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How Can We Grieve the Loss of a Life We Had Wanted?

I’m one of those people who knew what I wanted to do from a young age. I knew I wanted to help people and I knew I wanted to be a mom. Once I had my end goals in place, I began working backwards to see the steps I’d need to take at each stage of my life in order to make my dreams a reality. Through my work I’ve come to realize I am not alone in this mindset. However, what happens when steps are not completed at the time you’d hope they’d be completed? What happens when life gets in the way and situations/people change? What happens if the life you expected and wanted for yourself doesn’t come to fruition? Unfortunately, these expectations are often not fully met. Even if we’ve “done everything right” things typically don’t go exactly according to plan. 

The realization that the life you imagined may not be possible to fulfill can be incredibly destabilizing and disorienting. The result? Grief. Whether it’s not finding a long-term partner, not having the career you’d hoped for, not being able to have children or finding a partner that doesn’t want children, life is unpredictable and therefore so is the path your life will take. Acknowledging the grief we feel and working through it like we would the pain of other forms of loss, self-compassion, acceptance, and openness, can allow us to find a new lease on life and move through the stages of grief effectively.

In order to begin coping with the pain that comes from stepping away from the path you’d hoped you’d be on, it’s vital to validate your feelings. Dismissing them as unimportant or silly will only further your unhappiness and isolate you from others around you. Managing uncertainty is part of the human experience but that doesn’t invalidate the feelings of grief that may accompany it. It’s important to question the desire behind the life you’d imagined. Stepping away from the idea that things must look or be a certain way can allow you to lean into the uncertainty of life and use it to propel you forward. In order to become more tolerant of feelings of uncertainty, we must process the grief that accompanies a life not seen to fruition, even if it’s simply taking another form. 

It’s important to spend time reflecting on your feelings and gaining a deeper understanding into the feelings that are presenting themselves. While acknowledging feelings of grief is important, in order to move through the feelings it’s necessary to identify where they’re stemming from and how you relate to that feeling. This process will likely take time as identifying our emotions can be very difficult especially in times of distress. When we identify our emotions it’s much easier to acknowledge the coping mechanisms that are inevitably in place. Dealing with raw emotions is incredibly uncomfortable. Taking the time to really dig into your emotional state and the layers of feelings underneath will make the grieving process smoother and more effective. 

Much of the grieving process comes from believing you’re not living up to the expectations you set for yourself or others. Focusing on shifting your perspective to acknowledge that maybe your exact expectations may not be met but the meaning behind them can still be achieved can be a good way to identify what’s truly important to you. For example, if your expectation was to be married by a certain age, it’s likely feeling loved and supported is what’s truly desired from that expectation. Considering this, while you may not be married by the age you had hoped, are there people you feel loved and supported by in your life? If so, it’s not that you haven’t met your expectations, it’s simply that you’re achieving them through a different path. This perspective shifting and unpacking can be done with all aspects of the life you feel you have lost. 

Grief is an incredibly difficult emotion and process that can result from many aspects of life. Relying on other for support is crucial and is a sign of strength in your desire to move forward leaning into the uncertainty that life holds. 

If you’ve found yourself struggling to grieve the loss of a life you had imagined, it may be useful to try counseling. We offer a range of counseling services in Chicago to support you. Contact Symmetry Counseling online, or call us at 312-578-9990 to arrange an appointment with one of our very skilled licensed therapists today!

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