There is an excellent analysis of grief in bears and the relationship between humans and other beasts today. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/opinion/sunday/03gus.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1 One of the key points to me this author makes is
Many animals have singular personalities, preferences and idiosyncrasies. When they play together, they reveal different aspects of their temperaments, just as we do with friends and loved ones. So when Ida died, Gus not only lost his old mate, he lost those parts of himself that related to irretrievable parts of her.
I often find, in my practice, in this United States cultural environment of “just doing it” and “getting over it” that people are less than forgiving with their sense of loss and grief, vis-a-vis death, divorce, and other forms of loss.
This simple sentence, above, in bold, to me, says quite a bit about why it is so hard to just get over it. Healing the wounds created by loss involves first acknowledging, that is, bringing into consciousness, just what the loss is in the first place. What are the parts of yourself that have been lost?
Once you do that, then you can figure out whether you need to bury those parts for good, or transform them into other relationships, with a dog or cat, with your work, or with yourself. Often, becoming whole, involves taking what you got from another person and giving it to yourself directly, or, with Vippasanna practice, getting to the point where the need (for surrogate mothering or fathering, e.g.) dissipates and weakens. In Vippasana we learn to “unpack” the clustered, dense, sticky, dark, unexamined, maelstrom like, un-felt pressured emotions that can dominate us in mental un-health.
I find, all too often, people with anxiety and depressive disorders are unable to do that, and are often poorly served by psychologists who just want to focus on short term treatment of cognition and behavior, as if human beings had no souls, no emotional lives, no depth.
Another salient quote, and here I think most psychologists do “get it right” (the fact that you have to grieve loss…) what is debatable is how long “healthy” grief is, and how consuming; and again, here, I think this society with all its corporate models of efficiency, mostly gets it totally wrong.
All too often I have patients come in who went back to work the day after mom’s funeral, the day after their brother who was killed in a car accident was put in the ground. Stiff upper lip. Dark sunglasses. Dealt with grief and sadness by keeping busy busy busy. Unfortunately the intense normal feelings associated with loss cannot successfully be denied. They cannot even successfully be repressed.
Instead, what we do is create anxiety, insomnia,panic attack, anger, depression, and other misplaced expressions of what are, after all, simply normal feelings.
I think here we can learn from the animals.
A 2005 study of elephant grief, reported in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, confirmed what experts have long sworn, that elephants pay homage to their fallen, visiting the remains of even long-dead relatives, and gently turning over the bleached bones with trunk or foot. Biologists tell of gorillas banging their chests with yowls of anguish during a wake for a fallen friend, of sea lions wailing when their babies have been mutilated by killer whales, of grief-stricken monkey mothers carrying dead infants around for days, of geese singing both halves of a duet when their partners have died.
For humans, with our elaborate cerebral cortex, many kinds of loss can tap into our primate fear of death and dying. Especially if there has been childhood abandonment, which itself amplifies our normal fear of death and loss, it is not surprising to see plain things, like a move, or loss of job, or loss of a friendship, to trigger the kind of grief normally associated with our fear of death. It is so important, in healing, to understand this, and learn to feel, in safe ways (again, here i like Vippasanna Mindfulness Meditation, and also a psychological therapy called Somatic Experiencing..see Steven Levine)both our emotional states, and the physical, nervous system, somatic expressions of them.
Chinese medicine talks about feeling anger in the neck and shoulders, fear in the stomach and low back, sadness as a sinking feeling, etc. Mindfulness practice and SE are two excellent methods by which you can learn to feel healthfully, without becoming overwhelmed by feelings.
Good starting places, book wise, are
Most important I would add, is that if you do work with a therapist, do not trust them more than you trust yourself. Trust someone you know is good, go to someone you have at least as good recommendations for as a dentist or auto mechanic, but trust them only as you trust yourself. If your gut disagrees with what they say or do, listen to it. A big part of the healing process for lots of us, in fact.
People who go to all the trouble of getting Ph.D.’s, like being authorities. I do, too. But authorities are very dangerous people, because they are powerful. And when we seek help we are already vulnerable. An some of them can be reckless and play fast and loose with other people’s welfare.
I am humble enough to know that the patients I work with already have what they need to heal inside them, that I am a guide or assistant in that process, a good one, but that each person’s healing process is unique, it may not look like i want it to look like, it may contradict my thinking and theories, and it will go at the pace they are capable of, just as mine does. My idea of a good psychologist follows these lines. Hope this may be helpful.
copyright 2011 july eyton j. shalom all rights reserved use with permission
Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diegohttp://new.bodymindwellnesscenter.com