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When our dreams die

Everyone has experienced grief and loss at some point in their life. It may have been to loss of a favored pet as a child, the loss of a treasured relationship, or the loss of a partner, close friend, or family member. These losses hurt, often intensely.

But there is another loss we sometimes experience; it is the loss of a dream.

The loss of a dream hurts as well. It hurts deep, deep within us, sometimes leaving a hollowness that is hard to understand and hard to cope with. One of the problems is that our dreams are our vision of our future. When we lose a dream, it can create a sense of vertigo within us. We can feel unbalanced and strangely weakened. The path before us can seem shadowy, uncertain, or suddenly meaningless. Our future can seem to evaporate before our eyes.

When our dreams die, a part of us dies too.

Even though our dreams are simply an abstract thought of our future, they are often a sustaining anchor for us. We sometimes rely on them to get us through tough times. We may say to ourselves, today may be hard, but someday I will have what I want or be who I want. When we lose a dream, we lose its power to sustain us when times are tough. We can lose our hope and begin to question our future.

Conventional advice tells us that when a dream dies it opens new opportunities. It tells us that when one door closes, another one opens. It tells us that the experience of loss is an opportunity for growth. While that all may be true, it does not mean that new opportunities will miraculously appear or that our adaptation to new realities will not be without pain. All loss requires grieving, and grieving hurts.

The combination of shock and grieving can leave us paralyzed. We can find ourselves depressed, feeling isolated, and with barely enough energy to live, much less to jump up and pursue new options. The loss of a dream can challenge the very meaning we give to life. We may feel this deeply, especially if we have invested heavily, emotionally and otherwise, in our dream. When a dream dies, it can shake our view of how our life will turn out and what the future will hold.

There is a lot of advice about how to handle grief. Much of it involves accepting the emotions of grief, thinking carefully about what the loss really means to us, adjusting our perspectives, and moving on in some positive way, no matter how much our pain or an eroded faith in others may linger. But our emotions can be bullies. They can get in the way and delay our ability to move on. This is simply the reality of loss. We must at some point find a way to understand it, put it into perspective, and incorporate it into our life story.

Negative emotions of all kinds change how we look at things. Often, they narrow our view, force us to look inward or withdraw, and make us feel threatened or disconnected. The great challenge to handling the loss of a dream is to accept these feelings without surrendering to them. No matter how bad we feel, we must at some point force ourselves to look up, look around, and participate in our own lives. We have to recognize that, even though they are deeply connected, there is a difference between how we feel and how we act.

It is crucial that we do not let our dark side take over.

Even though we may find it difficult to gather the strength to move on in a positive way, it is crucial that we do not let our dark side take over. It is just as important to avoid a downward spiral as it is to begin an upward one. We cannot surrender to drugs, alcohol, despair, or risky and unsafe behavior. Deep loss puts us at a crossroads, a crossroads that can be lonely. Even if our steps are small or hesitant, we must turn and face in a positive direction. We must face the sun, even if its warmth is hard to appreciate.

For more insights see my books and blog at

YouTube, The Coping Expert,


James McGinley, PhD is a professor, author, certified life coach, and licensed counselor. He is interested in cross-cultural and applied psychology, whether at work, as a part of a team, in our personal lives and in our relationships with others, or when we face adversity in life – whether from stress, addiction, or exposure to crisis.

(Images from Freepik)

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