1. Drop Your Defences
After sharing the anecdote, Valentine described common strategies that help us avoid coming to terms with loss. At first glance, some might not seem so bad, such as minimizing (“it’s not such a big deal that I’m getting a divorce”), the aforementioned information gathering and keeping busy with lots of appointments. Others are obviously negative: substance abuse; blaming others; obsessive thinking; denial.
In her 2005 memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion described her need to let go of the belief that her late husband might miraculously return. “I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us,” she writes. “I also know that if we are to live ourselves, there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.”
Didion’s “magical thinking” is referenced by Dr. M. Katherine Shear in a 2013 Current Psychiatry Reports article. It is cited as an example of “complicated grief”—prolonged distress that interferes with daily functioning and relationships. In her paper, Shear notes that the condition affects seven per cent of people over 60 who experience loss.
According to Valentine, the desire to function normally again is what usually motivates clients to lay down their guard. In the case of the woman facing divorce, once she stopped researching, she began processing her anger and sadness. “By getting in touch with that, she also started accepting that the marriage was really over,” she says.
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