Most people have suffered the loss of a loved one. Whether it is the loss of a family member or friend, only the lucky few have not experienced this type of trauma. I am concerned herein with the counterproductive ways in which people try to make up for loss. While the objective is often a noble one, the results may prove frustrating and harmful.

1. The angry, entitled replacers: There are some individuals who did not receive enough nurturing in their families of origin and aim to replace this loss of what should have been rightfully theirs by extracting it from others. It could be said that these individuals suffered a loss of love or attention. If they were parentified or had to take on age-inappropriate responsibilities, they may have lost their childhoods as well.

Angry replacers have a rage brewing inside. Because they tend to be developmentally thwarted, they may look to parentify others or enlist them to be caretakers to make up for their loss and to ease their pain. These individuals may be demanding and become belligerent when their immediate demands are not met—oftentimes their displeasure resembles a toddler’s tantrum. While they take out their rage and sense of injustice on those closest to them, they may also displace onto a waiter or maid, or anyone providing them a service. They may claim they went into attack mode simply because the service rendered was inferior, but the truth is that no one can make them happy. Why? Because they were ripped off in childhood, and no waiter in the world can make up for that.

There are plenty of enablers that would jump at the chance to help the entitled in their futile attempts to make up for past loss in real time. These caretakers are usually poor limit setters and share in the fantasy that they can make the entitled happy. But even more futile is their unconscious objective of winning the approval of those they disappointed in their respective families of origin. It is a perfect match: someone who cannot stop trying to please, in a relationship with someone who cannot be pleased.   

2. The love-obsessed replacers: These individuals cope with their loss by chasing love and pinning it down as quickly as possible. It is as if they have a sports injury and must get back in the game as soon as possible, even if their impulsive actions result in permanent damage and ruin the rest of their career. Some colleagues have called this person a “love addict.”

Paradoxically, these individuals tend to find love in all the wrong places. Out of a desperate attempt to make up for their loss, they may choose an abuser or someone who abandons them—choices that guarantee more loss. They tend to reject the “good” and accept the “bad.” Sadists lick their chops when one of these needy people enter their sphere.    

3. The material replacers: Some individuals insist on trying to fix an internal problem with an external solution. Material replacers try to fill their lives with activities and material possessions to ward off the pain of their loss. But fancy cars and clothes, or luxurious vacations will not fill their void.

These people may seek out materialistic friends and neighbors to compete with. This in turn, may lead to a feeling of failure and reinforce the need for greater materials goods.

4. The substance replacers or the stoners: These individuals self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to dull the pain associated with their loss. In this sense, the game of life with all its ups and downs—some great and some horrific—is overwhelming without help. With the use of a substance life may become foggy, but feel less demanding. Stoners have learned by experience that there is no real control so why exert oneself. Many of these people have little direction—it as if they are riding the surf in a giant ocean and go wherever the waves take them. They tend to be passive organisms.

There are plenty of controlling parental types and enablers waiting to show the stoner “the way.” These nonprofessional guidance counselors and rehabilitators need stoners to help them to prove their own potency and self-worth. But many will eventually burn out…and oftentimes fail. Any victories will, too often, be ephemeral.

Summary

The major theme that runs through all the individuals above is the concept of trying to fix the right pipe with the wrong tool. First, the pain is very real and it should be acknowledged: something terrible happened. Denial will only prolong the pain and lead to more symptoms. Second, the loss or trauma needs to be adequately grieved, not swept under the rug so-to-speak. Venting of emotions and allowing time to heal a wound has been found to be productive. And third, the idea of accepting life as a series of ups and downs is not only important, it is realistic. Ralph Ellison wrote: “Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat.”    

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