Let it go

The virus-which-shall-not-be-named is a most tempting topic for a blog. Although I am tempted, I am looking for something we all may have in common in our current experience, rather than squarely at the culprit. And I think I may have found it.

Imagine your child with an ice cream in hand. They are perhaps smiling and cherishing the thought of it. As they lift it to their mouth, you notice the blob shifting. Then, oh dear, it slips and falls to the pavement with a sloppy splat. Even with the enhanced cleanliness of Singapore’s constantly mopped pavements, I doubt it can be licked off. You may even have to stop them trying. So in the end, there it will sit, shrinking away like the Wicked Witch of the West. Oh, what a world.

What your child then experiences is a sense of loss, a sensation of having something taken away, something they liked. As well as the thing itself, it was the hope and the joy that was stolen, the associated experience. And though that experience took place in the outside world, it was also an internal loss. To mourn this loss – any loss – is a process, one which Freud (1917) long ago described as letting go of the individual memories, one by one. It is painful, but also part of development and our common humanity. It is necessary for recovery and the development of resilience. Kessler (2019) a century later, similarly sketched out a process of grief, noting how people move through stages which end with making meaning.

There perhaps is where your role as a parent comes in. Freud, and many since, also pointed out that there is a difference between this process of ordinary mourning and one which he called ‘melancholia’, what we would now call depression. In this state, it is less clear what is felt to be lost and the feeling becomes more personal – to paraphras in e Freud, a feeling that they themselves are poorer and emptier ( Freud, 1917 P.45). This loss of self-regard or esteem, or a growth of self-reproach in your child would be greater cause for concern. But it may not be immediately apparent, or distinguishable without some exploration.

So if you feel that your child is down, perhaps think with them about what they may be feeling sad about. They may need help in articulating the things they have lost, as well as the associated feelings. You do not need a psychology doctorate to do this. In fact, your own expertise as their parent will serve you well. Perhaps the main thing to consider is how much room to give them to explore, and how much to hold their hand while they do so. While listening and thinking out loud with them, you will help them to share their feelings, as well as be their company. Having feelings thought about with someone trusted is the essence of the therapeutic role but the heart of a parental role. And if you decide they, or you, may need some further support, you will do so with insight and a feeling of partnership in your next step.   

Freud, S. (1917 (1915)) ‘Mourning and Melancholia’’, in Freud, S. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 14: 1914-1916. On the History of the Post Psycho-analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. London: Hogarth Press, 1958, pp.237-258.
Kessler, D (2019) Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Simon and Schuster, Scribner Imprint, New York.

Written by:
Robert Leveson
Psychotherapist & Counsellor,
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC)


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