During my studies for my degree in psychology, one of my assignments was to interview a counseling practitioner, in other words, someone who has been out in the field for a while. I asked this professional what she felt was the most common issue presented by clients. To my surprise her answer was that everyone was dealing with some sort of loss. In fact she took it as far as to say that every circumstance discussed by clients had at its source– a loss. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed.
Think about it. Our challenges do indeed center on the experience of some type of loss.There are many different losses but they actually can be grouped into a few major categories.
Loss of health
A lot of issues fall under the idea of having a deficit in one’s vigor and physical wellbeing; or, never having perfect health in the first place. People deal with the limitations of their disabilities and/or diagnoses. In the life cycle, many cannot seem to adjust to the natural process of aging and face up to transitions, and the fact that one cannot stay as a young spring chicken forever. This involves changes in health status and participation in activities. Everyone has heard of the mid-life crisis cliché. Just about everyone knows of someone who is going or went through such a challenge. Also there are those who have to come to grip with their mortality. There are persons who have the possibility of loss of very life itself. Death is inevitable for everyone but some have to face it prematurely.
Body image plays a big part in this kind of loss. Just about the only thing that I am always happy to lose is weight. I am too easily captivated by the advertisements and television programs that show a large person transformed by losing over 100 pounds. On the other hand, too much weight loss is a serious problem and is actually a symptom of deeper losses experienced by those who might be fighting anorexia and/or bulimia. Some are willing to intake dangerous diet concoctions and go to extreme physical exertion just in the hopes of shedding a few pounds. In addition we have those who feel the necessity to bulk up in excess and those who have problems with steroids. This all is done in order to feed a lessened body image and loss of self-esteem. This leads to the next category.
Loss of dignity
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often spoke of people’s loss of dignity and a lot of her efforts focused on restoring this. She described the destitute as “hungry not only for bread – but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing – but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks – but homeless because of rejection.”
Loss of dignity is often directly related to loss of innocence. People experience regret over actions and decisions made that resulted in a compromise of their standards and morality. They agonize over loss of purity and the desire to have a clear conscience.
Those who are struggling with addictions have loss of sobriety, which is really a symptom of other types of losses. In fact, no one really heals from an addiction unless the underlying issues are addressed.
Loss of love
Failed relationships, divorce, lack of forgiveness, loss of pregnancy, dead beat parents, are all types of lost loves. One can also lose a significant person through death or other circumstances such as moving or relocation.
Some resort to knocking others down because they feel unloved or unworthy themselves. A lot of bullies are actually those who have experienced a great loss of love, not just for others but from others. Those with narcissistic personality traits tend to brag and act grandiose but are actually feeling very inferior inside.
Loss of resources
Just this morning I read an article about a woman who lost a winning million dollar lottery ticket. She had thrown it into the trash by mistake. In our society characterized by economic instability and unemployment, many today are experiencing lack of resources.This hits the category of our basic human needs.If we were to look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it doesn’t take long to realize that one’s basic necessities are important to be addressed before taking on the higher ideals. It is a tough position to help heal someone’s depression if they are hungry and don’t have a place to sleep. Yet, at the same time, one can lack all of the physical comforts and yet still have deep peace inside and a sense of meaning in their lives. Once again, Mother Teresa always affirmed that the greatest poverty is spiritual rather than physical.
Loss of direction
A common dilemma is to lose one’s way. A lot of people suffer from lack of direction, goals, and/or encouragement. I remember one client telling me that she wishes she had more people in her life when she was young to tell her where to go. On the other hand, there are others of us who have too many people trying to tell us where to go!
Today (May 3) happens to be the Feast Day of St. James (and Saint Philip). I mention St. James in particular because of the well-known Way of St. James. This is the pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain where tradition holds that the remains of this Apostle are buried. This is a pilgrimage that has been undertaken by Christians since at least the medieval times.The scallop shell has become a symbol of the Way of St. James as many came back from their travels with it as a souvenir that they picked up at the sea. Recently this route has been popularized by the motion picture, The Way starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.
In my opinion, as pilgrims in this life, we are all on a journey. In the context of my Catholic faith, the direction is pointed toward God. But it is easy to lose one’s way and to even get side-tracked. In fact, most effort in life is committed toward staying on course and trying to minimize our losses. In today’s Gospel Jesus says, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. (Jn 14:6).
An old evangelization pamphlet by Billy Graham states: Over the years I have talked to thousands of people who have asked me how to find their way to God. Some have sat in church pews all their lives but never come to personally know God. Others have sought for ultimate meaning in all sorts of ways but never found the peace of mind for which they were searching. Some simply realize that there is something vital missing in their lives.
This strikes a chord for me both as a licensed professional counselor and as a Catholic Christian. I interpret loss of meaning as the major challenge of many clients and all of the losses can be seen as culminating in the ultimate search for meaning.