Loss is a component of our life, but it can elicit complex and difficult emotions. Losses come in many types and different magnitudes; they can range from something relatively minor (such as the losing a cherished item) to major events (like losing a loved one). A significant loss is synonymous with a reduction of resources in the life of the person, as in losing someone or something. The role of attachment is inherent in the experience of loss. The most dramatic losses of our lives are connected to attachment figures.
Searching for a reason to explain loss
The experience of loss has a subjective as well as an objective dimension. They are not necessarily correlated, because a person can have the subjective experience of a major loss, while others may perceive it differently. However, in the case of the most dramatic losses, such as death, divorce, a terminal illness, or the loss of home or employment, the subjective and objective evaluations are highly correlated. Whatever the correlation between the objective and subjective experiences, losses are inherently traumatizing.
People try to live their lives out as a meaningful system – ever searching for a reason as to why things happen. The search for meaning is ambivalent here, because it depends on the characteristics of the individual and the specifications of the situation. The psychology and therapy of loss necessarily focus on the subjective experience of the individual. The experience of loss is, in most cases, associated with grief and mourning. Grieving has five distinct stages: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. The first four stages of grief do not represent the acceptance of the loss. Only the last stage of the grieving process is associated with coming to terms with it. As the process can be very lengthy and not everyone is able to reach the final stage, acceptance, the help of professionals can be very useful.
Feel you are having a chain of losses?
Individuals suffering from a loss often feel that their losses happen in multiples, and the events of losses follow each other as a chain. Losing something can have the effect of bereavement – one that refuses to heal over time or takes a very long time to heal. However, the reactions to multiple losses are mediated by the belief in justice and the deserved nature of losses.
The experience of loss, coping, and adaptation after the experience depends on the capacities of the individual, the ability to live in an altered environment, or the individual style of coping, such as intellectual or emotion-focused. Individual coping has strong associations with the appraisal of stressors. A loss and, in this sense, a stressor has a more profound effect on our lives if it concerns the most important areas of our lives, if it affects more than one area, or if it is prolonged. There are similarities in the process of grief and the way individuals evaluate their losses and cope with them, but we cannot forget that every loss is an individual story.
How Emotion Focused Therapy helps to cope with loss
Emotion focused therapy has a basic assumption that you have to arrive at a place before you leave it. The experiences of loss are often connected to maladaptive emotional memories of past childhood losses. Activating old memories and reconsolidating them by assimilating new memories are an important part of the therapeutic process. Loss can trigger implicit schemes of emotions about inadequacy, blame or insecurity. Individuals experiencing loss have a self that is organized by vulnerability. When they lose, their resilience is lost and so is their ability to rely on their strengths and mastery. With emotion focused therapy, the feelings of sadness and the sense of deprivation can be processed adequately and this can represent the core of the treatment. Feelings can be extremely strong, but they are natural concomitants of the experience of loss. Emotion focused therapy offers empowerment to the suffering individual with access to his or her adaptive emotions. Reconnection with the self and the environment, as well as soothing the pain associated with the event are also vital parts of the therapeutic process. Emotion focused therapy aims to help clients develop their emotional experiences with the access to primary adaptive emotional responses in such situations. The normal interruptions during the therapy process mirror the losses of attachment bonds from the childhood. Therefore, they are able to explain the internal methods and templates the clients use to construct their own relationships.
Clients can do a great deal for themselves during the time of dealing with the effects of loss. They should care about their health, seek out social support (apart from professional help), actively express their emotions, and realize that pain is an inherent part of the process of losing someone or something dear.
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If you are looking for help, whether for yourself or a loved one, the psychologists at the centre can assist in exploring underlying issues through therapy. Please visit practitioners’ page to find out more, or call (03) 9820-5577 for an appointment or to make enquiries.