Understanding the Emotions of Loss
Loss. What comes up for you when you read that word? What do you think about? And more importantly (and in stereotypical therapist-y fashion) … How do feel? I ask because loss is something that recently affected me, and I want to make sure you know how to sit with it just as I have come to. In my case, the loss that I recently experienced isn’t one that many talk about but regardless of what your loss is – person, place or thing – the way we experience loss can be powerful and it’s important you know how to handle it.
Acknowledge what was lost and what it meant to lose it.
I lost a job. It sounds silly (even to me), maybe even ridiculous that I’m choosing to talk about a job loss rather than what some might have expected – the passing of a loved one or the ending of a relationship – but to me this job had a greater significance than just a place I went to punch a clock (if people even do that anymore). This job afforded me close and personal friendships, daily experience into a field of psychology I now love working in, financial stability for my wife and I’s future plans and a sense of pride – because damnit I was great at my job. So, naturally when I was informed that I was being let go I was a bit shocked (and sad, angry, anxious, scared, excited, discouraged, distressed, embarrassed, and about fifty other emotions).
I didn’t know what to do. I’m a therapist, yes, but I’m also human and in that moment my training and education went out the window and suddenly all I saw was my insecurities and fears – I was a failure, I was weak, and I was letting the ones I love down. Not a particularly fun ocean of thought to play in, especially if you stay in it for too long it can start to feel like you’re drowning.
Open yourself to others and allow yourself to feel/grieve
After the initial shock of loss there is a tendency to do one of two things: sit in the middle of the metaphorical ocean slowly drowning form an overwhelming number of emotions and thoughts left in its wake or bury those emotions deep down and tell yourself to get on with your life. I tried the former, attempting to disconnect from my emotions through the guise of logic, thinking my focus needed to be on finding a replacement for the things I lost. I made it my mission to occupy my time with meet-ups, interviews and/or anything that would keep me busy (aka distracted). I knew better but again, I’m human. It wasn’t until my wife made a comment – about how well I was handling the job loss – and then asked how I was really feeling that I realized what I was doing. Of course, after a meeting with a few friends… therapist friends… the following day doubly confirmed that I needed to do what I do for my clients; take a few days/weeks to work through all the emotions I had neglected and reach out to others when I needed support or started to feel overwhelmed.
Living with Loss
Acknowledge it, feel it and talk about it. That’s it. I don’t intend for that to sound easy, because I know it’s not. To use the ocean metaphor again, loss comes in waves and just as I described before; at first it can feel like you’re drowning but, as you begin to open up and talk about your loss those waves will hit you less hard and less frequent. The last thing I want to leave you with is something that absolutely needs to be said. There is no timeline to understanding, acknowledging and living with loss. There is no manual, book or person that says you need to be at that shoreline by a certain date or time. As I’ve already said, loss can be a powerful influence on your life and it’s important that you take the time you need and reach out to the people you trust to successfully work through it.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate