Loss Of Identity After Someone We Love Dies
Grief can be overwhelming. When you lose someone close to you, it can feel like your world is coming to an end. For good reason, too — you’ve got to reconcile yourself to the fact that your life will no longer have that person in it. It’s absolutely crippling, and in more ways than one. In fact, what most people don’t think about is how grief can gut your ability to believe in yourself. The subsequent losses from losing a loved one are called, secondary losses.
As a society we tend to focus on the loss of a person. But grief is a natural response to any loss. There’s very few discussion on the secondary losses, such as break-ups, financial stability, friendship, health, or a dream that was never realized. Graduating from school can even trigger grief.
The reality is that grief is inevitable. We will grieve in some capacity for the rest of our lives. It’s something that you learn to live with. Take care of your physical and emotional health now, so that you’re well prepared for anything life throws at you. In time you will pick up the pieces and live your life again.
An important component to recovery is knowing when it’s grief or depression. Seeking face-to-face support is crucial for your healing. When we experience trauma our outlook changes, and our feelings of security are threatened. Since death and loss is out of our control we feel powerless over our situation, which impacts how we think, the way we view ourselves, and how we navigate relationships.
Humans are social and relational creatures, our identities are based on our relationships with others. When we lose someone close to us we also lose our role in that relationship. We may no longer be a father, niece, or daugther in the same way — even if the relationship and love for that person continues after they’re gone, the nature of that role is forever changed.
The Hole In Your Heart
You lose a lot more than a loved one upon their death. You lose a piece of yourself, a fragment of your identity. We always define ourselves through the prism of how we interact with others and the shared experiences we have with those that we’re closest to, and removing one of those people from your life means that your identity suffers right alongside everything else. The damage to your psyche, to your self-identity and your self-confidence, takes a long time to recover from.
In fact, while most people will say that the first year of grief is the hardest, it’s often the second year that poses the biggest problems for your own recovery. You can sometimes forget your loved one is gone; seeing or hearing something that reminds you of them can send you reeling when you realize you can’t share it with them. And that pain and suffering you’ve learned to manage just to get through the day? It could resurface when you least expect it.
5 Steps To Recovery — The Art Of The Poker Face
So how do you put your life back together after experiencing such a terrible loss? There’s no secret formula — a lot of the process is finding ways to struggle with your feelings of bereavement. The only truth there is, that it’s going to take time, perhaps even years, before you can think of your loved one without immediately falling into the deepest pits of despair. Sometimes, you just need to put on a brave face and pretend you’ve got yourself together, even when you feel like you’re coming apart at the seams inside.
In this case, it’s a “baby steps” approach. At first, it’s a victory to simply find a few moments of the day that you can function without breaking down in grief. Then, it increases to hours. Soon, you might find yourself going almost a whole day without being incapable of anything but mourning. Eventually, you can rest assured that you truly are on the road to recovery when you can think of your departed loved one without breaking down in tears.
1. Allow Yourself To Feel The Pain
Acknowledge your pain. The sooner you allow yourself to feel it, to process it, the faster you can move on with your life. If you ignore the pain by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, or by taking on more projects at work, it will resurface— prolonging your healing process.
Or worse: the pain you bury inside will manifest as a physical illness because stress weakens the immune system.
- Grief: Weakens the lung
- Stress: Weakens the heart and brain
- Worry: Weakens the stomach
- Anger: Weakens the liver
- Fear: Weakens the kidney
2. Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is critical when you are grieving. Some people start feeling better in weeks, months, while for others it can take years. Several factors including personality characteristics, social support, and how a loved one passes away will influence the healing process.
The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but when it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your relationships, then you may be suffering from a condition called, complicated grief.
Symptoms of complicated grief can include extreme anger or bitterness over your loss, denial that your loved one is gone, imagining that your loved one is alive, or a constant feeling of emptiness and despair.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, talk to a mental health professional right away.
It’s important to be patient with yourself. Let your grief unfold naturally. But do your best to control what you can control, such as your thoughts and behavior. Figure out what gives your life meaning, then, take action everyday to create those meaningful moments.
3. Acceptance Doesn’t Mean Goodbye
Accepting your loss is an important step to healing. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and other special days are milestones that remind us of those we’ve lost. Food can even trigger a memory. Somedays you revel in those memories, and you savor it. Other days it can be debilitating.
If you made it to this phase of bereavement, congrats! You’re now ready for some Jedi-mind-tricks.
There will be days that you struggle to get out of bed. Finding the strength to even pretend like you’re okay may seem impossible, but you have a work deadline to meet, or maybe its your turn to carpool the kiddos to school. Whatever the case may be, schedule a few minutes for a good cry. It can be five minutes in the wee hours of the morning or twenty minutes before bed (depending how much time you need). Let yourself feel the pain without judgment…then exhale.
Talk to your departed loved one. Make meditation part of your routine, as it allows you to spend time with those you’ve lost.
Take it one step at a time. One day you will look back and see how far you’ve come.
4. Learn To Rest
You need to believe that things will get better. It’s easier to keep yourself busy than sit with your thoughts. So, practice good sleep hygiene. It’s imperative for healing. Sleep and mental health are closely connected, and lack of adequate sleep can affect mood and judgment.
Apart from the psychological consequences, studies have shown that people who experience sleep deprivation are vulnerable to a number of health risks including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. If you don’t get enough sleep you simply won’t have the energy to ‘act’ like you’re okay. Obtaining healthy sleep habits will improve your overall quality of life so that you’ll be strong enough to grieve.
5. Make Time For Joy
What did you enjoy doing as a kid? Keeping your childlike wonder will lead you back to your true self. You may even find happiness on the way there. Nothing makes me happier than the simple things in life like waiting for a sunrise, or watching seagulls flying at the beach.
Whether it’s being silly with your kids just so you can hear them giggle or shopping for flowers at an open air market, these simple pleasures are tiny blessings to remind us that life’s meant to be fun. Try to remember what it’s like to be awed by the little things in your grown up life.
Everyday is a gift if you look for it. Perspective is everything.
Remembrance, Not Denial
For clarification — none of this process is about denial. You can’t avoid or ignore your feelings of grief, as doing so will prevent you from ever coming to terms with it. Facing your feelings head-on, a little bit at a time, is going to be the key to recovery. The process is slow and painful, but the more you act like you can handle the pain, the more you’ll find yourself legitimately capable of doing so. This isn’t “fake it till you make it” so much as it is acting in order to become. You can do it.
For every secondary loss, there are secondary gains called, post-traumatic growth. And it can be life changing. Post-traumatic growth and grief can co-occur simultaneously. Having courage to process the pain can lead to confidence and connection, which will ultimately help you understand life’s deeper meaning.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Moving on with your life is not the same as forgetting. It just means that you’ve accepted your loss. Honor those you’ve lost by living a life they never had a chance to live, and do it with every ounce of your soul.
Your pain and grief are real. It may never go away completely, but you can — and you will — master it in time.