The Levels of Loss
The first post of this series, introduced the purpose of this blog series: to explore what we can do to move from a loss to thriving.
This post will explore how loss affects us on different levels, the levels of loss, and how to heal and get stronger on all levels.
“A Person Who Experienced Loss”
In some cases, there is nothing to learn from loss. There is only the need to heal and grow.
And in other situations, having a “bad experience” means we have to take responsibility for our part in the situation. We need to understand that for some reason – lack of knowledge, lack of skills, lack of confidence … we were unable to make better choices. It means we now have the opportunity to learn, to do it better next time.
Regardless of whether we need to learn something or not, we need to recognize we are NOT a bad- or lost-person, but “a person who experienced loss”, we need to separate “who we are” from “what we do and experience”. By separating the experience of loss from our self-identity we are better able to move out of the darkness of loss. We may have things to learn, but we all deserve to be loved and accepted, and we all have the right to build a respectful, meaningful life for ourselves and those around us.
The Levels of Loss
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there are three levels: we need to be able to 1. survive, to have a range of 2. relationships, and also to have 3. purpose to our lives, or meaning in our actions. Success in each level is necessary for thriving.
For many people, a loss threatens their sense of survival and safety; they may be concerned whether they can make financial ends meet and pay for food, shelter, and the other necessities of life. Losing our health means we need to find new ways to take care of ourselves and new ways to achieve our goals.
Until these survival and safety issues are resolved, it is difficult to focus on our other needs. We need to find immediate solutions and identify options we may not have identified yet. Once we are safe and reasonably secure, we can develop our skills to sustainably strengthen the other aspects of our lives.
2. Relationships and Healing
Many losses involve the loss of a loved one, such as death, divorce, a move, etc. If we have lost someone we love, or we feel betrayed, there is a hole in our social and community fabric. And it may change our sense of who we are, how we see our selves relative to our loved ones, our friends and our peers, and how they see us.
Over time, we will find other people to fill our needs of love and loving, and respect and respecting; however, perhaps never in the same way as who or what we lost. Part of our efforts may need to include developing our skills which help us develop more of the relationships we want and need.
Research shows that people who are the most resilient and the most successful in life are the ones who can feel love. That means being able to accept it and feel it when it is offered, and to be able to give it. But after a loss, especially one when we feel like a “bad person”, we find it easier to withdraw from love and support – what we really need.
We need to reach out to the people who can support our healing. Ideally, everyone has a circle of family, friends, community and peers they can – and will – turn to, to get and give different types of caring/loving support. If that support is not available, find a counselor, community or spiritual leader, coach, or other professional person who can help you. If you need it or want it, the only shame is not asking!
When we’re ready, we also need aspirational relationships – the people who help us become the person we want to be. This can include a community of peers who are doing what we aspire to do. These people can be friends/acquaintances, or professionals such as:
- counsellors to help us process our emotions and experiences,
- coaches and teachers to help us develop the knowledge and skills that will help us achieve our goals,
- mentors to help us in our decision-making and follow-through.
3. Listening for Your Purpose
By nurturing a range of relationships, we can build/rebuild a meaningful life. For some people, meaning may come from helping others learn how to prevent someone else experiencing the same loss. Or perhaps this purpose is something we’ve always believed in, but now feel more strongly about making a priority. Each person’s meaning and purpose will be different.
To be able to build meaningful relationships and life, we need to understand ourselves first. What do we truly need and want? We need to really learn to listen to ourselves – the things we are scared to think about, or that are inconvenient, are often the things we need to hear. This is not listening to the dialogue in our heads and what we think we should want, but listening to our body and emotions – what do we really need? Sometimes listening to ourselves and understanding how to honor our real needs is harder than doing so for others. But the payoff of developing a truly meaningful life deepens the quality of our life; it’s well worth the effort.
These body/emotion listening skills take time to develop and require self-love and self-respect. If changes are needed, they should be done gradually and thoughtfully. Respectfully and graciously let go the things that no longer serve us, and welcome with grace the things that do. If we are able to develop ongoing, respectful communication with ourselves, and the gradual transition to a life of greater meaning, we will have a better chance of being able to nurture ourselves through loss, change and eventually to thriving with our physical, psychological and self-actualization needs fulfilled.
To move from loss to survival, through learning, growth and eventually to thriving, we need to recognize that we are “a person who experienced loss”. Loving, respectful and aspirational relationships can help us through the stages. And the more we can listen to our own real needs, the more fulfilling our lives can be.
The next posts in this series will talk about:
Through this discussion, I hope we can learn to heal and thrive, regardless of whether we are choosing to change something or are dealing with a loss. I would love to hear your perspective on this discussion. Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts.
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