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Dev IV: Loss, Mourning, Transformation
September 9 @ 1:45 pm - 3:15 pm, Back Classroom
Third Year Adult Psychoanalytic Training (APT)
2022-23, 1st Trimester — Fridays, 1:45-3:15pm
Ann De Lancey, PhD
Janet Soeprono, MD
We are excited to join you in reflecting on the issues of loss, mourning, and transformation. These topics hold some of the most profound and basic issues that we as humans face: issues of existence and non-existence, life and death, love and loss, human and clinical limitations. Analytic wisdom on facing and dealing with all losses (developmental steps, transitions, separations, relationship endings, injury, illness, aging, termination, and death) is rich and varied. Some of the most moving ideas about what is helpful and mutative involve the processes of interpretation, internalization, transformation, and creation. A relatively recent ontological shift reflects a fundamental commitment to the principle of being and becoming in the experience rather than epistemological exploration.
When you engage with each article, try to let yourself float into the experience the words, stories, and images spark in you. What dreams (night or day) do they engender? What pictures form in your mind? What movies, songs, poems do they call forth? What associations? Personal memories? Anything goes. Please jot down (or hold in your mind) a few of your associations. We have only assigned one article, except in the last meeting where the two articles form a whole. We’d rather we go deep and free with one paper than two.
We’d like to try to create a space for us to inch our way into what each of us feels and thinks about losses: how to best accept them, endure them, learn from them, grow from them. What, in your bones, do you feel is mutative? We would prefer, rather than a heady conversation about theory X or Y, that we ground ourselves in what each of us believes from our personal experience, our own self-reflections and analysis, clinical work, observation, these readings and our discussion. Instead of 11 individual weeks, allow yourself to think about this course as an 11-week experience. Where you start may not be where you end. How do issues of loss mingle with those of existence/nonexistence, love, and our limitations? How you felt about a reading/loss/and experience initially may shift with time and reflection and the group process. Hold on to your thoughts and feelings over time and allow yourself to revisit them as we move through the course. A reading from the first week does not have to live only in the first week. There is a musical technique where an artist loops music by recording over existing sounds without erasing them. This can lend to a beautiful layered sound. Allow yourself to loop over not only yourself but the sounds of others.
Let’s see what wisdom our individual and group unconscious sheds on these existential issues. What emotional threads emerge and carry through? How has it been to be learning from one another? What role are your taking up in this seminar? What role would you like to take? How have you taken in one another and this learning? Where do you want to go? And how do you sit with it with someone other than one’s own race, culture, background, privilege?
One major issue we’d like us to wrestle with is the question of the relative merits of epistemic knowledge and experiential knowledge in contributing to a transformative experience and a life of revelation. The philosopher L. A. Paul (2014) writes, “… Experiences, as I shall discuss them, have two ways of being transformative. They can be epistemically transformative, giving you new information in virtue of your experience. And they can be personally transformative, changing how you experience being who you are. Some experiences may be epistemically transformative while not being personally transformative, like tasting a durian for the first time. Some experiences may be personally transformative without being epistemically transformative.” (p.17)
“In a situation of transformative choice, if we chose to have the transformative experience, we simply don’t know enough about what our lived experience will be like afterwards. We lack the ability to assign subjective values to the outcomes of the act and to determine how our preferences might evolve. This has philosophical and practical implications for the way we live our lives, for as individuals who want to live rational, authentic lives, we are forced to confront the existential implications of our epistemic limitations. (p.177)
… “resolving the problems raised by transformative experience also involved valuing experience for its own sake, that is, for the revelation it brings. (p. 178)
“When we choose to have a transformative experience, we choose to discover its intrinsic experiential nature, whether that discovery involves joy, fear, peacefulness, happiness, fulfillment, sadness, anxiety, suffering, or pleasure, or some complex mixture thereof. If we choose to have the transformative experience, we also choose to create and discover new preferences, that is, to experience the way our preferences will evolve, and often, the in the process, to create and discover a new self. On the other hand, if we reject revelation, we choose the status quo, affirming our current life and lived experience. A life lived rationally and authentically, then, as each big decision is encountered, involves deciding whether or how to make a discovery about who you will become. If revelation comes from experience, independently of the (first-order) pleasure or pain of the experience, there can be value in discovering how one’s preferences and lived experience develop, simply for what such experience teaches. One of the most important games of life, then, is the game of Revelation, a game played for the sake of play itself. “(178)
Brief Tour through History
Freud’s paper, “Mourning and Melancholia,” (1917), Standard Edition, 14, 237-258 is, of course, the classic analytic paper on loss. Greatly oversimplifying, if one can mourn a loss and take the “shadow of the object” into one without self-reproach, one can avoid melancholia, depression.
As is Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia,” Melanie Klein’s paper “Mourning and its Relation to Manic-Depressive States” is another classic paper. She explores the re-visiting of mourning each time a person experiences grief with the ensuing increase in one’s ability to trust one’s capacity to love, make reparations, and move from a position of hatred and paranoia.
Several authors update these seminal theories into a broader cultural context.
Lara Sheehi believes that a truly anti-oppressive psychoanalysis begins with Fanon, rather than Freud. Fanon, in Black Skins White Masks (1952), posits the goal is to mentalize one’s blackness without recourse to seeing oneself through white eyes. In other words, he calls for the shedding or loss of identifying oneself against a standard of whiteness. His solution was for Blacks to reject both subjugated and sadistic activity and become agents. The disasters for Blacks, then were symptoms from their enslavement; for whites, their killing their fellow man. Quoting Fanon, from Black Skins White Masks, he writes,
Why not the quite simple attempt to touch the other, to feel the other, to explain the other to myself?
Why was my freedom not given to me then in order to build the world of the You?
At the conclusion of this study, I want the world to recognize, with me, the open door of every consciousness.
My final prayer: O my body, make of me always a man who questions!” (pp.180-181).
In The Wretched of the Earth (1963) Fanon, in a move from loss, disidentification, and mediation, calls for a transformative or an emancipatory process via a reversal, a decolonization, a rejection of oppression and inevitable, rising up against violence and subjugation.
Weaving in critical race theory and building upon Freud’s and other’s conceptions of mourning and melancholia, David Eng and Shinhee Han (2019) explore what they describe as processes of racial melancholia and racial dissociation in U.S. society. Immigration, assimilation, and racialization all involve losses that are not just difficult to mourn but often socially disavowed. They contend that these dynamics are often reproduced and reenacted in the consulting room. Asian Americans either as invisible or as “model minorities,” others erased.
Ashlee Willox does for the environment what Eng and Han do for issues of immigration, assimilation, and racialization.
Still other authors braid these ideas about mourning, loss, culturally and environmentally sensitive psychoanalysis into ideas about grief, reparation, epistemological and experiential knowing, love, transformation, the ineffable, what some might call the Godhead.
Arc of the Seminar
In week one we will begin by looking at the origins of grief, its relationship to disillusioned hope and love, shame, and counterproductive defenses against hope preventing mourning. In week two we will turn to the ubiquity of grief as an ever-present companion made manifest in death. In week three we will see how to move from the loss of an actual object to the realm of the presence of the possible object. In week four we will explore grieving while Black. Week five takes up white resistance to grieving and reparations in a compelling history of chattel slavery and white’s defenses against looking at our responsibility. To some extent we might conjecture that in many respects this country and psychoanalysis find their respective origins in trauma and traumatizing. Looking at the criticality of guilt, mourning, and reparation in trauma for the achievement of a true love relationship will occupy us in week six. In week seven we explore the incalculability of endings. In an about face in week seven, the way we are moving in this country and the world now also portends the calculability of our damage to the environment and looking at ungrieveable losses. In week eight, perhaps defensively, we have positioned ourselves to contemplate the profound ontological effects of deep at-one-ment between patient and analyst with the unthinkable. In week ten we try to grapple with the possibility of an emotional truth or ultimate reality or Godhead existing beyond human consciousness. In our final session we look at how we might reach such a state.
September 9, 2022 — Hope, Disillusionment, and Recovery: Psychic Loss and Mourning
Peter Shabad conceives of mourning as relevant to any form of significant disillusionment of expectant hopes. He sees psychic losses as insidious and detrimental to development from childhood to adulthood. He is interested in how counterphobic defenses against hope, designed to circumvent future psychic losses, are a means of covering up shame rather than mourning previous traumatic experiences, thus killing desire and the possibility of a hedonic life.
Should you wish a somewhat longer summary—
Holding a strong existential sensibility, Shabad locates himself in Freud and relational theory. Our mortality determines our values and how we live life. Shame constrains development. It is the negation of life leading to self-pity, resentment, inability to assert oneself, feeling cornered, rage, genocide (via displacement and projection.) The child must be able to protest authority and complain to win freedom. Aggression is a passionate life force. Giving and receiving are recursive life forces. We all have a need to give and in having the capacity to receive we increase the desire in others to give. Parents receiving the gift of a child’s birth is a gift back to the child. It gives them a sense of belonging and goodness and can decrease their sense of guilt (which can lead to them having to stay on a deadened path).
Talking about cumulative trauma and loss, he investigates the constituents of a hedonic life or conversely an anhedonic life. The latter emerges out of traumatic loss of the mother. We can’t celebrate the joy of life. In contrast what constitutes hedonic life is the persistence of hope – especially manifest in how physical separations of parent and child are handled. He talks about the wished-for parent during separations versus the disappointing real parent. Hope springs eternal. The constant buildup of hope for the wished-for parent and the constant let-down of the real parent is the kicker. Hope and disillusionment are rubbed into an open wound. The child doesn’t learn it is better to love and lose than never hope at all. Most people are fearful of hope. People become cynical because they brace. Bracing can disown desire. Shabad wants us to own desire. It is no longer the father who is the antagonist. Now our botched handling of hope keeps hurting us. We detach from the hope. We detach from the father. Non-recognition by the mother leads to defensive detachment. The mind separating from the body is shame. “What a sucker I am.” I have to detach from my desire.
Peter Shabad, Ph.D. is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern University Medical School. He is on the Faculty at the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis (CCP) and Teaching and Supervising Faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. He is also a Training and Supervising Analysts at the Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles and Associate Editor at Psychoanalytic Dialogues.
Shabad, P. (2006). To expose or to cover up: Human vulnerability in the shadow of death. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 42, 413-436