The Process of Mourning and Psychotherapy

Mourning can be defined as the process in which people heal from their grief. Many may think that there is no point in grieving, especially that we cannot do anything to bring back a loved one from the dead. Although this is true, but mourning allows the survivors to gradually return to their lives. The pain of losing a loved one may never heal, and some emptiness will still exist. Grieving will allow us to keep the memory of the person right where it belongs. Losses leave scars, and attachment cannot be simply undone.

There are no definite rules for grieving. It may take a long time, sometimes years or more. It should be given its time. The DSM_5 diagnoses a person as “biologically depressed” after two weeks; other psychiatrists may give three or four weeks. However, patients should not be given antidepressants which make the mourning process stopped. Antidepressants will numb the patient and block him from grieving. Although grieving may be painful, it should be dealt with. Life may bring a lot of pains, and avoiding the pain will prolong it. We cannot move on without giving ourselves the time to feel the pain.

Mourning is a universal process in which the brain is able to generate recovery and change. To function in our daily lives, the brain operates through the consciousness. In here, the adventures, the conflicts, and the sufferings of life all reside. The molecular and neurotransmitter operations in the brain are its mechanisms, not the very cause of the human behavior. Although it may be widely accepted as fact that these molecular and neurotransmitter operations are responsible for human behavior, this is not true. Conflict and suffering operate at the level of the organization consciousness.

Let’s take a simple example to elaborate. In junior high school, Teddy learned to play the guitar. At the beginning, he learned to play the chords E and A perfectly. However, he wanted to expand his learning and repertoire to learn B7 which is a harder hand position. He had to pay close attention to know how he can put his fingers separately in a precise way, and hold down the strings. His first attempt failed. He had to take it slow, to place each finger on its own in the right position. His muscles weren’t accustomed to this position, and it felt as if he couldn’t do it; he couldn’t hold the same position or get a sound out of the strings. Whenever he tried, it hurt. It took him some time to be able to place every finger on its own in the right place. Teddy thought that he couldn’t do it. However, he continued trying. He would try the B7, play something else, and then go back to the B7. With time, it started getting easier. He concluded that practice session. The second day, he tried again. He still couldn’t do it, but he kept working on that chord. It required his full attention to put his fingers correctly. The sound this time was better, however, the chord was still not good. At the end, he got there. His repeated efforts created a cortical map of the right hand position of the chord B7. Neuronal connections created by his neuromuscular experience of his hand position and fingers, were all glued together by a neuronal memory. In order to establish a permanent electrical pathway connection, there were electro-chemical process taking place within the synapses between the neurons. This happened in the millions of connecting neurons which created the chord’s map in his cortex. Once this link between the neurons, or this neuron memory, was established in the sensory and motor areas of the cortex for Teddy’s fingers and hand, it became possible to activate is as a one B7 unit. This cortical map could then be accessed for processing.

However, there was still a problem. Teddy played the chord with a scrunched up hand position. This gave him trouble in moving from this chord to another quickly. Now, he had to adjust his hand position into a new one, a position which wasn’t constricted. To change his B7 hand position, he had to first stop using his earlier position. Then, he once again had to be consciously attentive to hold his fingers in a different position. Just like the first time, he experienced pain in his muscles, inability, slowness, and frustration. He was establishing a new other neuromuscular B7 chord map into his cortex. Eventually, he was able to get it right.

This is the rudimentary model for the change that happens in the brain. When the neuromuscular pattern was established, it had to be deactivated and given up. Only then, the new experience creating new pathways would be laid down.

This is a simple example of neuromuscular learning. When we are dealing on another complicated level of the consciousness, the process involves the limbic system and the amygdala. So when it comes to feeling, the deactivation and the rewriting are what we call mourning. If a woman loses her husband to death, her marriage continues to play and live in the mappings of her consciousness although she knows that her husband has died. Mourning his death will help to deactivate the play in which her husband existed. Mourning will help her process that he is actually gone.

The five stages of grief (denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and acceptance) introduces by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, describe accurately the processes in which an old play a given up and a new one is inhabited. We should note that mourning is a process far more complicated than these five stages. The first stage, denial, means that the widow will continue inhabiting the old play while keeping the traumatic play in which she has lost her husband at bay. This cannot work because the truth will start hitting her. Then comes the bargaining in which the wife tries to hold onto the old play and does not accept the new one. The wife will start her bargain with a personification of a powerful fate, God, or death. “I’ll do anything to have him back”. When it becomes obvious that this will not work, she becomes angry becomes she has lost her husband. Then, she will move on to sadness because she lost her attachment to her husband. Finally, there comes acceptance through which she accepts the new play and the fact that she lost her husband. The old play starts to fall back, and the new play will take place. After that, her husband will reside in her memory, but since the original play of them together is so deeply written in her cortical mappings, then it may take so many years to really accept that her husband is gone and that a new play is taking place.

In cases of post-traumatic stress, the trauma would override the original play and make a new play based on violence or on a wrenching loss. This new play then becomes the reality which is playing over and over again. In order to recover from a post trauma, a person must take time to digest the trauma to be able to go back to the regular functioning.

In fact, forming our characters comes from the traumas we go through while developing, traumas of deprivation and abuse. Our unique group of moods will process the trauma. Psychotherapy help in the recovery from a traumatic suffering. In psychotherapy, the main charactero-logical play should be mourned, then digested, and finally deactivated. This happens through a series of responsiveness with the therapist. Through the responsive experience, a new play will be written. This charatero-logical play is held even more deeply than any other story. In this case, the patient is mourning the story of his life, and on a more profound level, the deep mask figures in his life such as his attachment to his mother, father, brothers, sisters, with whom he wrote the play of his life. In order for the stories to be pushed to memory, then the sadomasochistic attachments should be mourned like the loving attachments.

Mourning a life play is a biological operation which is specific for healing. Biological psychiatry, neuroscience in general, and neurology specifically, have all defined the biology as the place of the physical brain structure, the brain organization, its anatomy, the functional brain centers, the neurotransmitters, the hormones, the information acquired from studying brain lesions, and the patterns of neurons which are activated and can be seen in brain scans. There is so much knowledge that should be appreciated through these approaches. However, the play of consciousness, the most important biological manifestation of the brain, has been ignored.




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