Feb. 11th, 2017

osprey_archer: (shoes)
Patrick O'Malley's Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss is actually about the dangers of attempting to grieve "correctly," to fit grief into the one-size-fits-all template of the five stages of grief outlined by Kubler-Ross. O'Malley is a psychologist, and he gets a lot of clients who come in and tell him that since the death of their spouse/child/parent/parakeet they haven't been moving through the stages properly but got stuck on anger, or depression, or whatever, and in any case it's been nine months since they lost their loved one and the experts say that if you're still grieving after six you're probably cray-cray, so can he help them?

O'Malley has come around to the view that, insofar as help means "help them go through the five stages properly and get over their grief," he can't; most people don't grief neatly in five stages and, if the loss is big enough, lots of people feel at least occasional stabs of grief for the rest of their lives. But he can help them feel less like freaks by telling them that it's totally normal for grief to be chaotic and disorderly and to continue feeling a subterranean hum of grief long after society says you should be over it.

Now, I actually agree with a lot of the stuff in this book. I think our culture promotes a ludicrously foreshortened grief schedule, and we'd probably all be better off if we spent less time telling each other what we're allowed to feel - not even how we're allowed to express our feelings, mind, but what we're allowed to feel in the first place - and more just listening to what we actually do feel.

(I realize that "Have you considered therapy?" is often meant lovingly, and there are times when it needs to be said, but it has the sub-meaning "Your pain is so incredibly tedious that you can't expect anyone to listen to it if they're not actually getting paid." No wonder our society is so full of people who feel miserable and alone and believe to the bottom of their souls that they will only have value if they achieve success, as defined by money-making.)

Nonetheless, reading Getting Grief Right sometimes gave me the same feeling of exhaustion I get when I read, say, dietary studies, when it turns out that everything the previous generation of scientists said is wrong. Fat doesn't make you fat! Eggs are good for you after all! Margarine is in fact way less healthy than butter! Et cetera. Those old scientists got it all wrong, but you should totally believe us new scientists when we tell you carbs are evil.

And it's like, well, why? Why should I believe you this time round when you've gotten it wrong time and time again for the past hundred years? Why, in fact, should I believe psychiatrists about pretty much anything, if psychiatry as a profession finds it baffling that people, lots of people, indeed possibly the majority of people, might feel crushingly sad about the death of their loved ones for more than six months? This is a pretty damn basic thing to get wrong.

Twenty years from now, they're going to decide that carbs are fine but protein is totally making us fat, and also the by-then-orthodox method of grief through storytelling is straitjacketing us in our misery and we should actually grieve through interpretive dance or something.

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