It may be said that life’s trajectory from the cradle to the grave proceeds along the path of loss. As we mature and age we lose so many things, big and little, until we eventually experience the ultimate loss – our own lives. The longer we live the more losses we sustain -- youthfulness, agility, flexibility, strength, and endurance to mention a few. As time passes, many people lose their hair, teeth, muscle mass, attractiveness, energy, and mobility. Other factors include an attenuation of hearing and vision, digestive disturbances and various other medical issues. We lose jobs, money, dreams, relatives and friends, and as time lingers on, we tend to experience memory problems, and various afflictions. Many falsely believe that the” Golden Years” are most pleasurable whereas, in truth, many people find them difficult to endure due to a lifetime of cumulative loss.
This somber picture is offset by attempts to find pleasure, happiness, rewards, positive reinforcements, stimulation, fun, joy, love, various interests, outlets, and uplifting activities. On the balance sheets of fortunate people the pros far outweigh the cons. There are some who grow old gracefully, live long and healthy lives, retain much of their youthfulness, and die peacefully in their sleep. They are in the minority, but even this enviable group would have faced numerous losses during their lifetime. Loss is an inevitable component of life. The big question is how can we best face and deal with these necessary losses?
What’s more, random factors play a big hand in these matters. There are people whose significant losses start early in life, who suffer dreadfully, and sustain major deprivations. The clearest examples of this are seen in war torn areas where young children lose their parents, siblings, homes, and friends. At the other side of the spectrum are those who live a charmed life where everything goes well. It is, as the saying goes, “the luck of the draw.” The majority of people are in the middle of the continuum where there is a fairly equal degree of loss and gain, good fortune and pain.
Returning to the question of how to manage our losses, despite being a universal and inevitable part of life, as is the case with most human experiences, there is no one-size-fits-all way to feel and cope with loss. Nevertheless, there are several helpful hints that can soften the blow of loss and promote the healing of emotional pain.
First, face the loss instead of ignoring or denying it. Thus, avoid “self-medication” with alcohol and other drugs, or escapism through excessive sleep, internet use, or any other maladaptive habit that makes you vulnerable to addiction or depression.
Second, share your pain with other people. This is very important because talking about our feelings helps our brain and mind to process the loss and often allows us to come to terms with it sooner than if we kept our feelings bottled up. Of course, while sharing and talking about loss and pain helps, it is important not to overdo these conversations or one runs the two-prong risk of wallowing in the misery and causing other people to feel compassion fatigue (i.e., a loss of sympathy and ability to be supportive due to being over-saturated with other’s tales of woe).
Third, remind yourself of what you still have and what’s good and meaningful in your life. Thus, take an inventory of the blessings you have and the various parts of your life that you can feel genuine gratitude for. This helps to refocus the mind on what one has rather than dwelling on what one lost.
Also, distract yourself by keeping busy with enjoyable activities you can [still] do. Not only will this help in moving toward acceptance of the loss but it will also ward off deepening sadness because of a process called “behavioral activation” which has been shown to effectively treat depression.
Finally, having a few meetings with a qualified therapist can be very helpful in coming to terms and making peace with loss without the risk of unhealthy wallowing or taxing family and friends.
Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!
Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.