. Greenspan states that those who view these movies are seeking to feel something on a deeper level. To feel the fear and despair that they have been told are not acceptable. When they view these movies they are allowed to feel these emotions through a socially acceptable form of “entertainment.”

Each section of “Healing through the Dark Emotions” includes suggestions for working with grief, fear, and despair.  (To my delight, she is a fan and practitioner of Reiki as one of the tools for this work.)   I highly recommend reading the book for its profound insights and its helpful suggestions for the healing path.  I’ll leave you with a quote that seems to summarize her approach:

“Your life exactly as it is contains just what is needed for your own journey of healing through the dark emotions. It starts with learning to listen to your heart.” (page 13)

Wishing you heart-filled conversations in your healing journey.

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