Tuesday, 05 April 2016 05:22

Temperamental Grief by Olivia Pierce, LPC

Written by  Olivia Pierce, LPC
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Jeremiah cries out feverishly as he inquires why healing is not occurring amongst his people. 


Since my people are crushed, I am crushed, I mourn, and horror grips me.   Is there no balm in Gilead? 

Jeremiah 8:21-22 (NIV)


Both the grieving and onlooker often wonder the same thing: why does grief persist?  Grief is a normal, necessary reaction to a significant loss that does not have a predetermined ending point.  The individual nuances of grief are often misunderstood, causing misgivings, hurt, and sometimes shame. 


Jeremiah’s grief is described as horrific, which validates that the expression of grief is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon.  Unfortunately, some mourners are perceived as not grieving enough or too long, as if there is some mathematical formula that exists to calculate how long someone should be grieving.  Other mourners may be perceived as not grieving the right way, displaying either too little or too much emotion. 


Understanding one’s temperament can quell these misinterpretations.  Based on Hippocrates’ four humors, temperament theory provides insight into how we most comfortably approach our world, gather/process information, and make decisions. 


We can view the spiritual gifts and talents referenced in the Bible as constructs of temperament.  Paul validates the diversity and paradoxical unity of the body of Christ through these gifts in I Corinthians 12:4-14 and Ephesians 4:11-16.  In using author Gary Smalley’s temperament analogies (Making Love Last Forever), he likens Hippocrates’ four humors to a Lion, Golden Retriever, Beaver, and Otter. 


Lions analyze grief.  They are cool, calm, collected, strategic, and self-reliant.  They take a logical, rational approach to their world.  During bereavement, one might observe a Lion as unemotional, setting their jaw, and taking calculated steps in moving forward.  Onlookers might become frustrated with this temperament more than others due to the Lion’s desired independence and perceived emotional disconnect, which is misinterpreted as being cold, distant, and stubborn.  They appear more robotic than human, yet they are experiencing pain and hurt like anyone else.  Lions loathe redundancy, so it makes perfect sense that a Lion is more apt to step out of the redundancy of grief patterns and move forward more quickly than others.  When a Lion observes others in mourning, they expect similar rational reactions. 


Golden Retrievers feel their grief.  The exact opposite of the Lion, a Golden Retriever desires close proximity during grief.  They are strong relational beings, who are loyal and deeply connected to the human condition.  They are compassionate, nurturing, and excellent listeners.  To the onlooker, they may appear emotionally dramatic, clingy, and weak.  Golden Retrievers take their time with grief, which can be rather frustrating for others but instrumental for them.  When Golden Retrievers observe others in mourning, they absorb their grief as well, just as Jesus demonstrated with Lazarus and his family in John 11:32-36. 


Beavers compartmentalize their grief.  They are highly organized, well-planned/prepared, practical beings. Their approach to grief is structured.  Due to their detailed, precise, and scheduled nature, they are more likely to follow the five-stage model of grief.  To the onlooker, they may appear perfectionistic, inflexible, and rigid, leading someone to believe they are out of touch with reality, yet placing their emotional chaos in order calms their anxiety.  When Beavers observe others in mourning, they desire to teach them how to grieve. 


Otters act out their grief. The exact opposite of the Beaver, the Otter lives in the moment, seizes the day, enjoys spontaneity, and thrives on the unknown.  To the onlooker, they may seem impulsive, reckless, disorganized, foolish, scattered, distracted, and bored.  Due to their high need for variety, however, they experiment with their grief, which means they are more likely to try several avenues in soothing their pain.  When Otters observe others in morning, they attempt to help them escape. 


This article is not meant to pigeon-hole but to free people from the idea that there is only one way to grieve.  When caught up in grief, consider your temperament and others’.  Validating how a person naturally responds to grief can be instrumental in healing, giving them permission to grieve the best way they know how.  Let us be the balm of Gilead for one another, a soothing emotional salve during moments of grief.




Last modified on Tuesday, 05 April 2016 05:39
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