4 Little Known Ripple Effects of Grief and Loss
When we understand grief only in association with the loss of a person, we do not fully recognize the pervasive consequences that come with a death. In today’s post, NYC therapist and My Wellbeing member Rebecca Gerstein helps us to more fully understand grief’s ripple effects, educating us about secondary losses.
About the Author: Rebecca Gerstein is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and therapist, with a private practice in Manhattan. She holds her Master's degree in social work from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College.
Rebecca specializes in grief and loss for individuals in their 20s and 30s. Rebecca works from a social justice, feminist and body positive lens.
Grief’s Ripple Effect
The death of someone close to us has pervasive consequences in many areas of our lives.
Grief creates a ripple effect, generating multiple losses, affecting our connections to ourselves and others. These are called “secondary losses.”
As a society, we tend to focus on the loss of the person, and often gloss over the secondary losses, including: loss of confidence, loss of a role, loss of safety in relationships and/or loss of a worldview.
Loss of confidence
Grief has a funny way of attaching itself to various aspects of our identities, affecting confidence, and a person’s sense of self. In the aftermath of a significant loss many people report feeling unattractive, worthless, out of place or anxious. Others say that their confidence is suddenly lower.
Because we live in a culture that idealizes mastery, we are made to feel there is a timeframe in which we must “get over” our grief. Our self-esteem and confidence can be impacted by not “getting over” the loss “quickly enough.” Also, if the person who died gave us a sense of self-worth, this can further impact our confidence.
Loss of role
Humans are relational creatures. Our identities are contingent on our relationships with others. When we lose someone in our family, perhaps we are no longer a daughter, sister, mother in the same way we once were. Our relationships with the person who died might continue after their passing, but the nature of the role has shifted forever.
Loss of safety in relationships
Grief has a tendency to shake up our relationships with everyone—family and friends. Young people who have experienced significant loss often feel alienated from peers who have not yet experienced this type of loss. When aggrieved people feel friends weren’t there for them, it can signal the end or a redefining moment in their relationship.
Grief also creates tension between family members due to hurt feelings, guilt or unfair divisions of labor. Oftentimes tensions occur because the family is attempting to reconfigure while missing a key member.
Loss of worldview
When we experience a loss or trauma, our outlook changes, impacting how we think, view ourselves, and navigate relationships. Because we have no control over death, we can experience powerlessness and feel like we’re unable to make changes.
Loss can also generate a sense of fear—for the future, of change, of disease, or, of dying. We are scared because life can change so drastically—in the blink of an eye. A significant loss can make us feel negative, vulnerable and jaded.
There is good news, though…
Although some form of secondary loss is inevitable, many people experience secondary gains, otherwise known as post-traumatic growth.
Post-traumatic growth can be life changing, leading to connection, confidence and attunement to life’s deeper meaning. Post traumatic growth does not mean the absence of distress or grief. Grief and post-traumatic growth can occur simultaneously.
Finding a therapist who understands the complexities of grief is crucial to helping you navigate life after loss.
Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your expertise and knowledge with us today, educating us about the secondary losses that are likely to occur with grief.
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