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Life Arts    H4'ed 7/1/12

Complicated Bereavement: Some People Experience It But Others Don't: Why?

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Next, I want to discuss further adult-onset attachments and the loss of those due to somebody's death, as distinct from attachments formed in childhood such as young George Bush's attachment with his little sister. It appears that many instances of complicated bereavement involve the death of one's spouse, which usually involves an adult-onset attachment. I am suggesting that complicated bereavement due to the death of one's spouse probably activates unresolved mourning of nondeath losses that were connected somehow with the deceased spouse.


In other words, all of us probably have really deep stuff in our psyches due to childhood traumatization. No doubt nondeath losses in our adult lives resonate against the really deep stuff in our psyches due to childhood traumatization. No doubt it would be a boon in our lives to have the really deep stuff due to childhood traumatizations surface, so that we could then work through it in a healthy way. But it is probably not necessary for the really deep stuff to surface in order for the complicated bereavement of an adult-onset attachment to be resolved in a healthy way. However, the unresolved mourning of nondeath losses connected somehow to the deceased must surface and be worked through in a healthy way and resolved.


Finally, I want to discuss what Anthony de Mello, S.J. (1931-1987), the clinical psychologist and spiritual director from India, refers to as nonattachment in his posthumously published book REDISCOVERING LIFE: AWAKEN TO REALITY (2012). In certain ways, nonattachment as he describes it would seem to caution us against forming attachments. But I don't think that is what he means by nonattachment. I think he means that we should form attachments in ways that do not leave us over-invested in the attachment.


We should avoid as best as we can making unrealistic projections in our attachments, as the Child Within us (also known as the Inner Child) tends to. The Child Within is a conceptual construct we use to personify the part of the psyche that suffered childhood traumatization. If and when the really deep stuff in our psyches surfaces and is worked through in a healthy way, then we will be working through the childhood traumatization we suffered. Until we have done this, we will be able to use the construct of the Child Within to discuss our tendencies to over-invest in certain attachments we have. Susan Anderson has published a book to guide us in recognizing when we are acting out our Child Within. She refers to our acting out as the Outer Child: TAMING YOUR OUTER CHILD: A REVOLUTIONARY PROGRAM TO OVERCOME SELF-DEFEATING PATTERNS (2011).


In any event, as a hypothesis, I would suggest that when we over-invest in an adult-onset attachment with another person (e.g., a spouse), we run the risk of setting ourselves up to experience complicated bereavement when that person dies. However, as I say, this is only a hypothesis. It needs to be investigated further.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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