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  • Sean Willoughby

Getting Over Things ...

In my practice I have noticed that there is often a pressure for people to “get over” a loss, whether it be the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or any other loss that has significantly impacted on them. This pressure may be an internal one, or it might come from others in the person’s life, or a sense that this is what society in general expects of us. It has often struck me though, in listening to people talk about their losses that getting over it may not be what we need. This may seem somewhat odd as people, on the face of it at least, come to therapy to get over their losses. Yes, we need to heal, but are healing and getting over it the same thing?


Firstly, when talking about loss, I find the distinction between the reaction to loss on the one hand and how we process that reaction on the other[1] helpful. This grief reaction itself can be intensely painful and frightening; C.S. Lewis[2] once said of his own experience “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”It is this reaction that gets things going. The process that follows then, is what, when all goes well, allows us to heal from the often overpowering reactions we have to loss.


Is this process of mourning the same as getting over your loss? When we talk about getting over something, we imply a “return to your usual state of health or happiness”[3] There is a lot to suggest though, that returning to usual is not what healing from loss involves. A thought provoking and often quoted statement by Kübler-Ross and Kessler reads; “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to. The time we take following a loss is important...”[4]


A number of things stand out to me in all of this. Firstly, the reaction to a loss can be overwhelming. Secondly, the process of mourning can be unpredictable; we emerge from this process in some way different from the way we went into it. And most importantly, it is in this change that the healing, the rebuilding, happens. To “get over it” in a way that pushes as to get back to usual doesn’t allow for this change and can be an even greater, tragic loss.

References

[1] Leader, D. (2009). The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia, and Depression.

Penguin Randomhouse.


[2] Lewis, C.S. (1961) A Grief Observed

Faber and Faber


[3] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/get-over-something


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