Rebuild! Rebuild! Rebuild!

Finally, it’s all over. Hopefully, you have your life to yourself and you can look forward to the future ahead of you. However, depending on your particular story of disappointment, divorce, or failure, it may not be that easy or clear-cut.

Your relationship may have ended, your divorce may be final on paper, your failures might be in the past, but chances are that if you constantly relive the pain of these experiences, you have been unable to focus on your future.

Rebuilding is all about returning to a state of equilibrium. In its most basic sense it is redirecting your focus and efforts to what lies ahead. In a more complex sense successful rebuilding is a re-definition of you.

Is it necessary to rebuild after a failed relationship or traumatic experience? Yes! It is. If you choose to put the past behind, it is the only choice you do have. The alternatives would be to move no further than the trauma of your experience, to stay down in the valley of regret, or to hold yourself to the ideal of somehow rewriting your past.

At the very core of the need to rebuild is the fact that in your experience of disappointment you probably felt that your very identity was taken from you. Your experience may have created questions for you with no apparent answers: Who am I now? How do I introduce myself to people now? What do I do with myself now? I worked so hard to get there, how do I start over again? Can I start over?

As you sort through these questions your subconscious goal is to re-integrate your sense of self. Much of the emotional pain of failure, disappointment, divorce, trauma, comes from this disconnect in your self identity. Achieving this goal of re-integrating would mean including your experience of loss in your self-concept; but without the emotional pain. In other words, face and incorporate into your identity the loss that you have experienced. This is the ultimate outcome of grieving.

Rebuilding can begin only after you have successfully grieved the cause of this disconnect you feel. Grieving your loss allows for healing, it provides strength and insight and also results in the re-integration of your self-concept.

How do you know when it is time to undertake the task of rebuilding after a loss? An effective gauge would be to assess how far along you are in the grieving process. There are various models of the stages in the grief process. Each stage represents an emotional state. You are ready to rebuild when you have confronted and overcome the challenge of each stage.

Here are some of the grief stages as outlined by Kubler-Ross’s model, (1969):

Denial – The challenge of this phase is to face squarely, the reality of your new state or status and to fully accept the responsibilities of this new state.

Rage and Anger – The challenge of this phase is to overcome your anger even without understanding the "whys" and "hows" of your new circumstance.

Bargaining – The challenge of this phase is to overcome the belief that you can somehow hope to avoid or substitute for something else the eventuality of the situation, event, or circumstances you may be facing.

Depression - The challenge of this phase is to overcome your sadness and despair. Not that there is anything wrong about feeling sad or being in despair at the initial experience of trauma, but you will need to get past these emotions to the more dispassionate viewpoint where you simply recognize that your loss was a sad occurrence without necessarily feeling sad or being depressed.

Acceptance – In this phase you have come to terms with your new circumstance and have made the decision to move forward. This is the stage where you actually begin to figure out ways to live with your new situation.

In a world where sadness is often seen as a sign of weakness, an anomaly, we often try to rebuild after trauma without allowing ourselves time to grieve. We associate acting and looking like nothing happened with being okay...moving on, and, as the saying goes, acting like it's "business as usual."

It is not just okay to grieve; it is a sign of healthy functioning. Grieving is like a cleansing. It tells your inner self that it is time to begin the process of working on the new.

Equally important in undertaking the task of rebuilding is the understanding you have of your life stage. This concept is premised on a developmental approach to human behavior and functioning. In this context, your response to a loss is understood as partly influenced by your life stage.

Understanding your life stage should help you appreciate the significance of those elements of your life that have been most devastated by your experience of trauma or loss. This in turn should assist you in understanding your feelings of grief, determining the focus of your efforts to rebuild, and also help you channel your energies appropriately.

To better illustrate the importance of life stages in rebuilding, consider this example of a fifty year old woman who has just experienced a divorce after 28 years of marriage. Her focus in rebuilding would most likely be different than the focus of a twenty-five year old woman experiencing a divorce after 3 years of marriage.

By knowing and understanding the significance of the various aspects of her life that have been impacted by her experience of divorce, the fifty year old woman can understand why she feels the way she does, and on what aspects of her life she needs to concentrate her rebuilding efforts. Both of the women in this example may be experiencing a similar kind of loss, they may both feel pain, but they might actually be grieving over totally different things as determined by the meaning of the loss they are experiencing, which in turn may be based on the difference in their life stage.

It is advisable to seek professional help if you are having trouble grieving your loss, moving through the different stages of grief, or if you or your loved ones have concerns about the intensity of your feelings of loss or how long you have been grieving.

An important process in grieving and preparing to rebuild your life is working through guilt and regret. Quite often it is not actually grief that prevents you from undertaking the task of rebuilding your life, but unresolved feelings of guilt and regret. It is very important to seek professional help if you are unable to work through these feelings on your own.

In summary, successful rebuilding is directly tied to the grieving process. Grieving is a healthy first step, it has a cleansing effect, and it indicates your emotional preparedness to begin the task of rebuilding. A very important piece to attaining harmony after a loss is
re-integrating and including your loss in your self identity.

At anytime--either during the grieving process or when rebuilding--you may need to seek professional help in order to explore the importance of your stage of life, work through guilt and regret, or as a source of support.

Group therapy is often useful in overcoming the emotional pain of any kind of loss. For many, however, individual therapy is the best means of receiving optimal help.

Click Here to learn more about Claire Arene, MSW, LCSW.