What The Heck Is Intangible Loss?

How’s your heart in these wild times?

It’s hard to stay open, grounded and, let’s face it, sane amidst all the anxiety, fear and panic with COVID-19. Globally we are struggling with a loss of normalcy as events and travel plans are cancelled. A loss of routine as schools are shut down.  A loss of freedom in countries where there’s a lockdown. An overall huge loss of safety and security. And a loss of trust with some governments clearly mismanaging the situation and the often contradictory information that makes it difficult to know the next right step.

We’re all attempting to reorient ourselves and adopt new behaviours as we get a handle on this virus. These intangible losses (both the personal and the global ones we’re all dealing with right now) can be difficult to verbalize, to get a grasp on, to even figure out what it is that you’re grieving. And they can be just as devastating and disorienting as the death of a loved one. So let’s be compassionate with one another and understand that we are all just trying to find the best way forward.

Here’s the thing, we can’t heal what we can’t identify.

I’m hoping by sharing more about the intangible losses that we experience I can help you name it so you can begin to heal it.
Here’s an incomplete list of some of the intangible losses that we grieve.

  • Loss of safety
  • Loss of trust
  • Loss of security
  • Loss of innocence
  • Loss of identity 
  • Loss of your vision for the future (divorce, miscarriage, unfulfilled dreams)
  • Loss of community
  • Loss of freedom 
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of financial stability / income
  • Loss of routine / normalcy
  • Loss of your sense of purpose
  • Loss of youth, vitality
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Loss of approval
  • Loss of control of your body
  • Loss of control of your mind
  • Loss of love
  • Loss of life skills
  • Loss of faith
  • Loss of agency
  • Loss of dignity
  • Loss of your sense of sel
  • Loss of self-worth (self-esteem, self-confidence)

We all have stories of intangible loss. We’ve all experienced events in our lives that have left us not knowing which way is up without being able to express WHY we feel so lost.

Let me share a personal story with you. I believed since my preteen years that I wanted to be a physiotherapist. I did my Grade 11 co-op placement in physio and went on from there. But after years of working in the field and a final year of working full-time in a hospital and then part-time in a physio clinic (gawd, remember when we had that kind of energy!?) I realized it was too repetitive for me. I tried every aspect of the field (neuro, ortho, paediatrics…) and it simply wasn’t fulfilling to me. I wore a white coat and cruised hospital hallways, it was as close to a doctor as I could be and it still wasn’t enough. I knew I had to leave. But who was I without it? I thought I was going to be a physiotherapist my whole life! What the heck was I going to do with my life now?

Job loss comes with all kinds of intangible losses. Whether it’s retirement, getting fired or laid off, or like me, realizing you chose the wrong profession. And it’s something we ALL experience.

There’s a loss of routine, loss of community, loss of financial security, loss of your vision for the future, loss of your sense of purpose, loss of identity (who am I if I’m not a physiotherapist?) and sometimes loss of self-worth (because society has tricked us into believing we’re only valuable when we’re making a contribution to the betterment of the world).

Is it any wonder then that so many people struggle to adjust to retirement?

Or that some reports say up to 60% of Millennials suffer from a quarter-life crisis after becoming disillusioned with their careers, relationships, and finances?

So how do we navigate the decidedly grey waters of intangible loss?

I love what Brené Brown has to say about it (though, let’s be honest I love what Brené has to say about most things):

“There are two reasons why most of us are slow to acknowledge that what we’re feeling is heartbreak. The first is that we normally associate heartbreak with romantic love. The second reason we don’t acknowledge heartbreak is its association with one of the most difficult emotions in the human experience: grief. If what I’m experiencing is heartbreak, then grieving is inevitable.”

In her research, Brené found there were 3 elements of grief – loss, longing and feeling lost. These elements 100% apply to all the types of intangible losses we’ve mentioned today. (PS all these quotes are taken from her book Rising Strong, highly recommended read.)

“Grief seems to create losses within us that reach beyond our awareness-we feel as if we’re missing something, something that was invisible and unknown to us while we had it, but is now painfully gone.”

“Longing is not conscious wanting; it’s an involuntary yearning for wholeness, for understanding, for meaning, for the opportunity to regain or even simply touch what we’ve lost.” 

“Feeling lost – Grief requires us to reorient ourselves to every part of our physical, emotional, and social worlds.”

Brené’s research revealed that writing about our heartbreak and loss helps us to be able to articulate it to others so we can connect and feel less alone.

This is the process we go through in the Grief Recovery Method. Through various writing exercises, we’ll explore your loss history, how those losses impacted you, where they’re still hurting you, and what you need to do to heal your heart so you can move forward.

Then you share what you’ve written in a non-judgmental safe space where you can be truly witnessed and validated and finally begin to set down this heavy heartbreak you’ve been carrying.


It’s the beginning of a process of forgiveness. Forgiving yourself for the choices you made or for circumstances that were beyond your control.  And forgiving others. So often we weave stories about the wounds and hurts that live on in our hearts and minds. Forgiveness allows us to begin to let go of those stories.

“In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. If you make a choice to forgive, you have to face into the pain. You simply have to hurt.”  – Joe Reynolds, Episcopal priest 

“Forgiveness is not forgetting or walking away from accountability or condoning a hurtful act; it’s the process of taking back and healing our lives so we can truly live”. – Brené Brown

If there’s a loss that you’re struggling with, even if it’s one you can’t quite put your finger on, the Grief Recovery Method can help you find clarity and complete it. You don’t have to keep carrying it forward with you. If you’re interested in learning more, drop me a message and I’ll tell you about my online, and in-person, coaching options.

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