We all experience loss at certain times in our life and have to find ways to deal with it. It is important to work through these experiences, either on our own, or with a specialist.
Sometimes loss is unexpected and very harsh, at other times we can see it coming. There is no training on how to deal with these situations – although we all have to go through them – and the loss can be very intense.
Loss comes in many forms: the death of somebody close to us, divorce or separation form a partner, a parent suffering from dementia, friends who move abroad, the loss of a job we loved, or even the loss or theft of property. We can also experience loss when bodily functions start to fail due to illnesses or old age, or when we have to let go of our expectations or our dreams for the future.
How do we deal with loss?
We tend to bury the pain that we want to avoid and hold on instead to disappointment, guilt, and blame, suppressed anger, we become cold or we look for distractions and ways to numb our feelings.
We learn very early in our childhood to hide away the emotions connected with loss internalising messages such as: “Big boys don’t cry…”, “don’t complain…”, “be a big girl now…”, “forget about it…”, “be strong…”, “life goes on…”.
Life can be so busy that we do not have the time to stop and feel. We put on a mask and go on. Sometimes a new experience of loss can bring up the pain connected with old experiences of loss or trauma. If that becomes too much to bear, we might try to protect ourselves by stiffening up or learning not to cry. A disappointment or a failure can make us turn inwards and nurture grievances as a survival strategy to avoid feeling pain. If we cannot feel and express anger, in our childhood and later as adults, we may become depressed. We forget or are not aware that the process, our life’s natural flow has stopped. In this way, it can be that problems we experience later (like anxiety, or in a relationship, at work, depression, brooding thoughts, explosions of anger, perfectionism, not being able to sleep, stomach ache and so on) are consequences of earlier unprocessed experiences of loss. The way we have dealt with loss as children, and the example set by our parents are crucial. Nevertheless it is never too late to work through the pain of old experiences.
We respond to losses, disappointments and failures – big or small – by grieving. Grief knows different phases and forms. Anger, sadness, crying or being unable to cry, disbelief, pain, numbness, the feeling of falling apart, emptiness, shame, guilt, recrimination and endlessly thinking things over – these are just some of the many forms in which we experience grief. It is important to allow what we feel because the more we push these feelings away, the more they will come back and turn against us.
Sometimes it seems we have finished grieving about on a certain loss, that we could give it a place, but then we experience the pain again and it seems as if we have to start the process all over again. There are no fixed scenarios for how and when we have really given our loss a place. It is a continuous movement in which we search for the ‘right’ place. Grief needs its time. It is free from rules and expectations such as “after three months you should be strong again…” or, “after one year you should be over it…” Maybe it takes three years and shows up again in bits an pieces throughout a large part of your life.
There are many things you can do for yourself, on your own or with others, such as performing rituals that help you make your inside world visible and tangible. This may involve writing a letter to somebody who died, drawing or painting, writing about your feelings, finding somewhere to place an image of the child you so much expected to conceive, or clearing away things at home, burning loaded letters, lighting a candle, or commemorating someone on a special anniversary. You can be creative and find your own way to express your pain until you finally give a place to your loss.
Loss is part of life. Working through our experiences of loss can bring us together. Sharing and expressing what we feel helps us become more resilient.