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Medium 9781780491714

Chapter One - Learning from Experience of Endings and Beginnings

Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER ONE

Learning from experience of endings and beginnings

I have for many years been impressed by the intensity and depth of emotions aroused by beginnings and endings: ending one phase of life and entering a new one, the beginning and the ending of a course of study, becoming part of an organisation and leaving it, starting a new relationship, and ending an old one—life is full of beginnings and endings, constantly facing us with having to deal with change. This book is the result of reflections, based on my professional and personal experiences of the emotional turmoil to which such changes give rise and the ways in which different individuals and groups try to deal with them.

We tend to associate endings with fear and dread. But there are exceptions. For instance, the ending of a miserable, restricting marriage may bring relief; a person who is in constant agonising pain, progressively disabled, may long for her life to end; leaving a country where one is persecuted is a life-saving event. Beginnings tend to be associated with hope and excitement. But there again it is not necessarily so. For instance, having to do a further course of training in order to be employable may be dreaded; being promoted to a senior job may be looked forward to but the responsibility that goes with it may be feared.

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Chapter Eleven - Bereavement

Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Bereavement

We are confronted almost daily, via the media, with pictures of men and women, in one corner of the world or another, distraught at the death of members of their family and friends. Such brief, voyeuristic intrusion into grief to which adults as well as children and adolescents are exposed, may shock, horrify, make us aware of the unpredictability of such tragic events and the frailty of life but does nothing to bring us any closer to understanding the complex, inner turbulence that follows upon a death. We remain unprepared for the powerful emotions we experience when someone close to us dies and are at a loss to know how to relate to those who are bereaved. I remember a friend of mine, in a senior position in his social work organisation, who lost his wife suddenly, unexpectedly, telling me that his colleagues scurried away like mice when they saw him coming along the corridor. When staff had to consult him about work-related problems, his wife's death was not even mentioned by them. When I asked them why they had not said anything about his loss, some replied that they had not wanted to intrude; others felt they did not wish to upset him and some said that they did not know what to say.

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Chapter Two - From Life Inside Mother to Life Outside

Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER TWO

From life inside mother to life outside

Most of us have some memories that go back to an experience we had when we were three or four years old; exceptionally, I have met individuals who can remember an event that happened when they were only eighteen months old. Yet psychoanalysis of adults and children, infant observation and longitudinal studies, as well as neuroscientific findings, show that in fact our experiences right from the beginning of life are of crucial importance. They are deeply embedded in our soma and psyche, shaping our physical, emotional, and mental development; they influence the way we relate to others and react to the contingencies life brings with it. Freud stated that nothing is ever lost, that traces of what we have experienced in the past remain in the depths of our mind, in our unconscious. Whenever a relationship or situation in the present in some respect resembles an earlier one, it tends to evoke some of the emotional and physical reactions we had in the past. We experience them in what Klein (1957) called “memories in feelings”. Every ending, every beginning, therefore, arouses, to a greater or lesser extent, the physical, emotional, mental states that we experienced at the beginning of our life.

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Chapter Three - Separateness and New Connections

Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER THREE

Separateness and new connections

In the previous chapter, we looked at the newborn's need for mother to be readily available to make the loss of physical connectedness to her body less traumatic. We considered the catastrophic anxiety aroused when he faces the unknown external environment. This physically helpless human infant with his limited mobility to reach across the space that separates him from what/whom he depends upon has, however, quite remarkable sensory and mental capacities which enable him both to hold on to what offers security and to discover new ways of connecting. He has the gift of sight, making it possible to hold on, with his eyes, to static objects like the wall or light whenever he feels not held by mother's enveloping arms and attention. He uses his eyes to meet mother's gaze, to search her face and her changing expressions which convey her love, her approval, her pleasure, interest in him or, at times, the opposite: anger, disapproval, absentmindedness. At a few months, he will also employ his eyes to keep in contact with mother as she moves about the room. He uses his ears to listen to mother's (and father's) voice and can feel comforted by it, even when she (or he) is out of sight. Maybe the very fact that the human baby is physically unable to reach the one he needs, stimulates him to find other ways of bridging the gap created by separateness. Not only does he use his senses to enable him to do this but he also develops the mental capacity to take in/to internalise and increasingly hold onto good experiences he has had in mother's presence and even, in phantasy, to recreate them.

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Chapter Eight - Tertiary Education and Entering the World of Work

Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER EIGHT

Tertiary education and entering the world of work

Tertiary education

As well as excitement, feelings of insecurity are experienced, to some extent, by all students when starting life at university. This is hardly surprising when we consider the great changes in lifestyle which are involved: from a structured school timetable, set homework, close supervision to mainly unstructured studies and unstructured days; from being part of a group of girls and boys of various grades of ability to finding oneself amongst a peer group of extremely bright, highly achieving youngsters. Having had a family to fall back on, the young person is left without adults looking after his welfare; having been part of ordinary life, he finds himself floating in a rarefied atmosphere. Having done well enough academically to be offered a place, he may feel that he is expected to be brilliant or at least to have to prove that he deserves to be amongst the elect. In contrast to the fixed curriculum at school, especially in the last two years in order to achieve good exam results, the intellectual freedom to play with ideas at university, while immensely stimulating and liberating, may be experienced as being uprooted from a firm basis of orientation and lead to mental/emotional giddiness and confusion. Even for the more secure, the more mature, amongst the students, the changes involved are great while for others they may be all too much. The latter may be amongst those picked up by staff working in a student health or counselling service. But by no means all who are deeply unhappy or at risk of breakdown have the courage to seek help. Many are too ashamed to do so or even to admit to themselves that they need help—after all, one is supposed to be a grown-up! So the young person tries to act being adult, pretends to be fine, sometimes at great cost to himself. Parents may feel inhibited about keeping in close contact, afraid to be thought to be intruding into their youngster's life. Yet students are financially dependent on their parents and contact with the family is needed to keep the young person grounded. Most university staff, because of the false assumption that all that young people want is freedom from adult authority—falsely conceived of as authoritarian, oppressive, and interfering—leave students to fend for themselves rather than considering the students' welfare and making themselves available to be turned to when needed. As a result, many students feel very lonely, lost, and uncared for and have to rely for support exclusively on members of their peer group. They may be lucky enough to find congenial friends but others, in order to avoid loneliness, are easily drawn into less helpful groups. Some may try to escape painful feelings by turning to drink or drugs or seek comfort by sleeping with another lost soul, of either sex, like babes in the wood. Some break down and have to return home, some commit suicide or attempt to do so.

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