Money and the Experience of Loss

The years since 2008 have been a strange and frightening time for so many of my patients, colleagues and friends. Those who were not hit by the downturn can still experience fear, waiting to see when if or when it will happen to them. Most of us have already experienced significant losses in our feelings of security, trust and well-being. The money losses we point to in the stock market, housing market and job market symbolize this for us, even if we have not yet sold anything at a loss; we are concerned about the futures we had planned.

Money losses are very painful. The money research shows that we feel significantly more pain ( about twice as much) over money loss than we feel pleasure about money gain. This means that loss is a feeling that we are motivated to avoid at all costs. Unfortunately, no one can avoid the experience of money loss in the current situation. For many people, the money represents the years and time spent working and so they also may feel as though they have wasted their time and energy.

Coping with money losses requires a strong and flexible approach. It is important not to berate and beat yourself up..the loss itself is enough of a negative consequence. It is also important to feel creative in dealing with the twists and turns in your money life. Creativity lets you see other ways to live and thrive besides what you had planned. One of the most important images that comes up for me and helps me during times when I am coping with money downturns is a memory I have of a patient I worked with years ago. She was a middle-aged homemaker who was going through an unexpected divorce that would greatly reduce her standard of living and put her back in the workforce even though she did not want to leave her homemaker role. As we were talking about the moments of her day that brought her the most pleasure, she described taking a hot bath and sipping a cup of tea. She then realized that those moments would be available to her no matter where she lived or how she spent her daytime hours.

People often have suicidal thoughts and feelings that go along with money losses, especially men. The basic challenge here is to be flexible and see how to live differently than you have in the recent past. When you can see no other acceptable way to live, it is easy to conclude it is better to die than to live another way. Rigidity in thinking and shame are a toxic combination. People who get through this period are surprised to find out that their new life has unexpected pleasures that there was no way to anticipate.People are not good at imagining how they will feel in the future…they are almost always wrong and never feel as unhappy or as happy as they anticipate being.

The most helpful mindset is to use the model of grief … if you had lost a family member. Mourn your losses and after an appropriate period of time accept your loss and get back to living.