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Accepting Change from Loss

Chapter 7: Accepting Change from Loss

Tools for Handling Loss

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is change from a loss?

Change from a loss is:

  • A break in the normal routine.
  • A threat to our security.
  • An alteration in our current life-style.
  • The unknown, the ambiguous, the uncertainty one must face after a loss.
  • The challenging of old beliefs, attitudes, and values after a loss occurs.
  • The modification of current patterns of social interaction and conduct in adjusting to an altered life after a loss occurs.
  • A challenge to the status quo.
  • Unsettling the calm and peace previously established.
  • The requirement to shift one's way of reacting to a loss.
  • The process by which a system reshapes or reforms itself in returning to a stable, functional condition.
  • An undesirable reality for individuals who have suffered from an unpredictable home life with continuous reshuffling.
  • A motivator for individuals to review the way they are living their lives and relating to others; a chance to improve their relationships and their quality of life.
  • Altering the sense and order we have maintained in life.
  • Shifting of priorities to make new order and sense out of the consequences of the change.
  • An unbalancing in which we are unsure of ourselves and unsure of our ability to adjust.
  • A requirement for us to call on our inner, untapped resources to adjust and cope with the results.
  • Often a requirement for us to call on others to help us adjust and cope with the consequences.
  • Perceived with fear and dread because of its unknown and ambiguous nature.
  • A continuous process of readjusting and refining relationships and ways of acting.
  • A way of life for people who thrive on crisis and disarray. Some people need continuous change in order to feel vital and alive.
  • A process required to improve our current level of functioning.
  • The desired outcome of all therapeutic processes in which people are addressing personal, emotional, and/or physical problems.
What feelings do people have when facing the possibility of change from a loss?
  • fear 
  • discouragement  
  • threatened
  • anxiety                             
  • insecurity                        
  • challenged
  • caution                            
  • anger                               
  • unbalanced                    
  • confusion                       
  • anticipation                     
  • inhibited
  • disappointment              
  • concern                           
  • unsettled
  • depression                      
  • avoidance                       
  • uncomfortable
  • dread                               
  • excitement                      
  • intimidated

How do people who avoid change from a loss act?

People who actively avoid change in their lives:

  • Act in a cautious manner in all aspects of their lives, personal and professional.
  • Are very security oriented and seek a set or patterned way of life for themselves.
  • Resist discussions that will focus on areas needing change in their lives.
  • Withdraw from situations that might result in a need for change.
  • Deny the need for altered behavior resulting from a loss.
  • Get angry with the people in their lives who confront them with the need for change in order to adjust to a loss.
  • Fantasize how life has remained the same despite a loss and ignore any signs of the need for change.
  • Are willing to do anything in order to avoid necessary changes in their lives.
  • Associate only with people who support their beliefs and value systems, which deny the need for change.
  • Exhibit four of the five stages of loss: denial, bargaining, anger, and despair.

What are some irrational beliefs we have about change?

  • Change is bad.
  • I could never adjust to that change.
  • Change is unfair.
  • Things in my life should always remain the same.
  • I've experienced too much change in my life, and I don't want anymore change!
  • If I ignore it, it will go away.
  • There must be something I can do to avoid this change.
  • Why did this have to happen to me?
  • I am never happy and relaxed at the same time - I need continuous unplanned change to keep me alive.
  • There is no need to change my current life-style, even though I've experienced this loss.
  • It only hurts for a little while
  • You should adjust to all changes easily.
  • Security in life is creating an unchanging environment for oneself.
  • My life will fall apart if I change like that
  • There is only one way I want my life to be - the way it has always been.
  • Life should be easy!
  • Change should be avoided at all cost.
  • I don't need to change - the others involved in my life need to change.
  • You must always lose a part of yourself in order to adjust to a change.
  • You can have stability in your life only by avoiding the continuous adjustments to change.

What are some benefits to be gained by adjusting to change?

Benefits to be gained by adjusting to change are:

  • Appropriate coping and development of adaptive behavior patterns required by the loss.
  • Individual, personal, social, and emotional growth.
  • Increased personal, marital, family, or work productivity.
  • Restoration of a sense of order and purpose to life.
  • A “getting on" with our life with a minimum of delay, confusion, or complication resulting from the avoidance of change.
  • Identification of a set of internal resources and strengths perhaps not previously evident in ourselves.
  • A conservation of our personal energy by channeling it into necessary and desirable activities in the adjustment to change.
  • Avoiding fearful, paranoid, or frightened behavior in activities that might result in change.
  • A relaxed point of view about the realities of life, and open acceptance of the inevitability of change and adaptation for the future.
  • A realistic establishment of goals for ourselves and others that fit within the parameters of the resulting change.
  • Giving ourselves a chance to use our positive qualities and attributes to their fullest, validating our self-worth and goodness.
  • An improvement of our mental health by reducing stress induced by the need for adapting to change.
A plan of action for accepting change from loss


Step 1 Determine what change is most likely to occur after a specific loss. In determining what the change is, answer the following questions in your journal:
  • When will this change take place?
  • How will the change affect my interpersonal relationships?
  • What material things in my life will be affected by this change?
  • How will my work be affected by this change?
  • How will this change affect me or my personality?
  • What are the benefits to me of fully accepting this change?
  • What are the consequences if I do not fully accept this change?
  • How will this change affect my family and/or marriage?
  • What information do I need in order to openly accept this change?
  • What personal beliefs,opinions, attitudes, or behavior will need to be adapted in order for my full acceptance of this change?


Step 2 Once you have answered the questions in Step 1, describe the change with which you are dealing as a result of the specific loss.


Step 3 Now that you know what the change is, create a visual image of yourself six months from now after having fully accepted the change. In this visualization picture yourself as successfully coping with the change. Include the following variables into your visual image:
  • People involved
  • Material objects involved
  • Your work, if involved
  • Your family and/or spouse, if involved
  • You as a person: how you are feeling, how you are acting, and your success in the new, changed circumstance


Step 4 Use the visual image of your successful acceptance of change in a process of self-instruction.Self-instruction involves the following events:
  • Get yourself into a relaxed state by using both muscle relaxation and deep breathing.
  • Once you are relaxed, begin to visualize the image of successful acceptance of change.
  • As you observe this image, tell yourself how you can achieve this changed life.
  • Tell yourself you deserve this successful conclusion to your loss.
  • Keep observing this image in a relaxed state for up to 30 minutes.
  • When you are ready to end the visual image count backward from five, and arise with a commitment to full acceptance of the change and the successful life adaptation you just visualized.


Repeat this visual imagery at least once a day until you begin to believe and act in a way that reflects your full acceptance of the change in your life and your adaptation to it. 


Step 5 If you remain unable to accept or adapt to the change, perhaps you never realized exactly what the change would be. Perhaps you are immobilized due to your resistance to change. In either case, return to Step one and begin again. Repeat Steps one through five until you have gained acceptance of the change.