Saying Goodbye: What Makes the Difference between Resiliency and Despair?

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It is a sobering thought to consider that every person you’ll ever love, every cherished possession you’ll ever own, and every sacred place you’ll ever go in your life will someday be lost—at least in an earthly sense.

The fact is that most people are fairly resilient after loss. . . . roughly 66% of widows and widowers display few problematic grief reactions and continue to live productive and fulfilling lives.

-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

Despite this seemingly grim reality, the fact is that most people are fairly resilient after loss. After the death of a spouse, for example, roughly 66% of widows and widowers display few problematic grief reactions and continue to live productive and fulfilling lives.

However, depending on the type of loss experienced, there is a sizable minority (roughly 5-15%) that experience more enduring problems. They become stuck in a state of chronic grief, feel that life has no meaning or purpose, and remain at heightened risk for a number of mental and physical health problems.

So, what makes the difference between resiliency and despair after loss? If you’ve ever consumed any popular writings on loss, you might be tempted to search for an explanation in the “stages of grief,” which categorize grief into distinct, linear stages that proceed from denial, anger, yearning, and depression to acceptance.

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It turns out, however, that stage models do a relatively poor job of explaining the diversity of grief reactions observed in research and clinical settings. So what then are the most critical aspects of learning to say goodbye to those we’ve lost?

 This week, we explore this question in depth and start by introducing an alternate way of thinking about loss that highlights the importance of making meaning of the experience and integrating it into a larger understanding of one’s life.

We also discuss how relationships persist even after physical separation. And just as with relationships in life, these continuing bonds with those we’ve lost can be either supportive and nourishing or toxic and draining.

When it’s the latter, there may be unresolved issues or “unfinished business” with the person who is no longer in your life. In another piece this week, we delve deeper into the topic of unfinished business in relationships and offer some practical tips for working toward resolution. You can also take our quiz and learn more about the degree to which you might have unfinished business with an important figure from your past.

And we finish this week with articles that explore two extremely common types of losses—the breakup of a romantic relationship and celebrity deaths—and their significance in our lives.

So, tune in each day this week for more on learning to say goodbye. Share your stories of how you have made meaning of loss in your life. We want to hear from you.

 

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One thought on “Saying Goodbye: What Makes the Difference between Resiliency and Despair?

  • What makes the difference between resilience and despair after loss? Knowing what it is that you have lost? Knowing, accepting and acknowledging that if you have been resilient after loss? Those who have been in the stages of loss/grief for years after traumatic events may notice the cycle of becoming resilient and becoming desperate. I don’t wish to place judgment on a person aware of their loss yet I want to be in connection for a brief period. Journaling the long term or short connection can be supportive for celebration but noting the continuation or compounding of loss and negative experience can be an internall distraction. Does anyone else think this maybe true

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