Grief hurts—psychologically, emotionally, and physically. A duo of psychiatrists (Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe) created the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) after research with over 5000 patients. They found a high correlation (0.118) between stressful life events and physical illness, and their results were validated in subsequent studies. On this scale, the two most stress-inducing events are death of a spouse and divorce. This comes as no surprise, since these two events change every moment of one’s life.
What is surprising, though, is that three of the top ten are positive transitions, including marriage, retirement, and marital reconciliation. Likewise, the top twenty includes positive events like pregnancy, gaining a new family member, a change in financial state (for worse or for better), and changing to a different line of work (whether unwanted or, more often, a positive choice). Outstanding personal achievement ranks as 25th in stress-inducing events. We think of these as happy occurrences, worthy of parties and celebrations. Yet each one carries a high level of stress and grief as people move from one state of life to another.
How to Recognize Mixed Emotions
In other words, your clients grieve when they go through positive transitions as well as negative. Can you be the wise advisor who recognizes their mixed emotions? Distinguish yourself by asking good open-ended questions so clients know you understand in ways that others don’t. A few examples:
“It’s wonderful to finally reach retirement, but you have to leave a lot behind as well. What do you really miss about your old life?”
“I know you’ve been looking forward to having a family for a long time. Parenting is not easy, though. Taking a guess, I imagine you miss things like a good night’s sleep or the ability to go out without carrying a minor U-Haul. Is that right, or what else have you found challenging about having a baby?”
“It sounds like people are reacting to the news of your divorce in ways that run the gamut from wanting to throw you a party to crying in disbelief. What do you wish people knew about what you are experiencing?”
“The new job is so exciting, but it has to be a real challenge, too. In what ways is your life different now, both positive and negative?”
Asking thoughtful, open-ended questions is an important tactic for many professionals such as teachers and counselors. Financial advisors, too, can use this approach to encourage others to openly talk about how they really feel. This lets them know that you are listening in ways that others don’t and presents the opportunity to offer comfort and build lasting trust.
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