Happiness — 08 March 2012
Use your life’s losses for greater gains

Grief is the emotional reaction to loss that is a universal part of life affecting us from cradle to grave. As painful as our losses may be we can use them as agents of change toward gaining wisdom, serenity and peace.

The word grief is commonly associated with the loss of a loved one. Yet, life’s grief is our constant companion throughout every stage of living from childhood, school days, work, relationships, health, or through other personal experiences. We often review our losses with regret, self-blame, shame or dismay and rarely welcome their stored wisdom as lessons for our greater wellbeing.

In childhood, older siblings are emotionally traumatized by the arrival of another child as jealousy, fear and self-doubt plague them. They may strike out against the baby to alleviate their hurt. Younger children may be suffering the taunting and sometimes even cruel treatment of their older siblings. These traumas are confusing and distressing to youngsters and may shake their stability and trust in others.

School experiences introduce us to the competitive phase in which we are rated and compared to others in ways that may damage our confidence.

The grief emotions of adolescence are familiar to all humans and though they are a passing phase they may leave lifelong scars of self-doubt and insecurity.

In adulthood, we experience life’s grief at work, in relationships, in financial standing, in parenthood, in family difficulties, in health or aging. Though individual life situations differ, no one escapes some emotional grief throughout life.

In “Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl, the prominent psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz concentration camp wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but the last of human freedoms, the right to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

Harold S. Kushner, Author of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” put it this way, “What happens to you, no matter how hurtful or unfair, is ultimately less important than what you do about what happens to you.”

So what do you need to do to better handle life’s grief? Honor your emotions and attend to your losses without blocking your path to self-improvement. Ask yourself, “What lessons have I learned from my sorrows that can improve my life?” You may find that your valid pain is aggravated by self-inflicted insecurities, low self-esteem, neediness for extra attention, less than ideal social skills, self-pity, unmerited feelings of shame, blame or ineptitude or any other self-defeating approach. These beliefs and attitudes can be altered to provide you with a healthier, more satisfying life.

To use life’s grief to gain wisdom and serenity:

  • Realize that life improvement lessons can be learned from your losses.
  • Understand that earlier life trauma impacts your effectiveness and wellbeing.
  • Explore your sad and unhappy thoughts and feelings for lessons that may help you adopt a new attitude and course of action for greater ease and comfort.
  • Apply lessons learned to gain greater peace and serenity.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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