Ktismatics

25 May 2007

Living Inside of Sorrow

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 2:19 pm

If I were to build a psychological intervention for plunging into sorrow, a postmodern Stations of the Cross, I wouldn’t be focused so much on having people relive their personal Via Dolorosa through an iconic representation of the original loss — though that might be part of it. I’d be more interested in exploring how each of us lives every day inside of sorrow.

When we lose something or someone that we value personally we experience sorrow. Unresolved sorrow can make us depressed, or it can make us numb. This continual, residual sorrow suggests the presence of absence: the sense that loss isn’t a past event but a present condition.

Sometimes it seems that loss pervades everything — why is that? In Christianity’s interpretation the loss is a spiritual one: as a consequence of the Fall we always already experience the loss of God in and among us, as well as the loss of our ability to respond to God. We try to compensate by exalting ourselves as gods, but we cannot recover from our loss until by faith we re-establish this lost presence of God. Following Hegel and Freud, Lacan contends that we always already experience this sense of loss because as infants we experienced a loss of personal plenitude. As a consequence we spend much of our energy in one futile effort after another to find or replace what we’ve lost. Lacan says that we can never recover what was lost because we never had it in the first place, and coming to this realization is the first step in becoming fully human. Deleuze believes that our loss isn’t primal and permanent but continually repeated in our interactions with culture, and especially in our engagement with the economy. Every exchange is a frustration, taking away the satisfaction value of our work and of the commodities we buy. Deleuze proposes that by becoming aware of the illusory satisfactions of the marketplace we can begin deterritorializing our desires, letting them find their way to authentic satisfaction.

When we experience an intimate personal loss — the loss of a loved one, say — is our sorrow affected by the endemic condition of sorrow that surrounds and permeates us? Are we reminded of our inability to control the world like a god, and of our own mortality? Do we experience the other’s loss as our own loss, not because of empathy but because we were able to use the other to complete us, and because of our loss of the other we’re no longer whole? Do we experience the other’s loss as a kind of cheat, a bad investment, a sudden withdrawal of the value we’d invested in this other?

I don’t believe that reliving a loss is particularly helpful in resolving the sorrow. This idea of “catharsis” was proposed by Freud as the preferred treatment, but it doesn’t work very well. The sorrowful person relives the loss every day. The experience of traumatic loss plunges the grieving survivor into a sorrowful way of being in the world. Every relationship affords not just fulfillment but also loss — another potential source of sorrow. The chronically sorrowful person withdraws, forces confrontation, undermines the relationship in order to keep from getting too close. As a consequence the relationship sours, destabilizes, fails — loss recurs, again and again. To a significant extent all our relationships play out in an environment tinged by sorrow. We’ve all lost and been hurt; we’re all cautiously self-protective; we all sabotage intimacy.

The unconscious is inside us, causing us to relive the losses of the past. The unconscious is outside of us, channeling our desires into chronic loss. The unconscious bubbles up in the moment, structuring our experiences as tinged with loss. The unconscious is the source of unformulated experience that might lead us out of the Tomb World and back into life.

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6 Comments »

  1. John’
    I know in my last case of this, it distinctly felt a kind of amputation. I felt it affect my physical and mental health to frightening degree, had never had this happen before. To this day I have to struggle with that subconscious bit of the brain always wanting to immerse me again.

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    Comment by Ivan — 26 May 2007 @ 12:56 am

  2. Ivan –

    I don’t know if we ever get over the big sorrows. There may be those who, at a particular point in their lives and for whatever unclear reason, are prepared to follow that subconscious desire to re-immerse themselves in sorrow. If the therapist can serve as a kind of guide to this exploration maybe the tour wouldn’t seem quite so threatening. And also, the guide could be attuned to the danger spots on the tour, and suggest ways of passing through with a minimum of damage.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 26 May 2007 @ 1:15 pm

  3. “We’ve all lost and been hurt; we’re all cautiously self-protective; we all sabotage intimacy. The unconscious is inside us, causing us to relive the losses of the past. The unconscious is outside of us, channeling our desires into chronic loss. The unconscious bubbles up in the moment, structuring our experiences as tinged with loss. The unconscious is the source of unformulated experience that might lead us out of the Tomb World and back into life.”

    It sounds like you are thinking of a therapy that isn’t necessarily a technique to “feel better,” but as a way to channel the depths of loss out to more fully charged interactions with the external world rather than using those depths of loss as a reason to sabotage intimacy. Am I reading you right, that you aren’t proposing a theraputic technique for an emotional resurrection into more loss-living – loss that is “continually repeated in our interactions with culture” – but instead a way to come to simply come to terms with both the loss and the external reality that seems to contribute so greatly to the loss?

    Interestingly, partially what is lost is a proper relation with that external reality that contributes to the sense of loss…but I suppose that’s neither here nor there in relation to this post specifically.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 26 May 2007 @ 5:29 pm

  4. Jason –

    That’s right — I’m looking at a way of exploring loss, sorrow, and their continuing adverse effects on relationships and the world, rather than trying to treat depression or to go through the stages of mourning. There’s no return to a naive openness prior to loss; there is perhaps a way of cultivating a mature openness after loss. So your whole comment is right on track with what I’m talking about.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 26 May 2007 @ 6:13 pm

  5. One would think that to find the source of the sorrow, we would need to get into the background of the ‘loss’. That sounds so vague, what I mean is that isf I am sorroeful after the death of my mother, the therapy would properly start with my mother and what/who my mother was to me in order to be able to start to understand what the loss of my mother means to me.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 27 May 2007 @ 8:45 am

  6. Sam –

    I think the experience would begin wherever the person feels led to begin: s deep personal loss to commemorate and to understand, an ongoing sense of bitterness or coldness, a current relationship that continually generates loss and frustration. The path may lead to the hilltop, or into the valley of the shadow, or round and round the labyrinth. The end of the experience? Hopefully we’ll know when we get to something like a catharsis or a reconciliation, something that opens that once was closed, something that closes that had been painfully open. Each voyage would be unique; each would be the voyage of all.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 May 2007 @ 9:34 am


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