Shrink's Views

ramblings of an unknown psychiatrist

Loss and Meaning

Posted by Dheeraj Kattula on May 31, 2009

Background:

A friend of mine chided me for my previous post saying that it comforts people wrongly in finding refuge in chance. She also felt that though the post assumed the existence of God and our human response of thankfulness was well placed, the post had hinted that God created ‘chance’ and sat distantly as world operated according to His laws of probability. This post argues from a ‘more spiritual’ vantage point.

Let us first see the following two cases:-

Case 1

A senior advised me to spend more time with one of my patients who was a brilliant engineering student from one of the IITs. My friend said “His intelligence is a risk factor for him committing suicide. Support him well and instill hope or …”

I followed this advice. The last I knew of this boy, he was doing well.

Case 2

Another therapist started his patient on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on an out-patient basis. This patient got admitted in a general hospital the very next day following a high- intention and high- lethality suicide attempt.

Observation

Loss in life is real. We might deny it, rationalize it or laugh at it, using the innumerable defenses that we have. There is another chance for some things but there are none for few. What happens, if a person fails his IAS exam in his final attempt? His years of hard work in preparing for such an exam do not find too many alternative uses. Rationally speaking those years of preparation are ‘wasted years’.

My senior friend’s point is that an IITian appraises major mental illness in himself and its repercussions on his future life more catastrophically. The difference between having an illness and not having one is huge for him. This difference might not be much for a line worker in a factory. A line worker might not have aspirations which get shattered so badly, as he might not really know what he has lost or might lose because of his illness.

A purely rational appraisal of loss might be very painful in reality. So what is the option? Do we encourage by being/keeping in dark? Do we down-play the loss? Do we offer empty hope?

Note

Coming to terms with loss involves cognitive and emotional aspects. Coming to terms cognitively might worsen ‘pain’ as discussed above. Coming to terms emotionally by definition eases that pain. Victor Frankl said “Suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as it finds meaning”. Such a concept is not of the realm of cognition or emotion but is of a deeper level.

victor frankl

Victor Frankl

He says further “For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment”.  He suggests between stimulus of life event and the human response to it there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response lies our growth and our freedom.

We all have our own specific vocation or mission in life; we must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. We cannot be replaced, nor can our life be repeated, thus, our task is unique as our specific opportunity to implement it. I might call it God’s will for my life. But whatever, such view which is sometimes beyond reason, buffers us from major losses and helps us live better.

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One Response to “Loss and Meaning”

  1. neerja said

    This is good article..
    In simple tamil saying, its “thanoda thala vali thanaku thaan theriyum” meaning “The one’s headache only that one knows” .

    @neerja
    Thanks for visiting my blog. You are right. The individual understands the meaning of his loss the most.

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