Counseling for Life Transitions in Batavia, IL
When we think of grief, we tend to think only of grief related to death. But what if our hopes and dreams die? Or a relationship dies? It's important to understand that grief is a response to loss, and loss can take many forms. For example, losses like divorce, estrangement, addiction, mental illness, job loss, infertility, and loss of home are capable of causing complicated emotions, difficulty in daily functioning, and other grief-related experiences and responses.
Life transitions are those events or experiences that occur throughout our life that tend to knock us "for a loop" and often force us to re-evaluate our identity, priorities, and how we chose to move forward. While these may be common experiences, that doesn't mean that we often know how to navigate them. Everything we thought we knew about what gave us meaning, what was important, or goals we had for our future are upended.
My approach is to validate this experience as a loss, help you regain your sense of control, and to assist you in identifying your way forward.
Coined by Ken Doka, grief researcher, and author, Disenfranchised Grief is the “grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned”. He suggests this can happen for a number of reasons that, for the most, fall into one (or sometimes more) of the following categories:
The loss isn’t seen as worthy of grief (ex. non-death losses)
The relationship is stigmatized (ex. partner in an extramarital affair)
The mechanism of death is stigmatized (ex. suicide or overdose death)
The person grieving is not recognized as a griever (ex. co-workers or ex-partners)
The way someone is grieving is stigmatized. (ex. the absence of an outward grief response or extreme grief responses)
These unwritten rules about who can grieve and who cannot have created a type of "hidden grief" where grievers are unacknowledged, dismissed, and invalidated. This is unhealthy and can be disastrous for grievers. We need to understand that all grievers need to be accepted and given the space and time to fully experience and express their grief.
Dr. Pauline Boss, grief researcher and author coined the term Ambiguous Loss to help explain the unique grief experience when there is no closure or when there are unanswered questions regarding the loss. Even without death, the people we care about disappear physically or fade away psychologically. For example, the Alzheimer's patient, the loved one with a brain injury or drug addiction as well as the loved one imprisoned or gone due to divorce. This ambiguity between absence and presence creates a unique kind of loss that has both psychological and physical qualities.
Love is not always simply death or physical absence. Human relationships are more complex. We do not necessarily disconnect from loved ones just because they are physically gone, nor do we always connect to people just because they are physically present at home or in our daily lives.
Physically Absent but Psychologically Present examples:
Loved one is: a missing person, incarcerated, divorced and remarried, immigrated to another country, given up to adoption, a young adult leaving home, elderly spouse moving to a nursing home, deployed in the military
Physically Present but Psychologically Absent examples:
Love one is: diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia, has a chronic mental illness, addiction, or traumatic brain injury, wanting a divorce.
Secondary losses are the subsequent losses that occur either directly or indirectly as a result of the primary loss. They can be thought of as a ripple effect. When one throws a stone into the pool of water the initial breaking of the water's surface is the primary loss and the ripples that come out are the Secondary Losses. For many grievers, these secondary losses are just as significant and impactful as the primary loss.
Examples of Secondary Losses
Role Changes: How you view yourself in relationship to the loss may be impacted. Perhaps you were the "breadwinner" of the family and now due to your current situation, you are unable to fill that role. If you experienced a pregnancy loss, do you identify as a mother or father? How do you see your role as a parent when your young adult children leave home?
Culture: Your connection and identity to your culture may be impacted. When immigrating to a new country, you may struggle with staying connected to your homeland and culture. As children of immigrants become acculturated to the new country, a sense of loss of the culture, heritage, and customs can be felt and mourned.
Retirement: Your sense of purpose and identity may be impacted. For many, our profession defines us. It's one of the first questions we are asked when getting to know others. When we are no longer working in our profession, how do we identify ourselves?
Support: Your circle of support may be impacted. Friends and loved ones have been known to avoid grievers for a variety of reasons leaving grievers to feel isolated and alone with intense and difficult feelings. Often after a divorce, friends of the couple may feel torn between the individuals resulting in avoiding or breaking-off ties altogether with one of them.
Counseling after Divorce or Break-up
A breakup or divorce can be one of the most stressful and emotional experiences in life. Whatever the reason for the split—and whether you wanted it or not—the breakup of a relationship can turn your whole world upside down and trigger all sorts of painful and unsettling emotions. Divorce represents the death of a marriage and all the hopes and dreams that went into it. And the death of a marriage, like any death, requires a grieving process for healing. The feelings of anger, shock, sadness, hurt, and fear do not end when a divorce is concluded legally. Emotional divorce is not a legal event, but a process. For divorcing people, the question is not whether they will experience that process and its enormous emotional challenges, but how.
Professor Robert Emery from the University of Virginia adds a remarkable insight about the complexities to divorce grieving that often make it even more of a challenge than other kinds of grieving processes:
Divorce grief is often disguised by other feelings and even emergencies (for example, financial concerns) to the point that a person can be unaware of the extent of his grief.
Our society offers most divorcing individuals no grieving ritual that plays the role of a funeral for the marriage.
The very people a divorcing person would likely grieve with over any other loss can become unavailable—one's spouse, in-laws, and even valued friends can be part of the losses of divorce.
The pain, disruption, and uncertainty mean that recovering from a breakup or divorce can be difficult and will take time. However, it’s important to keep reminding yourself that you can and will get through this difficult experience and even move on with a renewed sense of hope and optimism.
Resources for Divorce or Break-up