Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Some Observations on the Process of Mourning

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Some Observations on the Process of Mourning

Article excerpt

The main proposal of this paper is that normal mourning is not completed after six months to a year or two as suggested in earlier literature, but may bring about a permanent alteration of psychological structures that affect various aspects of the mourning persons' lives. These structural consequences of mourning consist in the setting up of a persistent internalized object relationship with the lost object that affects ego and superego functions. The persistent internalized object relationship develops in parallel to the identification with the lost object, and the superego modification includes the internalization of the value systems and life project of the lost object. A new dimension of spiritual orientation, the search for transcendental value systems, is one consequence of this superego modification.

Keywords: depressive position, identification, love relations, mourning, object relations, spirituality, superego modification

1. Background

The origin of this paper was a personal, painful, extended experience of mourning that gradually raised serious questions in my mind about some generally assumed characteristics of grief and mourning. Is it really a timelimited experience that is completed with a process of identification with a lost object (Freud, 1917)? Is the work of mourning completed with a reworking of the depressive position and the reinstatement of the good internal object, as well as with the process of identification mentioned before? What is involved in the processes of reparation that are so central in the mourning process (M. Klein, 1940)? Are there aspects of mourning that have not been given sufficient attention in our understanding of the experience? I have tentatively reached the conclusion that perhaps mourning processes do not simply end, but, rather, evolve into more lasting or permanent aspects of psychic structures, that have not been explicated fully in the corresponding literature.

In the light of these questions, I reviewed my past analytic experiences, particularly the treatment of patients who had undergone significant mourning processes in the course of their analysis. My attention was drawn particularly to a patient who, after many years of a happy marriage, had lost his spouse as a consequence of an automobile accident. His analysis, originally started because of his severe obsessive-compulsive personality features, became marked by a mourning process that overshadowed the last four years of his treatment. Although this analysis took place a number of years ago, I had, at the time, recorded very detailed process notes of sessions, and the abundance of the material of that case permitted me to review that analysis, under the impact, it must be said, of my own mourning experience, the loss of my spouse.

In what follows, I shall briefly describe the relevant developments in the treatment of this patient, including my interpretive approach then, and point to issues that now draw my attention and that I would now see as more important and requiring a broader frame for their understanding than what determined my interventions at that time. I shall then explore certain mourning experiences in a sample of persons who had undergone severe mournings, and where, I believe, new evidence emerged regarding the viewpoints I developed in the course of these explorations.

2. A mourning process triggered during an analysis

The patient was a 51 year-old man who had started analysis three years earlier because of a rigid, obsessive-compulsive personality structure that had caused serious problems for him in his business relations, with colleagues, superiors and subordinates, and had gradually improved throughout his analysis. He was the son of a domineering, successful business man, whose rage attacks had successfully controlled his wife and children. The patient had a submissive and fearful attitude toward his father that, in the course of the years, had gradually shifted into an open rebelliousness. …

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