Letting Go of Our Fear of Loss

Middle-aged white woman with long brown hair standing in her open front doorway. She is wearing a white tank top and orange sweatpants and looking outside hopefully.Not long ago, a friend of mine suggested that the greatest fear that humans experience is the fear of death.

I disagreed, saying that I believe humans’ greatest fear is that of loss. In my experience, death is something that is very abstract to most people unless they have recently tended to a dying loved one or have otherwise been exposed to the actual end of life. Most people, however, live in fear of loss to some degree.

Loss can take many forms. It can mean loss of youth—or even middle age, for those of us who are now elders. Loss of youth means less energy, more facial creases and lines, diminished earning potential and opportunities for career advancement, giving up the idea of children if that hasn’t already happened, and so on. It can mean loss of hope, joy, and optimism, which can be a symptom of depression.

Often, it is the times when our lives are going well that fear of loss is most powerful. We fear the universe taking away what we have worked so hard for. In an ideal scenario, this can keep us humble, knowing that life can be unpredictable and that we are given no guarantees. Unfortunately, for many people, fear of loss can be paralyzing, blocking continued efforts to achieve or resulting in a compulsive need to acquire more and more. This fear can also interfere with people’s enjoyment of what they already have.

If I were to describe the predominant theme in my own family of origin—my ancestors—I would say that members of my family have experienced dramatic, and at times devastating, losses in their lives. These losses include the death of an uncle by drowning at age 23; the evaporation of financial abundance, and eventual loss of stability, as a result of medical expenses; the crash of the stock market during the Great Depression; and my maternal grandmother’s abandonment by her spouse, leaving her to raise four young children on her own, among others.

I’ve done a great deal of healing work with and about my ancestors, but it was only recently that I realized how their fear of loss had affected my own life. This internalized expectation—that eventually, something would happen to destroy all the positive achievements in my own life—had been very unconscious. I didn’t realize that I had felt I had to follow their pattern of having and then being without in order to be a loyal family member.

Through my work with my ancestors, I came to understand that I could still be part of my family of origin without having to have the same experiences. In fact, it was just the opposite. They didn’t want me to have to suffer the way they did. They suffered so that perhaps I didn’t have to, at least not in the same way. What they wanted was for me to have an abundance of riches in every way possible—spiritually, emotionally, financially, and physically. It would bring them joy for me to have that outcome. Knowing that I had their encouragement and support on a spiritual level, I was in fact free, and even obligated, to fully enjoy my life.

These realizations were liberating. With the support of my ancestors, I truly have come to believe that I can accept and manage any loss I might experience in my life. If something or someone is taken from me, I have the capacity to bear it. I know that what makes the positive things in life so positive is this understanding: all of this is only temporary, and we might as well enjoy it while it’s here.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kalila Borghini, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • bruce

    February 2nd, 2012 at 12:09 AM

    Even thinking about or anticipating loss is painful..So to experience something like that could be crushing,especially if its something I had worked really hard for..But I think different stages in life bring changes and several of these will lead to losses of different kinds, be it the passing of a loved one or the end of a career one had worked really hard for..

    Being prepared would make a person more ready and comfortable when the loss actually occurs I think. That is what we need to be telling ourselves- nothing lasts forever.

  • Isaac

    February 2nd, 2012 at 5:29 AM

    Don’t you find that the fear of loss is actually the same as the fear of death? It is the loss of life, the loss of family, all wrapped up into that fear of dying. It is always about the unknown, not knowing what lies ahead that scares most of us.

  • Lisa

    February 2nd, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    The problem with fearin of a loss is that it doesn’t let you enjoy that very thing while it is present either. You’re worrying about the future and not enjoying its presence in the present. That is not too wise now, is it.

  • JEREMY P

    February 3rd, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    Fear of loss is definitely something that everybody would be bothered by. And what does the author think about fear of change? I believe it is the fear of change that causes the fear of loss for a person.

  • melissa

    February 3rd, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    One big reason I think that some have a hard time letting go of the loss is because it becomes so much a part of them that they do not know how to BE anymore without that loss hanging over them. They have forgotten who they were before that and do not know any way to get back there again with or without it. I have often thought that these are some of the very saddest people because they allow the loss to define who and what they are year after year and somehow never manage to move on past it.

  • Kalila Borghini

    February 4th, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. There are fine lines of distinction between fear of death, fear of loss and fear of change. Yes, death is the ultimate loss but as I said, it can be a bit too abstract for many people. Fear of change exists even with changes that are positive and involve gain rather than loss (although when anything changes even for the better, something is lost). When I think about fear of change, what comes to mind is the comfort level many if not most of us have in what exists at the moment even though it may not be so positive. The fear of change may be that the new thing may be worse. This all gives me an idea for my next article – “Why Do We Fear Change?” Thanks for the inspiration. Hope this answers your questions. Also, I don’t choose the pictures for the articles. If you don’t like them, say something.

  • jonathan

    February 5th, 2012 at 6:52 AM

    Kalila, I think that you have a real winner for the next article because I too think that we are most afraid of changes and what that would mean for us. I went to work in a place that is full of great people but business has gone kinda stagnant, and I think that a lot of this is due to the fact that no one wants to make any changes at all! It is 2012 and they still run the place like its 1992! And the reason that I get when I ask why? It is just that we have always done things this way and the doctors don’t want to change. Well maybe something is going to have to give here! Why are we so afraid of those changes that could make something better?

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