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:
You may have also experienced any of these thinking patterns or behaviors:
- Preoccupation or rumination
- Sleep and/or appetite disturbances
- Social withdrawal
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 . . .
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?