Bouncing back from financial grief and loss

This guest post is from P sychotherapist Bobbi Emel who specializes in helping you face life's significant challenges and regain your resiliency. Download her free ebook, “Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life's ups and downs.” You can find her blog at http://www.TheBounceBlog.com.

Some reader stories are guest posts containing information or general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These posts feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.

I bet you've had some financial losses in the last five years or so. It seems like we all have, unfortunately. If you're newly into a financial crisis such as seeing your retirement savings take a major loss, losing your house to foreclosure, or getting laid off your job, you may recognize some of these emotional experiences:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Guilt/self-reproach
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Shock
  • Yearning

You may have also experienced any of these thinking patterns or behaviors:

  • Disbelief
  • Confusion
  • Preoccupation or rumination
  • Sleep and/or appetite disturbances
  • Absentmindedness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Crying
  • Restlessness

If you see yourself in some or all of these feelings, thoughts and behaviors, I have news for you: You might be grieving. We're accustomed to thinking of grief as something that occurs only after a loved one dies. But the problem with this is that we might discount our feelings and not recognize them as grief when we lose something other than a loved one.

Complications of Financial Grief

You might find it difficult to express your feelings of grief about your financial situation. What is it about this type of grief that is different than the emotions we feel when we lose someone we love?

There are some complications:

Embarrassment: It's one thing to tell someone that your mother died, but a completely different thing to share that you lost your money in a Ponzi scheme or any other issue related to a recession.

Loss of identity: You used to be Software Engineer Who Owns A House And Has Enough In the Bank To Put My Kids Through College and now you are Unemployed Dad Who Lost My House Due To Foreclosure And Had To Move The Family In With My Folks.

Maybe your situation isn't that drastic, but you get the idea. You identify with your work and your social status, among other things, and so you might be unsure of who you are right now.

Feelings of betrayal: Dealing with a loss is difficult enough without the added emotional fallout from feeling betrayed by banks, mortgage lenders, the government, Bernie Madoff and Wall Street in general.

Now you are not only dealing with grief, but anger and resentment as well. In addition, the anger and resentment may be at a spouse, friend or relative who gave you bad financial advice.

Denying the magnitude of the loss: It's easy to think, “I shouldn't be feeling this bad. It's not like someone has died.” You devalue your own feelings because it's “not as bad” as something else.

The thought that financial crisis = personal failure: “If I was a better money manager, this wouldn't have happened. I'm such a jerk.”

“Why did I listen to that broker? I knew better. This is all my fault.”

“I must be a real loser to have thought I could refinance my house with an adjustable rate mortgage.”

This type of thinking is very easy to fall into, but certainly not helpful or true.

Lack of social ritual for this kind of grief: We have many rituals for the death of a person: funerals, memorials, sitting shiva, wakes, etc. These customs help us with closure and adjusting to the world without our loved one. But there are no rituals around the loss of finances and the dreams that went with them. We are left feeling unfinished and lost. So, it really is pretty complicated, isn't it?

Surviving and Thriving After Financial Loss

Surviving . . .

1. Acceptance

Accept the fact that this loss has really happened to you. If you find yourself thinking, “Once the stock market comes back, everything will be fine” or “Even though this new job pays half of what I made at my old job, we can still live the same way we did before,” you are in denial. It's time to intentionally assess your situation and accept its reality.

Honor your own grief about what you have lost. This really is a loss — be careful not to minimize it.

Don't resist. This does not mean to give up. But it does mean to acknowledge both your emotions about your financial loss rather than fight against them. Going with the river current is much easier than fighting to swim against the current.

2. Build and use your support system

Find people you trust: friends, family, spiritual leaders. Gather your support team around you just as you would if you had lost a loved one.

Talk. You don't have to talk about the specifics of the loss, just your feelings about it. This is an important way for you to process your grief and not get stuck in it.

Take your power back. By talking about your feelings related to the financial loss, you take the power away from the “deep, dark secret” and shine the light of day on it.

3. Get a different perspective

Remember that you have made it through past challenges. When you're faced with a loss, it can seem like the worst thing that has ever happened to you. And it might be. But remember that you have experienced many difficulties in your life and you have made your way through them.

Stay in the moment. Rather than ruminating about past events or fretting about the future, try to stay with what is happening right now. Life is happening in front of your eyes, not in the past or some time up ahead.

And thriving . . .

4. See what you can learn.

There's a lesson in everything. Maybe you did make some poor financial decisions. Learn from your mistakes. Maybe your value system was overly focused on material things. Learn the joys of simpler living.

Maybe your kids didn't really understand what it meant to pull together as a family until now. Help them learn this lesson during these tough times.

5. Find the gifts.

The sand that irritates the oyster eventually makes a pearl. The economic loss you are experiencing now may be the very thing you need to learn to thrive into new opportunities opening before you.

One woman I spoke to who had lost her job was doing surprisingly well emotionally. When I asked her how she maintained her good attitude, she said, “I decided to expand rather than contract.” She took action to learn new skills, enjoy new experiences, and take a different path in life. Perhaps you are being given an opportunity to expand your life as well.

There are gifts to be found everywhere, even in the darkest of times. My late partner had breast cancer and when it was discovered, it was already at Stage IV. We could not think of a more terrible thing to happen. But, after using some of the “surviving” tools above, we began to see the gifts pouring in.

We learned that we were much stronger than we thought, we learned how many caring friends we had, my partner — who had always struggled with her self-image — found out how many people truly loved her, and we found peace through renewed spirituality.

Getting your bounce back after financial loss may not mean getting your money or assets replaced, but it does mean learning to survive — and thrive — in the most difficult times.

Will you take this as an opportunity or a defeat?

More about...Debt

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Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle
Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle
7 years ago

I work very hard to “find the gifts” and to value the small successes that I have. It is a struggle. I have trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel many days.

I set a personal debt reduction goal in 2012 and I came up very short. It is hard to stay positive when the only goal you can meet is to not allow your debt to increase anymore.

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago

Yes, I completely understand what you’re saying, Jane. It can be very discouraging. But again, I encourage you to see if there is anything you have learned about yourself during this time. Maybe something you didn’t know about yourself or something you’d like to change. It’s hard to see the gifts and lessons when there are big obstacles in your way, but look past those barriers and you just might find a gem!

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
7 years ago

Congratulations! That is a worthwhile goal, and definitely something to celebrate. Be sure to recognize that you really DID accomplish something, and do something (free) to reward yourself.

Yes, you fell short of what you wanted to accomplish. That doesn’t mean that you didn’t have a very meaningful accomplishment.

There was a post about setting a goal to expand income. That might be a better way to approach this year.

AMW
AMW
7 years ago

Very well put! I’ve been through this cycle before and in my experience #3 and #4 are the key…#5 follows after that. I also found that for me, if I put a time limit on the pity party I can get to work on solving the problem sooner. Ex: “This situation sucks, I get two weeks to moan and complain, and then I have to deal with the solution.”

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago
Reply to  AMW

AMW, I’ve heard other people say they give themselves a time limit to moan and complain, too. I think that is a great idea! Especially when it comes to logistical problems, taking action as soon as possible is really helpful.

My Financial Independence Journey
My Financial Independence Journey
7 years ago

One of the best ways to deal with financial grief as may be caused by layoffs is to be prepared. Work on building your emergency fund, work on building up solid streams of passive income, and keep your resume up to date.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

Take it from someone who has been there: you can be prepared with resumes, an updated portfolio, a killer job interview suit, an emergency fund, etc. but there’s still going to be an emotional impact. These steps can lessen the stress, but you can’t plan your way out of grief.

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

You have a very good point, Elizabeth. I understand what My Financial is saying – and it’s a good point – but you really can’t prepare for the grief that comes along with loss.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

Thank you for posting this. I’ve been through this cycle as well because of a job loss. One of the worst parts is facing friends and family who have no idea what you’re going through. I hope this post helps people be more understanding and supportive of others if they’ve never faced financial hardship themselves.

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I hope so, too, Elizabeth. One of the reasons I wanted to write about this topic is because most people DON’T understand that financial and job losses are huge and can create grief for the person experiencing them. I would really like it if our society could be more sensitive to losses of all kinds rather than only the ones that fall within our social norms.

Somsiah
Somsiah
7 years ago

When you lost a loved one, and the main earner, your grief doubled. The road to recovery is longer, in my case, the financial grief came much later; in consumer debt. The pearls – are the lesson learned from the experience itself, and the updated self.

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago
Reply to  Somsiah

Thanks for sharing your story, Somsiah. And I’m so sorry about your double dose of grief. It sounds like you are starting to see the gifts within your loss, though, and I’m glad to see that. Best wishes, my friend!

William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
7 years ago

Good post! I lost my business in the recession and went through most of what you described, depression and the whole bit. What Elizabeth says is true: you can’t plan your way out of or past grief, but I’ll say this: having an emergency fund and having investments to fall back on does take a bit of the sting out of the depression and beating up of yourself. One other thing I learned from the whole exercise is: if you understand the economic cycle, that the economy has a recession every 7-10 years like clockwork, it helps you prepare emotionally.… Read more »

Fred
Fred
5 years ago

Prepared by doing what William? We all say we’ll be prepared, but nobody ever really says what they’ll do until it’s too late and the crash is over.

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago

Wow, that’s really interesting, William! And yes, being financially prepared does take some of the sting away. And I like your point about understanding the greater economic situation so you don’t feel like it was just something you did yourself. I had to sell my house in 2009, largely because of the recession but also because of poor choices I made. While I felt grief about losing my house, understanding that the crashing economy had something to do with it did help.

Anne
Anne
7 years ago

As I read this article I realize it does indeed cover all forms of grieving.

It spoke to me as I grieve over a family situation.

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago
Reply to  Anne

I’m so glad this was helpful for you, Anne. I’m sorry that you have a loss in your family. My thoughts are with you!

Surprise Millionaires
Surprise Millionaires
7 years ago

Thank you so much for this timely and very helpful post. Unfortunately, many people who have experienced financial setbacks have resorted to some very destructive behavior to deal with their grief. Finding positive outlets for the negative feelings that result from financial setbacks is a must.

chubblywubbly
chubblywubbly
7 years ago

I remember getting sucked into a multi-level marketing scheme. That was a huge waste of $650.

This happened before I met hubby and when I first told him the story, he laughed at at my naiveness. My retort was that “I married you didn’t I?” =P

In all seriousness, I love my hubby. But it is a huge joke between us on how I am bad at making investments, so I leave that up to him. I am glad that he laughs at my mistakes instead of blaming me though.

Stephanie
Stephanie
7 years ago

Thank you for this post. I am planning to quit my job and make a career change. It is risky and it will bring our household down to one income. I have already had some of the feelings listed here and this gives me a renewed sense of confidence that I can psychologically deal with what’s ahead.

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago
Reply to  Stephanie

Stephanie, it does help to know what’s ahead and to have a name for it as well. I think lots of the people I spoke to about financial losses really didn’t have a name for what they were experiencing. They felt relieved to be able to call it grief!

hope
hope
7 years ago

I’ve chosen the self-employment route and having had a salaried, union job for many years I often have this kind of ‘what the hell am I doing!’ reactions from time to time. The one thing that helps me is reading about courageous, creative, innovative people who inspire me to press on in tough times. Just yesterday I read about Nigella Lawson (tv cook and food writer) who lost her husband, sister and mother to cancer in the last few years, she said in a recent interview: “I’ve been through such a lot that it makes me more of a risk-taker… Read more »

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago
Reply to  hope

This is an interesting point, Hope. Losses do tend to put the “small stuff” into perspective. (Even if we do have to be reminded occasionally!)

Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce
7 years ago

Great post. Like anything else, we are the sum of our experiences. As a musician, if I have a bad performance, I will carry that baggage with me for a long time to come. We must stick with it, however and dust ourselves off. Time is a beautiful thing that way…we can rebuild ourselves. Thanks for this!!

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago

Thanks for your insights, Tony!

Lana James
Lana James
7 years ago

Very, very well said.. A must read for anyone who have been through same situation and those who experienced a lot of catastrophes in life. This can serve them as a great motivation because I myself, learned that no matter how many times you fall down on your knees and how hard it is, what’s more important is the times you get up and the conviction you carry as you continue your journey in life.

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago
Reply to  Lana James

Very true, Lana.

Jason
Jason
7 years ago

Thanks for this guest post. I was lucky enough not to lose my home but I am certainly under water and I can relate to some of the feelings mentioned in the article.

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago
Reply to  Jason

I bet you can, Jason. Good luck to you and I hope the article continues to be helpful to you.

Hill Roger
Hill Roger
7 years ago

I wonder how a newly established firm could handle it’s financial losses. But overall this post could help any entrepreneur in handling the accounts(losses/profits) at it’s best.

Vinita Zutshi
Vinita Zutshi
7 years ago

Bobbi, You’ve recognized a widespread problem and given it a name. And as always, the beast loses its power once it’s been identified.

Thanks for making it okay to feel bad about financial loss – for so many, feeling bad is like an additional layer of guilt and pain. Your empowering solutions are a breath of fresh air and perspective.

I really enjoyed the post – thank you!

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago
Reply to  Vinita Zutshi

Thanks, Vinita! I’m glad this was helpful for you!

Chris @ StockMonkeys.com
Chris @ StockMonkeys.com
7 years ago

It’s tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a significant loss, financial or otherwise, but what tends to work for me is learning from the loss. I try not to look at a loss as a setback but an opportunity to do it differently and hopefully better. Great article.

Bobbi Emel
Bobbi Emel
7 years ago

Thanks, Chris! And yes, learning after loss is the only way to make something meaningful out of it.

Mario
Mario
7 years ago

There are a lot of things I have grieved over. Losing lots of money was not one of them…

Chris
Chris
7 years ago

I have lost my job again and at 54 my so tired of it all. I have always tried to do the right thing, but, for the wrong reasons….. Working for my family when I was treated with disrespect or buying house when I knew we would have a problem getting out. I take full responsibility for where I am in my life and I keep trying to get where I want to be. However, I feel I have used all the life force I was given. I do thank god for short term memory loss… cause tomorrow, I will… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
6 years ago

Thank you for this article. It’s very helpful. I’ve found loss to extremely hard for me and getting over this situations have been difficult, in that I always find myself going to back to what could have been if only I didn’t make those decisions. The strange part is that I do continue to do things to enjoy life and on the outside looking in, people see me as a person who truly enjoys life, but I have so many struggles that aren’t so evident. But, I like the advice your give here and I will put that advice into… Read more »

Safiya
Safiya
4 years ago

At the moment, I’m sitting infront of my laptop searching for some advice that could somehow strengthen my feelings. See, I lost 85% of my wealth. I lost my 3 cars, my business is in high debts, lost my jewelries, gadgets and friends. I never thought this situation would come, I thought I was wiser but I misled myself. I over spent my money. I don’t know if I will ever get myself back and my money. for now, I’m holding on to my business which is the last part of me left, I do not have enough capital to… Read more »

Anon
Anon
4 years ago
Reply to  Safiya

Safiya, hey..look at the bright side. You still have your health. Take to your family. They are part of you, you’re not alone. I myself didn’t have nay financial crisis before, however, recently I was conned half my saving. I was so pissed of course. Luckily for me I am still young, the money can earn back..

You have to know that many ppl are facing financial problem daily. You’re not alone. Peace yo

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