Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Anaclitic Depression of Separation Grief

“In anaclitic depression neither the drive for life nor the drive for death should be underestimated. Rather, the psyche seems to allow itself a delicate, sometimes tortuous balance between the two, until a rupture shakes up the intrapsychic and relationship container, to resettle, hopefully in the direction of progress.”
In contrast to the depression we experience through perfectionism, anaclitic depression features in the grief we experience when we are separated by death and divorce. It is clear that these two forms of depression are quite different, though we may be prone to nuances or lashings of each.
The grief-laden depression we might experience at the loss of a parent or a child or a marriage can last and last. Sometimes the terror and injustice in these losses can seem to last the rest of our lives. And even though most manage the worst of their grief before 12 months have passed, the enduring sense of loss proves mysterious as much as painful.
Where we have been separated from a key attachment—a lifelong love—a reliable attachment figure—a person who encapsulated a great sense of our hope—there is a tearing at the level of the identity. What was, at one time, a couple or a team, upon separation has now become much less than it only recently was. This is how we feel.
No matter what we do we cannot change the fact.
But there is a newfound force that throbs within our hearts, too.
It is this force for life and for death. We venture forward one day and then return to hopelessness the next. One is an ascension to the heights; the other, an earth-shattering demise. As we have become fractured there are splinters of us that are sharp as knives—a new caricature of identity is forming. But we lament, never more dearly, the once-cherished identity that has now, only just recently, been called home.
This relationship depression—resulting usually from heart-rending anguish—is both sacrosanct and excruciating; it is not ‘fixed’ easily. Perhaps the only thing we can do that is positive is somehow cherish the loss; to honour the memory of what was.
But that can take enormous strength, and we can’t be expected to draw on such strength in many situations.
Each depression has a sting all its own. The relationship depression within separation (e.g., death and divorce) is horrendous in its heart-rending anguish. But there is strength to be gained, eventually, through the remoulding of identity. When we can honour and cherish the memory of what is now gone, new identity is found approaching.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

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