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When the market jilts you, mourn your loss Add to ...

Welcome to the Grieving Room, everyone.

Take a chair. Make yourself comfortable. Let's dim the lights a bit.

There, that's better.

We know that you feel slightly embarrassed to be coming here. After all, you are not destitute. You haven't lost everything. You can still put food on the table. Many of you have jobs. You have your house. You lead privileged lives, compared to many. And be honest, some of you are still willing to pay five bucks for a skinny latte at Starbucks, aren't you?

But that doesn't change the fact that you have suffered a loss.

Some of you have experienced major ones, even if only on paper, and the seemingly bottomless pit of the stock market - which last week was once again desperately seeking its floor - continues to be hard on the heart. And just because people dismiss the idea of that loss, especially for those who are not without means, well, we know it's real. You get little sympathy. Maybe you feel that some people are thinking that you need a comeuppance.

But we recognize the irony. The culture promotes wealth as a crucial life-affirming goal. There are investment clubs, where stock tips are eagerly traded. Banks and brokerage houses urge you to boost your nest egg, pad those RRSPs for the future. You are encouraged to hand over your hard-earned money. But when you lose that money, the culture denies you the opportunity to grieve. No one eagerly jumps in to hold your clammy paw.

It's seen as déclassé to grieve financial loss. You are expected to shrug it off. In his book, Money and Class in America, Lewis Lapham writes that the desire for wealth is a civil religion, the ultimate expression of the American mythological dream. Great, but if you admit to that, you are seen as deeply flawed and shallow.

Weird, eh?

It's complicated, but we are here to help. This is where you come to grieve, to have your feelings validated.

How significant is a financial loss compared to other losses?

Susan Latremoille, who works closely with wealthy clients as vice-president and wealth adviser at Richardson Partners Financial in Toronto, says that loss of capital often precipitates the same psychological stages - denial, anger, remorse and acceptance - as other life traumas. "You have to hear people out. You can't deny their emotions or reason them out of how they feel," she explains.

There are psychologists - James Gottfurcht, president of Psychology of Money Consultants in California is one - who suggest that loss of wealth is just as traumatic as the loss of a love relationship.

No wonder you sat at home the other night and drank too much wine. Your nose-diving investments are as big a blow to your sense of who you are as being dumped by that guy you really liked in 1987. Break out the Haagen-Dazs. Hide under the duvet.

"The loss of love relationships is psychologically traumatic, but my experience is that loss of money for large numbers of people is becoming greater than loss of relationships because money is wrapped up with identity, security and all of this ego," Dr. Gottfurcht says.

Which is not to say that you love money more than people. Who would admit that? Still, let's be honest. Money has its merits. It never talks back, for one. Its bigness, when it fills the room, can be very exciting. And when you ask it to get something for you, it does, immediately and without argument.

It is the best surrogate lover around.

But we digress. We do not want to minimize your loss by making fun of it. Let's try to understand it, instead. For many men, loss is compounded by their "provider burden," as Sandra Pierce, senior vice-president of Blackmont Capital, says. "Many take it personally, even though they didn't do anything to cause it. They see it as a weakness in their role as head of the household." Many women feel the loss just as keenly, she adds, but they can be more philosophical. "They tend to say, 'This was a mistake. This wasn't my fault.' They are better at knowing that they did the best they could."

Do not despair. There are ways to cope, and lessons to be learned. Talk to your money psyche, for example. That's what Olivia Mellan, a money coach, psychotherapist and author of The Secret Language of Money, among other books, advises people to do. "I tell people to have money dialogues, and that involves all the people in your head who influenced you about money: your mother, your father, the priest, the rabbi, your ex-husband. Then, write out the conversation." That way, you can see your irrational fears, your preoccupations, your unhelpful ideas. And when you face them, you can deal with them.

The lessons? Well, perhaps those people who think you deserved the financial hit are not just mean-spirited. Maybe you did think you were above it all, a master of your destiny, better than everybody else, and smarter about the way you made and invested money. Humility is never a bad thing, even if it hurts.

Go ahead, confess it. Maybe you did let your money make you feel popular and powerful. When you were invited to certain la-di-da parties and swanky fundraisers, you began to think that maybe it was you - your glittering presence and superior chit-chat - that was so beloved. Now, maybe you will see that it was your money they wanted, if not for donation then just to have its social cachet sprinkled about for others' benefit. Who needs friends like that?

There are silver linings to the loss, you see. Get real friends. Be liked for who you are, not just for your wealth measurements. And best of all, live in the moment. Stop thinking about the past when things were rosier. Stop projecting into the future with fears about unlikely destitution. Go for long walks. Exercise. Reduce your blood pressure. "It doesn't help to get bent out of shape," Ms. Latremoille says.

As for remorse, don't beat yourself up. You were not the only one who got caught up in the blessed-are-we attitude of the prevailing boomer generation, who assumed that the gains of the past 20 years would continue ad infinitum.

Acknowledge the uncertainty. Accept it. And remember this from Ms. Mellan: "Even the experts don't know what is happening now."

So, breathe. Deeply. You will survive. And this, too, shall pass. Just like the heartache over what's-his-name in 1987.

shampson@globeandmail.com

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Follow on Twitter: @Hampsonwrites

 

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