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Freud's theory of Grief and bereavement
Id, Ego and the Superego or the conscious and the unconscious mind are some of the terms which are well-known by almost every individual. These words not only point out to the field of Psychology but also to the man who coined them and proposed a new realm of theories behind each of it; Sigmund Freud. He is famous for being the father of psychoanalysis and the techniques of hypnosis, dream interpretation and free association which he has used to successfully treat his patients. Psychology is devoid without Freud. This is not only because of the theories which he proposed but also because of his followers and those who extended his basic concept with a new touch. Freud in all his theories talks about the past to be affecting the present. In other words, the unconscious mind which is the hidden reservoir of all the repressed memories and traumatic experiences must be brought to the conscious mind to treat the patient so that he can lead life normally (Freud, 1923).
Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in a Viennese family and raised according to the Jewish customs and traditions. Despite his negativity about the religion, he considered himself a Jew. He had an authoritarian father and it is believed that he had a very pretty mother. His theory about Oedipus complex is said to be associated with his attraction towards his mother. His theory about Oedipus complex s linked with the psychosexual stages of human development. This complex is in other words the sexual attraction of a boy towards his mother at the age of 3. However, the child being small and weak, fears his father of chopping off his penis; castration anxiety.
The successful resolution of this stage results in a healthy being which identifies with the same sex parent so that in the future, he gets a partner similar to the opposite sex parent. He was brilliant as a child and was ahead of his class. Initially he attended a medical school where he became involved in the field of research. With time, he got famous for his work in the medical field and neuropsychiatry especially with the help of Ernst Brucke and later Joseph Breuer. After World War II, he moved to England.
On his theory, it is often said that he himself faced a number of psychosomatic disorders and phobias. This lead him towards self-analysis whereby which he gained insights into personality development. Other than his theories, it is known about Freud that he was intolerant about criticism especially towards his works because of which he was at a distance from several scholars. Apart from being famous for his theory of psychoanalysis, he has also given a number of other theories as his collected words fill approximately 24 volumes. Amongst his works, one of the theories focuses upon grief and bereavement (Gay, 1988).
Almost everyone experiences the pain of losing a loved one. Some lose their parents while others part away from their spouse or kids. Death is the truth of life which nobody could change or run away from. What anyone can do is to accept this reality because life goes on. Losing a loved one results in an immediate reaction followed by a feeling of sadness and grief. At times, the bereaved loses interest in the outside world and activities often resorting to aloofness and social withdrawal.
Moreover, people face a reduced self-esteem because for many, self-esteem is directly associated with their attachment with their family. The grieving person would face inability to love others, to replace the lost person and develop new relationships. However, it takes time to accept reality and get used to the absence of the loved one. In contrast, for some people, this stage is rarely achieved as they continue to experience this stage of sorrow with other extreme symptoms. Such a condition is better theorized and dealt with by Freud (Freud, 1917).
Similarly, if not experienced personally, one comes across a number of people who have gone through a tough time of losing a loved one. However, one thing to note over here is the idea that the loss of the loved one is not always in the form of death. At times, it is the breakup of a teenager or a separation between a loving couple and simply a loved one vanishing from the life. All these kinds of parting away from loved ones cause the state of mourning which if not overcome or becomes an extreme condition, automatically transforms into melancholia. These life experiences are better theorized and completely explained by Freud.
In his theory of grief and bereavement, Freud lays the basic emphasis is upon the idea of personal attachment. According to the theory, the person who is grieving is in search of the object of attachment which it has lost. Freud describes the state of mourning as detachment. This is the disconnection from a loved one. Therefore, in Mourning and Melancholia (1917), Freud talks about grieving to be an intrapsychic process which would either result in resolution or a state of depression. In this regard, he has laid a detailed view about the psychic energy invested by a person in the significant others.
However, during the journey of this process, the person identifies with that significant other or that object of love. When this significant other or the object of love passes away, the identification is revived. As a result, as the time passes by, the bereaved person starts to let go of the loss, accepts the reality and begins to form new attachments. On the other hand, as proposed by the objects relations theory, although identification is a healthy step towards moving on, quite often the loss of the loved one is not assimilated and integrated into the personality of the person which makes the condition pathological (Gorer, 1977).
In addition, Freud describes the state of melancholia as a condition more severe than mourning with a number of similarities. In other words, according to Freud, mourning is a reaction towards the loss of a loved one. However, at times while facing such a situation, some people experience the state of melancholia instead of mourning. This state is considered to be pathological in nature. Furthermore, although mourning results in a different attitude from the normal one, it is rarely regarded to be a pathological condition worth treatment. In contrast, a painful withdrawal and lack of interest, inability to love and to function are some of the major factors which distinguish melancholia from mourning. As a matter of fact, while comparing the melancholia and mourning, as put forward by Freud, the conditions are almost same except the factor of self regard which is seen to be disturbed in melancholia and missing in the state of mourning. In other words, mourning like melancholia consists of loss of interest, inability to love anyone or replace the object lost with an object to love.
Mourning is seen to be a process of rebuilding the inner world of the person who has faced the loss and has therefore underwent extreme pain and distress. This re-experience reawakens the love associated with the person who has been lost. In addition, the death or the loss of a loved one often results in the individual losing his sense of identity.
Also, in the period of grief, the person is letting go of a number of attachments which are present while forming a relationship. However, with time when the ego of the person starts to accept and accommodate the loss, making the bereaved ready to look for and form new attachments.
Freud is of the opinion that the reality points out at the absence of the loved object and continues to demand the withdrawal of psychic energy; the libido from the attachment. This result in turn creates an opposition which gives rise to a state where the grieving person clings to that lost object through the means of hallucinations. These demands are not immediately gratified but in small gradual steps. This is also done at the expense of cathectic energy which in Freud's theory means investing emotional energy in a loved object. During this time period, the existence or the presence of the object that has been lost is mentally prolonged. With time, the libido is detached and once this mourning stage is over the ego becomes free (Butler, 1997).
A similar yet complex view can be applied to melancholia. Like mourning, it is also the reaction to the loss of a loved object but in this case it is an ideal one. Moreover, often the object is not dead but there is a separation from that object of love. In many cases, the patient views and justifies the loss but cannot coherently view as to what has been lost. In other cases, many patients cannot consciously see the loss.
At times melancholia may occur when the person knows whom he has lost…[continue]
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