What you need to know when you have a loss
Loss is something we all experience in different ways throughout our lifetime. The most common type of loss that comes to mind is the death of a loved one. Other examples include divorce, getting laid off from work, or becoming disabled as a result of a car accident of job injury. But, loss is experienced in so many other ways that often times we don’t recognize it as loss. For example, a crime victim can feel a great sense of loss of security after being raped, robbed, or experiencing domestic abuse. Another person might experience a loss of control after being in a car accident. Ending a relationship, such as in divorce or a break up, usually results in many layers of loss to include not only the presence of the person, but also the loss of their potential future with all the hopes and dreams associated with it. Here is a partial list of the types of losses that we might experience:
- Hopes and Dreams
- A Significant Person or Pet
- Physical or Mental Capabilities
- Sexual Function
Experiencing any of these losses brings about distress and painful emotions. Often times, loss can be transformational because we develop skills and beliefs that help us comprehend and incorporate these losses into our worldview. While some of us grow from loss, others might get stuck and have trouble moving forward, possibly even feeling paralyzed in sadness and the shock of loss.
Recently, a greater understanding of grief and loss has revealed that no one experiences it in the same way; everyone is unique in their response, even among individuals experiencing the same loss. Each sibling will have an individual reaction and response to the death of their mother. This is why it is so important to honor the grieving process for each person in a way that is personalized for him/her.
Another misconception is that grief will end. We now understand that grief does not necessarily ever go away; instead, it changes in intensity over time. While most people experience lower levels of grief with time, some individuals might feel severe pangs of grief later in life when something reminiscent of that loss is experienced. A song playing on the radio, might remind you of a loved one that died 20 years prior. A person who has grieved the loss of their childhood home might be triggered when they drive past the same house years later.
We have also learned that post-loss behavior can vary greatly across a spectrum. Some people respond more to loss in terms of intense emotions while other people respond to loss by becoming cognitively task-oriented. More realistically, individuals can experience both of these behaviors along a continuum moving back and forth depending on what is occurring for that individual at that specific time.
Another important aspect of loss and grieving that is unique to each individual is where one focuses his/her energy and efforts in dealing with the loss. On the one hand, adapting to the loss itself focuses primarily on the disrupted bond related to that loss. If we use losing a career as an example, missing the type of work performed and the co-workers involved is an example of adapting to the loss. On the other hand, one has to also adapt to restoration or the changes that result from the loss. Using this same example, this might involve financial strain, loss of identity, and loss of security as examples of focusing on restoration factors.
Understanding each of these factors and how they impact each client in his or her unique way is critical for helping clients work through grief and loss.
Post by: Catherine Warnock, BS
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