All personal growth involves change. Experiencing loss as a result of minor or major changes in life circumstances is a common and expected part of being a human. Hopefully you were able to take the time to answer the questions posed in part 1 of this post in order to identify recent losses in your life. The goal here in part 2 is to help you determine how to recover and integrate these losses into a future that expresses hope and forward progress.
Remember that a physical loss (eg. car, house, person) is generally accompanied by emotional losses with feelings such as abandonment, detachment, fear, shame, powerlessness, invalidation, hopelessness, rejection, failure, desperation, helplessness, insignificance, despair, indifference, and confusion. These are "normal" reactions and not to be minimized or disregarded. The process of letting go of these negative feelings is called grieving. Every loss needs to be grieved regardless of how small or large. Integrating change and reorienting behavior in a direction of growth and maturity requires self-honesty, intentionality, and time.
Experts on grief commonly explain the process in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Seldom is there a clearly ordered path through these five elements of the process. The greater the loss, the more a person may skip forwards and backwards in the process. Parts of the loss may be processed through to acceptance and parts of the impact may still be hidden. With losses involving trauma, conditions for grieving. are compounded. The effects of trauma in a person's life may create additional issues in the grieving process not discussed here.
Adjustment to a loss generally includes at least these four areas. First comes the initial impact. This may take the form of shock, numbness or denial. An overwhelming feeling that this can't really be happening is accompanied by the body's reaction to preserve, protect, and progress to the greatest degree possible. Second, is wrestling with reality. The normal routines of life have been disrupted and the reality of disorganization is starting to set in. Searching for answers to the "why" questions often lead to blame being (mis)placed upon self or others. Various forms and degrees of anger and fear are aroused with realization that life hands a person many things out of his or her control, and that at any time something bad could happen again. Third, is directly facing the pain. This is the lowest point of the negative feelings and emotions listed above. Regrets, guilt real or perceived), and shame may seem unbearable but are common reactions. Fourth, is the new life. Hope begins to rise in this phase because new ways are being found to cope and relate. The old world which no longer exists is replaced by a world that may actually take us to a higher place than before the loss occurred.
Giving yourself and others "space" to grieve is an important part of overcoming losses in life. Expressing emotion is not a sign of weakness. Crying, for example, can help unburden a heavy load of sadness that would otherwise remain bottled up. Emotions can be viewed as messengers containing messages about deeper root issues. Humans are created with emotion for a reason. Feelings and emotions are a real part of a person's heart just like thoughts and ideas are a real part of a person's mind. The thinking and feeling processes are unique to the individual. Comparing yourself or a friend to another person's grieving process should be avoided.
No two individuals grieve in exactly the same manner. The same loss may strike different people in entirely different ways. In her book On Grief and Grieving, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross writes, "Your loss and the grief that accompanies it are very personal, different from anyone else's. Others may share the experience of their losses. They may try to console you in the only way they know. But your loss stands alone in its meaning to you, in its painful uniqueness."
Asking yourself probing questions like the following may help you get to a greater level of freedom. What losses have you grieved? What losses have you perhaps partially grieved, but some pain still remains indicating more grieving is necessary? Are there any losses you may still be completely in denial about? Do you regularly feel any of the negative feelings in the list above? How strongly do you feel it, and how is it affecting your relationships?
Only you can grieve your losses. No one else can grieve them for you. May I encourage you to allow yourself to grieve. If you do not grieve losses, they will continue to grieve you. Allow yourself to feel the pain, identify what you are feeling, and wrestle through it. There is light and hope on the other side. Allow yourself to receive the light and focus on the light (new world). Try to look more ahead and less backwards. Decide what you can do and can be, rather than on what you can't do and can't be. Set some goals and make plans to take action in the direction you decide to go.
If it feels like you're stuck in the pain, seek help to discover a pathway through it. Life can be difficult, but like I have discussed in previous posts, and as the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way. I believe you were made to make a way; created to bring meaning and purpose to a lost world so that losses (perceived or real) can be turned into victories.
Note: The holidays coming up can be an especially difficult time for those coping with the loss of a loved one. For some practical suggestions on how to better cope with the activities of the season, check out Patti Anewalt's remarks in the November-December 2013 newsletter of Pathways at:
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry