Friday, January 22, 2010

I have to let you in before I let you go

I have often been asked by grieving patients and survivors of wrecked relationships how to let the sadness and most of all how to let the lost person go.

Human beings have never been good accepting loss. No matter how explainable the loss is, to one degree or another it is interpreted as a personal affront by some malevolent deity. In Robert Frost's eloquent words:

Ah, when to the heart of man
was ever less than a treason
to go with the drift of things
to yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
of a love or a season

Another ubiquitous human trait is that we tend to either canonize or demonize the person lost to us. Dead people tend to automatically attain sainthood status, halo included. Divorced partners tend to acquire horns and tails, good traits and memories forever drowned in a pool of anger and hurt.

The probem with this is that we can not mourn for saints/idols, we can not let them go either. We propitiate, ador, and/or fear idols, we do not let them die. Ex partners who are transformed into avatars of Evil are for ever wedded to us with the bonds of hate.

We have to see the person lost to us as a real person, beauty and warts included, before we let him go. Healthy mourning involves many and conficting feelings: love and hate, affection and anger, relief and yearning, freedom and loneliness, resentment and guilt and many others. We have to experience all of these with regards to the departed.

You see, when we transform someone into a saint we would want to keep this saint around to feel protected by him/her, to feel loved, to feel proud of our roots, to function as a paragon of goodness to which everyone else, including ourselves, will be compared to and more often than not fall short. Most of all by cononizing the departed we avoid the messy feelings like anger and regrets that tend to complicate the image of the person we would like to maintain.

When our divorced partner is made into evil personified the wish for retribution and justice for our hurt ego will keep feeding the anger and blinding us to the fact that more often than not it takes 2 to make a good relationship and the same two to break it. It prevents us from learning from our mistakes and moving on.

A patient with an idealized, or I should say deified image of me, told me once when the subject of ending therapy came up: "why would I ever want to let you go?" He was totally flabbergasted and appaled by the idea that someone would want to take his perfect "mother", omniscient god away from him. Later on in therapy when he learned to have a more substantial and realistic relationship with me he was able to see me as a mere mortal and one day he had an epiphany: " I have to let you in before I can let you go" he said beaming with the excitement of his insight. What he meant was just this: He had to see me as a person, well meaning but with many limitations, before he could let me go. It did not make any sense to him that he would ever want to let go of a god, do you blame him? But when the time comes he will be able to mourn for and let go of the physical me while maintaining the momories of me as a person (good and bad, frustrating and encouraging, often knowledgeable at times clueless) who had an impact in his live.