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Psychoanalysis and mourning


Disciplines > Psychoanalysis > Articles > Psychoanalysis and mourning

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Mourning across the world happens very differently, even though the basic force of loss reawakens early anguish at loss of the mother and phallic lack.


Freud saw mourning in terms of energy flows, with a process of repeated reality testing to check that the loved one really is gone, then withdrawing feelings from them. This leads to feelings of pain and dejection that may fade but not fully disappear until a replacement love object is sought.

Mourning can be normal or abnormal (pathological, melancholia), where mourners takes loved ones inside and feel angry at them, but then attacks themselves rather than the loved ones.


Abraham (1927) sees the process of Internalization of the loved one as a normal process and successful mourning involves internalizing them as a good object.


Parkes (1972) describes grief as a like physical injury, where the metaphor for loss is a 'blow' and 'wounds' heal with time unless they are 're-opened'. Parkes describes a a three-stage process of numbness, pining, disorganization and despair, followed by final recovery, much like the Kübler-Ross grief cycle.


Klein (1986) described initial manic defenses against grief, including denial and triumph, followed by a movement into sorrow and reconnection with the world.


Latterly, theories have tended towards behavioral descriptions and stages more than a deeper consideration of internal processes.

In much of the Western world, there has been a social organisation of the mourning process (and even of dying) such that the discomfort of loss is avoided and denied. We look at the outpouring of grief in other countries with distain at the 'lack of control', without realizing that we are holding in something that may better be let out. Repression of mourning can lead to a longer process of healing.

In mourning, there may well be socially acceptable and unacceptable expression of emotions. Thus anger and guilt are accepted whilst hatred and triumph are not.

Mourning can be seen as extending beyond physical death, being experienced in some form whenever we lose something to which we have some attachment. The process of attaching to something or someone connects that thing with our identity, such that it becomes a part of our being. When it is lost, we thus experience loss of a part of ourselves and mourning is for that very personal loss.

See also

The Kübler-Ross grief cycle

Craib, I. (1998). What's happening to mourning? in Experiencing Identity, London: Sage.


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