Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Why Grief Hurts II

In my last post, I briefly described some of John Bowlby's work as a behaviorist and began to explain my theory as to why grief hurts. In this post, I'll conclude my theory and solicit your comments.

Has anyone ever asked you when you're going to "move on" with your life? For most widow/ers, this suggestion often serves to infuriate the griever and reinforce a sense of helplessness. And where do people get off making such comments anyway?

Let's take their perspective for a moment, by way of a storm analogy. If a hurricane or tornado rips your house apart, you can't safely stay there anymore. If a friend happened to stop by several weeks later and found you glumly skulking about the ruins of your home, the "when do you plan to move on?" question would certainly be merited.

Much as we like to believe in free will and freedom of choice, reality shows that we are creatures of habit. The majority of our life is spent on autopilot. How much of your morning is thoroughly routinized? Do you think much about how you brush your teeth? Eat breakfast? Dress? Go to work? Habits are shortcuts -- patterns so ingrained that we no longer have to think about them.

We run on hundreds, if not thousands, of habits every day. When we were married, hundreds of these habits involved interaction with our spouse. We saw something and thought right away, gee, s/he would love that. Our boss said something to us, and we couldn't wait to get home to share it with our mate.

Now that our spouse is gone, the well-meaning friend comes by some months later and sees, not a house devastated by storms, but a creature of habit with tons of broken shortcuts. The ruined walls, trashed furniture, gaping holes in the roof, these are our old ways of mentally dealing with the world. Of course they want us to "move on." Think of how you would react to seeing someone living in physical ruins. In grief, we haunt the mental ruins of our old life, and this behaviour is blatantly apparent to our friends and relatives.

As I explained in my previous post, we are not so different from our ancestors of 50 thousand years ago. Back then, the loss of our spouse could very easily prove fatal to us, and even today as explained by Bowlby. So, it is my belief that our body is very aware of our predicament and purposefully misfires our nervous system every time we try to rely on our old habits.

What happens when we injure ourselves physically? Do we brush our teeth the same? Dress the same? Eat the same? Go to work the same? No, our physical habits adapt and change to our new injured circumstances. Likewise, I believe that our body causes us physical pain so that we are forced to change our mental habits. Grief hurts so bad and so intensely that it is physically impossible for us to live our old life. We have no choice but to change.

Does this make sense? I very rarely feel the physical pain associated with grief anymore, and I believe it is because I have completely changed all my mental thought habits related to my old married life. And I notice that when I do feel the pain of grief, I can feel my mind trying to run in the familiar groove of an old thought pattern that is no longer relevant to my new life as a single parent.

I'm interested to hear what you, the reader, have to say about this. Whether this resonates well with you, or you think I'm right out to lunch, I'd appreciate it if you would click "Post A Comment" and let me know your thoughts. Thanks!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Vic,

Thanks for this blog - I think I finally get why I start to feel anxiety or anguish everytime I walk out of the classroom. I am hoping this new insight will help me to change.