Negative Beliefs We Can Change

By guest writer, Dr. Mike Dow

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. In real life, people with a loss don’t talk about it much. According to a survey recently released by Comfort Zone Camp, only about 10 or 20 percent of people who lost a parent as a kid talked to a professional, and more than a third didn’t talk much about their parent in their own homes after they died.

Now maybe all these people were just okay, and they just figured it out by themselves, right? Wrong. More than half of the people surveyed who lost a parent as a child said they would trade a year of their life for one day with their departed parent, and over 70 percent said their life would have been much better if their parent hadn’t died so young.

What can we learn from all of those people who wished things were different? We can do something differently by talking about our loss, changing the way we look at things, and taking action in our lives now.

Here are THREE NEGATIVE BELIEFS we can change into positive ones – leaving us happier and more peaceful.

BELIEF NUMBER ONE: “I’m alone, and no one understands the way I feel.”

I call this terminal uniqueness, and this kind of isolation leads to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and anger. You start to tell yourself that you’re the only one on this planet who is going through this, and so naturally, you keep everything to yourself. What does this do? It makes things worse! You may give up in school or at work, not want to do much of anything, or get mad easily.

The first step is to find a safe place to talk about your loss. This could be a family member, therapist, friend, or a group. It may feel a little uncomfortable talking about our feelings, especially the first few times. I bet it felt pretty weird the first time you rode a bike, too. But the more we get on that bike, the more it starts to feel normal.

What will talking about feelings do? Well, talking about your loss and especially hearing about others’ similar feelings, turns loneliness and sadness into connectedness and peace. A great place to do this is in your family, since they are grieving the same loss. Another is in a support group, or weekend camp for kids who have had a loss.

BELIEF NUMBER TWO: “This wouldn’t have happened if I…” or “If I would have known he or she was going to die, I would have…”

We tend to blame ourselves when facing loss. These beliefs lead to anger and regret. Your loved one’s death is not your fault. And if there is something you regret, what’s in your control is to do something now.

In order to turn off this belief, we need to stop living in the past and start living in the present. One way to do this is to ask yourself: what did I get from the person who died? Common answers are: love, support, encouragement…  Then ask yourself: who are the people who could bring these things to my life now?

While no one can ever take the place of your loved one, he or she would want to know that you are still getting what you need in your life. Who could be those people for you? You could get the love you need from other family members, and you could get support from current friends, or new friends from support groups/bereavement camp. Since our friends and family are not mind readers, it’s up to us to ask them for the things we need.

If there’s something you wish you had said to your loved one, say it; write a letter, say it out loud. There’s no time like the present.

BELIEF NUMBER THREE: “If I just take care of everything and act like I’m okay, that will make things better.”

According to the survey, about 40 percent of people who lost of a parent felt like their childhood ended when the loss happened, and about the same number of people pretended to be okay to not upset the surviving parent.

We know a lot about “hero” children. They tend to do well in school and everything is always “fine.” They act super adult-like- making sure everything is okay, doing chores, maybe even paying the household bills.

These people also a prone to worry, anxiety, and miss out on a lot of childhood experiences. There’s nothing wrong with doing well in school and picking up a few extra chores. But if you’re doing those things to cover up your feelings or to prevent others from feeling sad, that’s a problem.

We all have a right to be a kid in some ways until we’re ready, and it’s okay to let others feel sad. Find ways to be a kid and to be taken care of. These can be little things. Ask your mom, grandparent, or uncle to take you to a baseball game if that’s what you and your dad used to do. In a way, you’ll be remembering and honoring your loved one. Just because your parent died doesn’t mean being a kid is over.

The good news here is that we all have an opportunity to prevent insanity. Instead of doing the same thing over and over again and being trapped in sadness and hopelessness, do one small thing (signing up for a bereavement camp, starting a conversation with your family, talking to a friend) in the only moment where your life is unfolding- right now.


  1. Kim said on March 31, 2010 at 12:40 pm ... #

    This was a great, concise article. I am an adult who looks back on the loss of her father at age 12 and can see all of these challenges in my journey. Thank you for bring awareness like this…

  2. Charles said on March 31, 2010 at 2:36 pm ... #

    Wow, stunning article and the numbers really jump out at me.
    “More than half of the people surveyed who lost a parent as a child said they would trade a year of their life for one day with their departed parent, and over 70 percent said their life would have been much better if their parent hadn’t died so young.”

    Thanks for the great article.

  3. Lisa said on May 20, 2010 at 9:32 pm ... #

    What you said in Belief #2 really hit home. You are absolutely right. Our loved ones want us to get what we need in life — to get the same things that they gave to us. I had total unconditional love from my husband and that same love is still out there — I just need to look for it. It is much harder to find it sometimes because I get consumed by my loss, but it is there nonetheless. Thanks you for writing. It helps!

  4. Shawna said on June 14, 2010 at 11:05 pm ... #

    I feel like I just read the story of my life. I lost my mom at age 5, I can still remember my friends dad driving me home from a play date and knowing that something was wronge, I can even remember what my friend was talking about during the drive ( and I almost 30 now). When I arrived home family and people I had never seen filled my house, my dad pulled me aside and told me the news, I just looked at him, I didn’t cry. My sister, who was 10 at the time, yelled at me saying “dont you understand, you’ll never see her again”………years went by and I was raised by an amazing father, who I’am sure missed his soul mate everyday, we never talked much about her, but I do remember one time where I walked in on him crying, letting me know he missed her…2 weeks before my 19th birthday my father died of cancer, growing up the thought of losing him was terrifying and now real.. I cried, but because he was suffering I wanted people to think I was okay, that he was in a better place, so a cried but burried every other feeling away…Now 10years later, I cry….I cry for every reason’s I should have cried. If I could offer my advice to ANYONE experiencing grief , you need to go through it, and if you know someone who is grieving, provide that space for them, let them know it’s okay. The way I feel today is the pushed down feeling’s from sooooooooo many years ago, the feeling’s I cleverly avoided but caught up with me over time, and now, as much as it hurts, I know I need to go through it. In order to heal, you need to feel!

  5. Christine said on August 6, 2010 at 10:46 pm ... #

    I know a 16 year old boy who in he last two years who has suffered the sudden loss of his mother from a fatal asthma attack, then his father of a heart attack weeks after. Months later his older brother had contracted menigitis and on a flight out of state died. To add insult to injury and making the series of losses even more unbeleivable the family dog died. Just last night his grandmother died. He will not talk to a therapist beleiving unless they have suffered similar loss themselves schooling alone does not quaify them to help him. How do I find a support group in the NYC area for teens who have suffered the loss of a parent or sibling?

  6. Doug said on February 25, 2011 at 3:54 pm ... #

    I can relate to the feeling that no one can understand you who have not been through it themselves. Therapy can be useful though because with time you learn to at least talk about the deep seated feelings of mistrust that I think are possibly inevitable when a parent dies young. My mother died suddenly when I was almost 5 and I was made to feel like there was something wrong with me if I didn’t “move on”. As an adult I buried myself in work and push it out of my mind. I never had the normal “passing the age of the parent” response so many talk about because I think I was numbed out. But finally 40 years later I am trying to do what I didn’t in the past, which is grieve. I love reading these web sites because I like to see other people who share my experience so I don’t feel so alone/lonely and like no one can understand who I feel. For the other people who have written here, I can say, I understand how you feel. I also interviewed my mother’s old friends and have been going to acupuncture to get the grief out of my body.

  7. Mary said on January 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm ... #

    Our 35 year old daughter died March 2011. She was a single mom with a little 7 year old boy that she adopted so she was his only parent. She died of suicide. We now are raising our little grandson who is 8 now. This article and the comments helped me to see a little more as to how he is feeling inside. We do have him seeing a psychologist but he really never opens up and doesn’t want to talk about his mom at home either. He always says “I’m fine” but I know he isn’t. No little child should have to grow up without a parent.

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