Prince Harry, the 'box it up' grief model and why it doesn't work

In a week when Prince Harry referred to his attempts to deal with the death of his mother, Princess Diana, by boxing up his emotions for 20 years, he clearly described how people try to deal with life’s losses and traumas by switching off their emotions

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Apr 19, 2017
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His older brother, the Duke of Cambridge has responded, saying 'it never leaves you'...'you never get over it'....'it's time that everyone speaks up.'

The ‘box-it-up’ method can certainly work for a while, as it did for Harry, but what tends to happen over time is that the lid of the box begins to lift on its own and all the guilt, anger and despair start to tumble out.


It's a privilege to be working in mental health right now. Although there are social and financial challenges, never in recent history have people been prepared to be so open about their own emotional well-being. Prince Harry’s honesty will do even more to help.

My article this week looks at delayed grief and how the reaction to unprocessed loss can take us by surprise many years later. I hope it helps…


The simplest way to help someone who is grieving

As James sat in front of me, memory after memory of his father’s death surfaced, released, and ran softly down his face.

He died when I was 10’, said James. ‘It was an unexpected heart-attack. He went to work one morning and didn't come home. Mum thought I was too young to go to the funeral so I went to school on that day just like any other day.’

James's mum wasn’t being cruel. She had hoped to protect her young son from the pain of seeing her so desperately upset. She wanted him to escape somehow the turbulent and intense range of emotions that are a part of the journey through the grieving process. So she made life as normal as possible for him. She compensated by taking him on holidays, buying him the latest designer clothes and gadgets and putting on her ‘I'm okay’ face in the daytime.

Crying alone

It was only after she put James to bed at night that she allowed herself to cry.

She put away the pictures of James's father and he was rarely referred to. The mother-who-meant-well stayed strong and kept going. She was doing a good job she told herself. After a year, James seemed fine, was doing well at school and never mentioned his father.

What she didn't realise was that, in bed at night, James could hear his mother crying and would often cry himself to sleep too. Both mother and son were going through intense emotions they did not want to communicate to each other, for fear of causing upset.

Both were isolated in a shared grief for the most well-intentioned of reasons. They were making a mistake that many of us make.

Must keep going

There are plenty of laudable reasons for not dealing with grief. People have to go to work to keep their job. They have to get the kids off to school. They have to mow the lawn, do the shopping, cook and pay the bills. They think if they give way to grief, it will be like a dam bursting, that they won’t be able to cope with the deluge and will drown in a flood of their own tears.

But deferring grief is like living with an undetonated bomb. We kid ourselves that if we tiptoe around it, it won’t go off.

An open wound

The grief, however, remains as a concealed, but open, wound. Although we may have stuck a plaster over it, it will not begin to heal until the bandaging is removed and we let some light and air onto the injury.

Death has become a sanitised business. We try to ignore it. We clean it up with phrases like ‘passed over’, or ‘slipped away’ rather than saying someone has died. Or we wrap up the event and leave it on a shelf somewhere in a darkened room we try not to visit.

We are taught, in the face of adversity to stand strong. We must stay in control. We have to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’.

But grief is not an illness. It’s a fact of life. We will all lose someone we love and we will all feel pain. Being able to ride the waves of the big emotions that come with bereavement is an example of mind management. Asking for help or talking to someone about how we really feel is a sign of emotional intelligence, not weakness.

As a therapeutic coach, I have a range of skills in my professional toolbox.

But for James, as with most of my clients who are grieving, I used the simplest, yet most powerful of them all.

I listened.

Go to the profile of Frances A Masters

Frances A Masters

Psychotherapist, Coach, Writer. Live your best life.

Do you want to be happier and more resilient? Some people seem to just 'bounce back' no matter what life throws at them. We can't choose many of life's events but we certainly do have a choice about how we respond. My passion for mental health began 25 years ago when I suffered postnatal depression and realised the help I needed simply wasn't there. The pills didn't work. In fact they made things worse. What I really needed was to understand how anxiety, depression and emotional ill health can develop. I needed to learn good 'mind management' skills which would act like a 'psychological inoculation' against future problems. When I recovered, I made a decision to find out how and why I had become so depressed and made a personal pledge to do something to provide the kind of help for others which I had needed. I wanted to prevent people suffering unnecessarily. So I embarked on a personal and professional journey and, along the way, developed a brand new approach to health and well-being. My journey began with four years of traditional counselling training, followed by a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapy. I studied cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), hypnotherapy, coaching and cognitive neuroscience. I built up 30,000 hours professional experience which I brought together into the new happiness and resilience programme l named 'Fusion.' I also wrote a book about how to resolve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), founded a therapeutic coaching charity and trained volunteers to work in this new way. This training programme would later become the nationally accredited Fusion Therapeutic Coaching Diploma and Distance Learning Skills Certificate. Now... The journey continues. Now I want to reveal all my professional secrets about good mind management to as many people as possible through social media and by training Fusion Breakthrough trainers from all over the world. One of them could be you... Something new.. Something different.. Something which lasts.. What if you could experience one day which could actually change your life for good; giving you your own eureka moment; not only helping you create a vision of the life you want to live, but actually give you the real skills to get there and stay there? Fusion is a tried and tested system which combines the best of psychotherapy and coaching into a powerful new formula for lasting change. My aim is to help and empower as many people as possible to feel their best, be their best and live their best lives. Perhaps I could help you too....

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