We commonly associate grieving with the loss of a loved one. The death of someone near to us is very clearly a profound loss that needs grieving. However, we can experience loss in a wide variety of ways, some of them much more subtle.
Nearly any change in our lives involves loss of some kind. Even a change that you’re happy about can involve some pretty profound loss. For example, you might be thrilled to receive a long-awaited promotion. At the same time you are moving on to new challenges, you might also be losing important working relationships and work experiences that have given you a great deal of fulfilment.
Being aware of these more subtle forms of loss can open the door to dealing with feelings and difficulties that otherwise might not make much sense. Grieving is something that has been widely studied and worked with. There are concrete ways of making sense of what is happening to you and working through the pain and other experiences that come with loss.
In the late 1960s, a psychiatrist by the name of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross came up with a well-known five-stage model for understanding grief. She outlined a progressive process where people experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This model has been helpful in normalizing people’s experiences and telling them that it is OK to be experiencing the strong emotions they are feeling. However, sometimes people get confused if they don’t move through these stages in the order in which they are laid out. The model can also make it seem like grief is something that happens to you as opposed to being something you can influence and work with.
William Worden, a psychologist, developed another more recent model where grief is seen as involving four basic tasks. The first is to accept the reality of the loss. It is normal to want to believe that the loss can be avoided, but one has to work towards acceptance. The second is to allow yourself to experience the pain of grief. Again, it makes sense to want to avoid this pain but research and experience show that this is something that must be gone through, not around. The third is to adjust to the new, post-loss environment. This is a task that can be actively undertaken, once you have accepted the new reality. The fourth and final task is to withdraw your emotional energy from the person or situation that has been lost and to invest it in new relationships or new situations.
The ease with which these things can be done varies based on the nature of the loss and your own circumstances. Sometimes just being aware that you’ve experienced a loss can help you to see and experience it for what it is and work with it.
Terry Noble is a therapist in Peterborough, ON. You can find information about his counselling practice at www.terrynoble.ca.