Have you ever thrown a pebble in a still pond and watched its impact? As it settles to the bottom, waves expand outward from the point of entry, disturbing the water in ever- growing rings of motion. The one single event of a pebble falling in the water affects all that is around it with multiple, vast, extending ripples.
The loss of a loved one, a job, a dream, or one’s health has a similar effect, setting off an uproar that moves across time and space. Those ripples are referred to as “secondary losses.”
Dr. Jill Harrington LaMorie, Senior Field Researcher on the National Military Family Bereavement Study, developed a list of secondary losses that a person may experience when losing a loved one. Over the past year, I experienced many of them. For example:
Family structure: Throughout my husband’s illness and after he died, I took on all the responsibilities – many of which were foreign to me.
A primary relationship: We met when we were 12 and were married for 62 years. We grew up together, had a lifetime of memories, and were best friends. There is no one with whom to share, now.
A chosen lifestyle: Our goal was to age well together. I am on my own.
Identity: I am no longer a wife or a couple, but a single person and a third-wheel sometimes.
Large chunk of self: He was my soul mate - our lives were intertwined. There is an indescribable hole in my being that no one can fill.
Security: For over 60 years, he was my rock and my protector. I trusted him. Now I must learn to trust myself and others.
Self-confidence: In addition to the losses, the pandemic, staying at home for over a year, eye surgery, and being a caretaker took a toll. I began to question every decision, doubt my ability to do things, and allow fear to run amok.
When confidence is lost, it must be rebuilt if one is to age well. Jack Canfield, author, motivational speaker, and entrepreneur has a YouTube video entitled How to Build Self-Confidence, filled with good ideas. Take a look.
I am moving past some fears, learning new things, and moving out of my comfort zone by going out with friends, taking care of business, and finding out who Janice is. How? Mainly by doing what is fearful despite the feelings. That includes listening to the fears, doing what I can to alleviate them, and visualizing success. Yes, it is easier said than done.
One fear that wasn’t conquered is the fear of driving. After talking with others and doing a lot of thinking, I decided to take Matt Frazier’s advice. He talks about the need to accept, forgive, and let go. For me, that meant accepting the fact that my vision isn’t as good as it was, that my age could be a factor and that maybe my fear has a basis. It also meant forgiving myself for not getting past the fear and allowing myself to be at peace with the decision.
There is hope that all my confidence can be regained. One strategy is to build a new positive life. That means focusing on the positive aspects of life and not worrying about the negative - living in the moment and not dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.
Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)
According to Psychology Today
A growing body of research shows that humans have the ability to not only “bounce back” from trauma, but to build a positive life on the other side of a traumatic experience. So, although secondary loss is inevitable, many people also experience secondary gains, otherwise known as post-traumatic growth.
One study suggests that nearly 50 percent of trauma survivors experience post-traumatic growth after a traumatic event.
Although it does not mean the absence of distress or grief, this growth can lead to connection, confidence, and attunement with life’s deeper meaning.
PTG describes positive psychological change experienced as a result of struggling with highly challenging, highly stressful life circumstances such as the loss of a loved one or a life-threatening illness. These circumstances represent significant challenges to the adaptive resources of individuals and pose significant challenges to their understanding of the world and their place in it.
The theory that trauma can lead to positive change is not new, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the term post-traumatic growth was coined by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. They suggest that PTG occurs in five general areas: appreciation of life, relationship with others, new possibilities in life, personal strength, and spiritual change.
The theory made sense to me. I weathered many storms during the past five years that strengthened me, since my husband died possibilities are blossoming, and now I have time to resume old relationships or build new ones.
Maybe, building a positive life for will be a key to building my confidence - confidence necessary to age well.