Making Reparation & Mourning as the Road to Mental Healing

Reparation allows us to live out loud. When I can apologize, I have less inhibition. According to Melanie Klein, Reparation is a basis of creativity… to restore the loss. Capable of recovery.

We make reparation for our miss-doings. We are humans and we make mistakes. Sometimes it is our negligence that hurt others. Sometimes we are just too weak, too young, too old, too ill, too afraid to do the right thing at a particular time.

Mourning is involved in also other aspects of losses, which does not involve the death of another, but rather the death of one’s sense of self. An example of how this can happen is when one is being diagnosed with a debilitating illness or has become disabled in some way, or has a child/family that is diagnosed as such. Mourning is also “the reaction related to painful experiences that entail an experience of loss — such as loss of the quality of life, loss of health, loss of previous self-identity, loss of hope, or loss of the container function of the parents. (Barone 2005)”

Owning up to our mistakes/shortfall/incompetencies and taking responsibility for hurt caused is a means of making reparation.

In so doing we also mourn the losses (a broken relationship, a lost trust, a lost opportunity, a metaphorical or real death) as a result of our incapacity to do what was necessary to avoid the unfortunate situation.

Being able to face with the loss / to accept responsibility is the path towards inner-strength. We are able to move on from our human failing. We know that we have the resources in us to get on with life because we are able to overcome a mistake that caused us guilt.

Facing up to one’s role in such losses is not the same as blaming oneself. It is to acknowledge what actually happened, and how one was part of it. To blame oneself is to accuse oneself of something one doesn’t believe one has responsibility for. 

Gestalt Therapy Case Example of Making Reparations

Mr. K, a young man of 23, comes to therapy with impulsive anger issues. He has been incarcerated for assault and battery. Each time he regresses into violent behavior, he regrets it, and feels guilt. However, at the slightest provocation, he bursts into uncontrolled rage.

He has been to behavioral therapy to control his impulses. The treatment did not work and he was sorely frustrated. In jail, he was offered gestalt therapy counseling from an intern–  what looked like fighting fire with paper.

The therapist realized after 4 sessions a pattern in this client. Each session, he earnestly repeated the same story to her. Each time he did so, he revved himself into anger. It was a story of his childhood. His father had a violent nature and would beat his mother. As a child, from his early childhood, he remembers his mother in tears of fear and frustration as she served the family their meals. His older brothers were also later violent towards her and Mr. K.

The work for Mr. K turned out to be one of reparation. This was only possible because he was able to feel sadness and guilt (in the case of violent patients who do not feel this kind of remorse, it might not be possible).

Mr. K. was supported to revisit this childhood scene, and as he was retelling the story, the therapist asked him to hold back his anger and breathe by saying comforting words. She asked him what he experienced watching his mother’s sadness. He said he felt hopeless. He said he was too small and afraid to save her.

The therapist supported the client with helping him formulate these statements: “mother, I am 6 years old, and I am too small and too weak to save you.” and to himself “K, I am sorry, I am 6 years old and I am too small and too afraid to save your mother.”

Both K and the therapist were very touched by the phenomenon in the therapy room. This is the taking of responsibility. It is not self blame, but the recognition that one was simply not humanly able to save the mother.

The next steps came naturally. The therapist guided the client in a mourning process. The loss of a mother that could protect the son. Weeks of therapy was devoted to this process. It included creating art, writing poems.

Incapacity to make reparations and mental pain

There are individuals who have difficulty or have not capacity to accept responsibility. This is a mental state for some people and is part of their personality. In psychoanalytic term, it is a condition of being stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position and not being able to move forward to the more ambivalent depressive (nothing to do with depression) position.

When one is stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position, one suffers deep depression and paranoid anxiety. One’s state of mind is that on seeing the world in black and white and nothing in between. Everything is either very good or very bad. This was Mr. K’s life before his sessions with the therapist. He was had paranoid rage, and was very depressed.

Being so paranoid also leads one to have a need for omnipotence, which one displays through grandiosity or threatening (manic) behavior.

Taking responsibility for one’s own deeds is a lessening of omnipotence. Discovery of the resilience of the good object. Less fear of destroying it.

 


Manic reparation in the Paranoid-Schzoid position.

Say for example a man who strikes his wife then brings her flowers. Avoidance of acknowledging damage done, his aims to repair the hurt is in such a way that his own feelings of guilt and loss is never experienced. Not acknowledged. His wife is felt as inferior, dependent and contemptible. She is confused by his behavior. He then considers her ungrateful. He blames her for his anger towards her.

In this case his unconscious guilt is not reprieved. The good object, the wife, is “magically repaired”. Instant repair. It is like the instant cure of swallowing pills instead of going through therapy. Of going to sleep so that you do not see.

Emotional tantrum is used also as a quick way of handling problem

How do, for example, some people reveal their contempt? By raising emotionality. This is also see among people who do good deeds, like some social workers and activists?

Freud on Mourning and Melancholia

Freud (1922), in Mourning and Melancholia, writes about the ability to mourn as a means of overcoming loss. The inability to mourn or the absence of the mourning process leads to melancholia, which we understand today as major depression.

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Genuine Reparation and Creativity

Genuine reparation is slow, there is no quick fix. It takes consideration of the other person. It takes mourning the damage. It takes getting to experience the guilt, the fear of damaging the good object, the relationship. It also takes creativity.

Renunciation of magic and omnipotence. Allows the object to be free. To accept the separateness of the object. This is how we overcome guilt.

Un-recognized guilt, leads to aggression turned towards the self, which is a condition we know as major depression.

Hence the recognition of a loss and the process going through the mourning process, is essential to recovery and prevention of major depression. Much of the therapeutic process involves in one way or another accompanied mourning of loss.

Bibliography

Barone, K. C. (2005). On the processes of working through loss caused by severe illnesses in childhood: a psychoanalytic approach. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy19(1), 17-34.

Klein, M. (2002). Love, guilt and reparation: and other works 1921-1945 (Vol. 1). Simon and Schuster.

Freud, S. (1922). Mourning and melancholia. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease56(5), 543-545.