It takes two years to overcome a major setback, WSJ reports

Overcoming loss takes time. Stopwatch photo by William Warby used under Creative Commons permission.

Overcoming loss takes time. Stopwatch photo by William Warby used under Creative Commons permission.

Who hasn’t suffered a serious hurt — a relationship ending, a job failure, a death?

A recent Wall Street Journal story headlined, “After Divorce or Job Loss Comes the Good Identity Crisis,” addresses the old adage that time heals all wounds.

Elizabeth Bernstein talks to experts who say most people will take two years, maybe longer, to overcome a trauma like divorce or losing a job.

That is more time than most people expect, says Prudence Gourguechon, a psychiatrist in Chicago and former president of the American Psychoanalytic Association. It’s important to know roughly how long the emotional disruption will last. Once you get over the shock that it is going to be a long process, you can relax, Dr. Gourguechon says. “You don’t have to feel pressure to be OK, because you’re not OK.”

Some experts call this recovery period an “identity crisis process.” It is perfectly normal, they say, to feel depressed, anxious and distracted during this time—in other words, to be an emotional mess. (Getting over the death of a loved one is more complicated and typically will take even longer than two years, experts say.)

Some people may find they need less than two years to bounce back from a divorce. But experts caution that it probably doesn’t pay to ignore the process, hurry it along or deny it, say, by immediately moving across the country to get a fresh start or diving into a new relationship. That will probably only postpone the day of reckoning.

I’ve heard a rule of thumb that however long a relationship was, you need half that long to grieve its ending. Break up with your boyfriend of a year, you need six months. Divorce your wife of 20 years, you’ll be licking those wounds for 10 years.

My mom died in 2001. This year the anniversary of her death came and went, and I was surprised to find the day passed without me giving it much thought or feeling sad. It took 12 years, but here I am. I still miss her, but the pain is fading.

Whatever the length of time, I loved the advice my Hospice support group leader gave after my mom died: it’s not a matter of if you will grieve but when. Somehow you’ve got to come to terms with a big loss.

Bernstein goes on to write:

Recovering from a divorce or job loss actually involves two overlapping processes. There is the recovery from grief. And there is the even more time-consuming process of rebuilding the structure of your life. Where will you eat dinner? Who will your friends be? After all, if you are married, even if you hate your spouse, “you know when to show up and when to come home,” Dr. Gourguechon says.

If all your friends were shared, your day-to-day routine built around another person, your vacation and retirement plans intertwined with that person, of course it’ll take time to re-establish all of that. And losing a job that was your source of income, maybe your source of identity, maybe the place you’d met many of your friends, that will take some adjustment, too.

Something positive can come from that rebuilding. You might take a long, hard look at aspects of your life that weren’t serving you and decide to make improvements. I’ve certainly seen that silver lining in numerous people’s lives.

But it doesn’t happen overnight. If you decide to change careers or lose weight or cultivate new friends, that takes time.

If you’re lucky, you have least 70 years in you like Mick Jagger, so you can come out the other side of the process.

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