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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 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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Chapter Thirteen - Growing Old and Facing Death

Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Growing old and facing death

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances…
…Last scene of all,
That ends this strange, eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

This is the grim picture of old age Shakespeare paints in a monologue from As You Like It, sometimes known as the “Seven Ages of Man”. It is true, of course, that becoming old raises the spectre of loss of physical and mental abilities, going on existing “without” so much of what one had before. We know that even if we escape severe chronic physical and/or mental illness, our bodily strength will diminish with increasing age; our sight, our hearing, our mobility, our short-term memory is likely to be impaired or possibly lost altogether. We may have to put up with pain and dysfunction of some part or parts of the body. Not only do we have to face our own decline and death but also often that of our partner and, frequently, the loss of our home. But in spite of all this, does old age, even very old age, have to be “sans everything”? While we are prone to becoming needy and requiring physical assistance—in many respects similar to young children (and, if we are very incapacitated, to infants)—this does not necessarily have to go hand in hand with becoming childish. Nor must some loss of memory be equated with being oblivious of happenings in the inner and outer world. Advances in preventative medicine have extended the number of years people expect to live and new technology has helped to alleviate some, though by no means all, of the pains and physical disabilities of the elderly. Yet the fears associated with old age have not diminished. On the contrary, longevity makes us more fearful of living for years in a depleted state. There is the added anxiety that we will be left isolated and lonely, for the times are past—in the Western world—when spinster aunts and uncles as well as grandparents became part of the family household.

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Chapter Four - Weaning

Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER FOUR

Weaning

From being breastfed to feeding from bottle, spoon and cup

Being weaned from the breast is a time of painful loss for infants (and for many mothers) except for those who have experienced great difficulties in the breast-feeding relationship. If this has been the case, changing from breast to bottle-feeding may be a relief, allowing for a more relaxed, happier relationship between mother and baby. Some infants are bottle-fed from birth but as long as the infant is held close, it can be almost as intimate a feeding relationship as breast-feeding. Weaning, as used in this chapter, refers to mother cutting down the number of breast feeds she gives to her baby and then ending breast-feeding altogether. The mother's loving understanding of her baby is so particularly important at this stage because the loss of the breast brings with it a revival of the baby's terror of being cut off from the connectedness with mother, the source of life. The infant may be afraid that not only the breast but mother's loving care may also no longer be reliably available. Psychoanalytic work with very young children has taught us that when he is not given the breast, the baby has phantasies of mother keeping the breast to feed herself and/or giving it to father or a baby/babies inside her. His anger, his envy of mother, his jealousy of others who are felt to be getting the feeds may be expressed by biting or hitting the breast, pulling at mother's hair and clothes; in an attempt to possess mother, he may attempt to get inside her by burrowing his head into her chest. When weaned, the baby may, at times, arch his back and turn away from mother either because the closeness to the breast, without being fed by it, is overwhelmingly tantalising or because of his anger at being deprived of it; his sleep pattern may also be disturbed and he may be more fretful and anxious when mother leaves the room.

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Chapter Ten - Becoming a Parent

Isca Salzberger-Wittenberg Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER TEN

Becoming a parent

The wish to have a baby is often already present in childhood. I remember being far less interested in dolls than in live babies. The fact that I was the youngest child in my family probably had something to do with it. Did I feel dolls to be like dead babies, lifeless, worried about my mother having no more babies after me? I begged to be allowed to push the pram and spoon-feed the baby of one of my mother's friends. Pets also aroused maternal feelings: I loved Anton, my uncle's dog whom I often took for a walk and, of course, my two canaries whom I looked after and hoped they would mate and have little ones. I was very disappointed when they did not do so.

In adulthood, as well as a love of children, additional motivations enter in to wanting to have a child. There is the awareness of being part of a lifeline which stretches from past generations and makes us wish to continue it; in doing so, we may feel that we are investing in a future beyond our lifespan. Maybe there is also the hope that by having offspring, a part of us remains alive—is immortal. There may be a desire to preserve or pass on the qualities we value in our partner, our parents, grandparents, and/or others who have inspired us. Having a baby is also often felt to be a present one is giving to one's parents. And indeed a baby is usually a source of infinite joy for them as well as enriching the lives of other members of the family: sisters and brothers, the newcomer's siblings, cousins, youngsters who are often thrilled at becoming uncles and aunts. Wishing to but not being able to produce a baby is felt as a failure and a very painful loss. The feelings of loss may be ameliorated, though not necessarily eliminated, by adopting a child or becoming a stepmother/father. “Stepfather” and especially “stepmother” carry such bad connotations that I prefer calling them “second mother” or “second father”. This makes it clear that while the birth parent is number one, never displaced or forgotten, someone else has taken on an important maternal or paternal role.

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