Dealing With Financial Grief, Overcoming Loss, Dealing With Loss

Note: This article comes from new staff writer for The Wisdom Journal, Bobbi Emel. 

Financial grief.
It’s not a term that you hear very often but, as a therapist who works with a lot of grieving people, I think it’s appropriate.

Even as the economy slowly recovers, many of us are still licking our wounds over our losses from the past four years. Foreclosure. Retirement funds cut in half. Job loss. And the list, unfortunately, goes on at length.

Dealing with financial grief

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But how do these losses in the area of finance fit into the category of grief?

“Loss” is the operative word here. Did you know that any kind of loss can create a grief reaction? Tell me, if you are one of the many people (myself included) that experienced hardship during the recession due to financial loss of some kind, did you ever experience any of these emotions?

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

How about difficulty concentrating, denial about the loss, becoming preoccupied with your thoughts about the loss, difficulty sleeping, problems with appetite (too much or too little), restlessness, or social withdrawal?

Welcome to the world of grief.

Why is it important to call it grief?

In order to recover from adversity, you need to be very clear about your emotions around it. Since our culture tends to view grief only as something that occurs after someone dies, it may not occur to you that losses in the financial realm may cause a grief reaction.

Remember that any kind of loss can trigger a grief reaction.

Just as someone who is mourning the death of a loved one, you may be experiencing a mix of some or all of the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors listed above. Defining this jumble as grief will help you honor your emotions and take appropriate steps to recover.

Why financial grief can be complicated

So, if financial loss can clearly cause feelings of grief, why is it so hard to express these feelings? Because there are some complications:

  • Embarrassment or shame: It’s one thing to tell others that someone you loved died and it’s another to admit to losing your house to foreclosure or your retirement funds to a devious investor.
  • Denying the impact of the loss: Sometimes it’s easier to go into a type of denial about your loss. “It’s really not a big deal. I can handle it.” In actuality, any loss can be impactful and financial loss can be huge depending on where you are in life.
  • Identity change: You used to be the person who had a steady, good-paying job with a house and means to put your kids through college. But now you are unemployed and living off of the kids’ college fund. Most of us identify with our work and status so changes in this area may have you feeling shaky about who you really are.
  • Thinking that financial loss means you are a failure: It may be tempting to call yourself names because of the losses that have happened in your life. But there are two thoughts about this. 1.) Financial loss doesn’t not necessarily equal failure. 2.) Even if you did fail, failure is a very common human experience and often leads to new understandings and opportunities.
  • No social norm for financial grief: Although sympathy and rituals abound for the death of a person, no such practices are available for the loss of financial assets.Although the grief can be just as tangible as grief over a death, it is not common in our society to even name this kind of loss as something resulting in grief. Therefore, it is hard to talk about with others and there is no particular ritual – such as a funeral or memorial – for your ravaged 401K.

Pretty complicated, huh?

Bouncing back from financial grief

Resiliency is all about bouncing back and there are five components that can help you during this time.

1. Acceptance.
The first, vital step is accepting your loss and your situation for what it truly is. Denial is a protective mechanism that you need for awhile, but at some point, you must be very realistic with yourself and accept reality.

And once you have a clear, realistic picture of your situation, honor the fact that this is very much a heartbreaking loss and your feelings about it are valid.

2. Social support.
Although it can be awkward at first, it is essential that you have someone you can talk to about your situation. Preferably this is a family member or close friend that you trust and who will hold your confidence.

When you don’t talk about your loss, it can become a “deep, dark secret” that slowly drains your energy until you are exhausted both physically and emotionally. In that state, you won’t be able to do a lot of practical problem-solving. Utilizing your support system to shed light on the dark secret takes power away from it and gives it back to you.

3. Gain perspective.
Remember that you have made it through tough times in the past.

We’re funny, we humans. We tend to forget both our pain and our pleasure shortly after they are over, so it’s just a human tendency to think that this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to us and we’ll never make it through even though something of similar magnitude may have happened just a few years ago.

You have made it through before and you’ll do it again.

Another perspective that is helpful is the one you’re in right now. This very moment. Staying in the moment helps you to keep from being regretful about the past and fretting about the future. Try to remain as present as possible by noticing sights and sounds around you, smelling the fresh air, and enjoying the company of a good friend or loved one.

4. Find the gifts.
This one can be so hard and – I know it – irritating to hear sometimes. Especially when you are in the midst of a crisis. But it is there, in the eye of the storm, that our greatest lessons can be learned and gifts received.

Remember that the sand that irritates the oyster often becomes a pearl.

Financial grief can be like any other kind of grief: overwhelming, painful, lingering, and just plain difficult to deal with. But, if you can comes to terms with your grief and utilize some of the resiliency ideas above, you’ll bounce back from your loss and be stronger than you were before.

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