When people think about grief and loss, they often bring to mind the death of a loved one. But there are many other types of loss as well, and every loss triggers grief. My last article for WealthManagement.com focused on the pervasive relationship losses your clients have experienced since COVID-19. Today we turn to another type: intrapsychic loss. This is the loss of dreams, visions and plans for the future. It frequently occurs in our lives – everything from infertility to divorce to not getting into a hoped-for college. Death causes intrapsychic loss too, as we let go of the physical presence of the person and the dreams and plans we had with that person.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant restrictions, intrapsychic losses have compounded: The loss of a previously thriving small business. The switch to remote learning and the loss of events and social interaction that education normally entails. The cancelation of planned vacations. The postponement or complete restructuring of weddings, birthday parties and other celebrations. The cancelation of sports seasons, especially for players who counted on those games to advance future prospects. The inability to enact long-standing traditions during the holidays. The loss of a job that was thought to be secure. Even our simple daily routines, plans and expectations were turned upside down—regularly going out to eat, attending worship services or getting kids on the bus to go to school. We have experienced intrapsychic loss in almost every aspect of our lives, and even as conditions begin to return to normal, we carry the emotional burden of what we’ve endured.
Are you aware of these losses among your clients? You should be. Remember, they are grieving every loss, even the small ones. If you can recognize and companion your clients through these challenging circumstances, you set yourself apart from other advisors.
Here are some practical tips. When you have your next meeting, remind clients that your purpose is to help them achieve their goals and dreams. You’ve kept in touch with the financial aspects of that purpose, and you’d like to take stock of other elements as well. Then start asking questions about what plans or dreams they’ve had to let go of in this past year. What didn’t happen that they had been looking forward to? What traditions weren’t able to be? Which aspects of the future they had planned disappeared?
A straightforward practice advocated by psychologist Dr. Robert Neimeyer is simply asking your client, “Over the last year, what have you lost?” Listen attentively, thank them for their answer and ask again, “And what else have you lost?” You can repeat this several times as the client explores the myriad ways they have experienced loss.
As they talk, note the items that raise the greatest emotion so you can empathize and then ask more about them. For instance, “It sounds like that was really tough. What was the hardest part about it for you? Were you able to talk about it with anyone else, or not really? What impact did it have on you and/or your family? How are you thinking about it now?” Compassionately discover what is truly important to clients and what they were most affected by.
Often, it is enough just for your client to feel that their losses and struggles have been heard and acknowledged. In situations where it’s appropriate, though, ask if there’s anything they would like to do about it. For instance, if they missed a planned family vacation, would they like to plan another one? If they weren’t able to be there when a loved one died, do they want a small gathering of those closest to the deceased so they can tell stories, share, laugh and cry together? If they had to severely downsize a wedding, is there a way to have a big reception this year? If someone they love died, can they collect stories, memories and pictures while also recording what they hope to do going forward to honor that person? Reassure them that you understand nothing can “make it right” or take away the pain of their losses, yet there are many concrete steps that can help with healing, or perhaps regain some parts of the experience.
With this understanding of intrapsychic loss, do what you can to recognize and respond to your clients’ experience on the emotional level, and assist with the financial aspects of what they would like to do about it. You will find gratification as you genuinely help them. At the same time, it solidifies your relationship, and they become even more devoted to you and your firm. You’re doing the right thing for your clients, and as always, that’s also excellent for business.
Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professionals in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life.