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Symbolic Loss

When we think of the terms grief and loss, we often think of losing someone close to us through death. But there are other types of losses that most everyone will experience in life (and possibly grieve over). These are called symbolic losses, and they include any kind of non-death loss.

Some symbolic losses might include: a break-up/divorce, loss of a job, moving to a new house or location, loss of role/identity, loss of hopes/dreams, loss of expectations, and loss of health. I bet if you think about it, you can name multiple experiences you have had in your life that would fall into this category of loss, but were unaware it was considered a loss since it did not fit the traditional definition we tend to think of.

People experiencing a symbolic loss may not realize it, but they may be grieving. Symptoms of grieving a symbolic loss are similar to those of grieving a death, and some symptoms might include: sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, anxiety, changes in appetite, trouble sleeping, and physical symptoms (such as headaches or muscle pain).

Symbolic losses are different from death-related losses because they are much less recognized and acknowledged, and therefore, we may not feel like we are allowed to grieve these events. I want you to know, though, that you are allowed to grieve these losses, and deserve time and space to do this. Grieving a loss of any kind is a normal and human response.

If you feel like you may be grieving a symbolic loss, attending counseling could be a helpful way to allow yourself some space to grieve, especially if you feel like you cannot talk about it with other people in your life. As a therapist, I believe any type of loss, whether it be death-related or symbolic, is worthy of being acknowledged and processed, and you have the right to grieve in a space where your experience is validated and accepted.