You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.” ? Franz Kafka
In this blog, I wanted to write about Loss and try and explain a bit about what the hell we are supposed to do with it! I think loss is perhaps one of the things that I find it hard to think isn’t a feature of almost every encounter I experience as a Psychotherapist, and perhaps as a human, it is a pervasive part of being human, a painful part but a part none the less.
I encounter loss in the therapeutic encounter in a huge range of experiences, from the sudden tragic losses due to bereavement; due to the more ambiguous everyday losses of identity due to the on going vicissitudes of life and changing circumstances. These include the loss of who we are when our situations change, the loss of childhood experienced by parents and their children, due to adolescence, the loss of a much loved work identity in retirement and of course the frequent and painful losses when relationship change or end. So what do we do when, as a colleague poignantly put it, “ the glue dissolves”.
During my training, and in the literature, there is much talk of processing these losses, the need to mourn etc. and about what can happen when these things get stuck, but what do these things actually mean?“
I think a lot of what I’m doing as a therapist is trying to reflect mentally through my experience and the sharing of my experience of being with someone, a mirror to them so they can come to understand what it is they are doing. Often in grief, there is pain and this pain has to be managed, feelings have to be managed. I will seek through this reflective process to help clients understand what they are doing to manage their grief, not to judge it as good or bad but simply to bring some awareness to it, so it can be thought about. Often, through this exploration of these important-survival strategies, and over time, the experience of grief often so raw and frightening can start to be experienced, to allow it bit by bit to be felt, the good and bad of what has been lost to be experienced and allowed to pass, or at least survived. Sometimes a loss has to examined from many different angles, many times over. Loss is painful and hard to stay with.
Darian Leader in his excellent book, The New Black, revisits Freud’s concepts of Mourning and Melancholia, to explore a more nuanced experience of loss and argues that, modern society has created a pressure to package and treat loss and that this has created a simplistic definition that can be biologically defined and then treated by adjusting the chemicals within the brain via medication. This has led to the many complex and often unconscious causes of depression being narrowed and linked to biological markers that can be targeted via drugs. That’s not to say drugs can’t be helpful, they can be, but they rarely resolve the underlying causes.
Leader while praising Freud’s new thinking about depression, argues that he misses a vital element of mourning, its communal aspect and looks at various cultures and the way in which they share the process of mourning.
For me I am struck by the Musician Nick Cave and his wife; Susie’s, much documented loss of one of their twin boys, aged 15. Nick Cave, has since that loss and after a period of retreat, sought to engage with his audience and to open himself to the experience of loss, he writes a webpage called the Red letter diaries, has gone on speaking tours and often engages and shares in the stories of loss with his audience. He cites this as an essential part of what has helped him survive this tragedy. As he says there are an awful lot of mourners out there.
Both Cave and Leader cite the Buddhist story of a Mother who loses her baby and has the dead baby strapped to her chest, a monk says that she must find some mustard seeds from a house that has experienced no loss and as she goes from house to house in search of these, never finding a house that has experienced no loss, but as she comes into the contact with the various losses of each house and in the sharing of their grief’s she is eventually able to lay her baby to rest.
Paul Salvage is Psychodynamic Psychotherapist trained to work with adolescents from 16-25 and adults across a wide range of specialisms including depression, anxiety, family issues, self awareness and relationship difficulties. He currently works with individuals in our private practice in Hove.
Further reading by Paul Salvage –