Father of logotherapy and concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl, said, “Despair is suffering without meaning.”
Forlorn comedic writer and actor, Woody Allen, said, ““To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.”
The Buddhist "four noble truths" state: 1) existence is suffering ( dukhka ); 2) suffering has a cause, namely craving and attachment ( trishna ); 3) there is a cessation of suffering, which is nirvana; and 4)there is a path to the cessation of suffering—nonattachment.
How ever you roll the proverbial dice, pain is an inherent part of life. From the moment we are born, both the baby and its mother are contorted into physical pains that are so intense, the mind is wired to suppress the memory of the pain.
The emotional pain that follows if the baby is abandoned or neglected can impede the baby’s self-soothing mechanisms and lead to a lifetime of more intense grief to losses—perceived or real.
There is also a hefty amount of research that suggests the cumulative amount of losses in one’s life can take a toll. Add aging, diminishing hormones and declining organ resilience and the bounce back to loss can be more challenging.
One thing I want to point out is that the pain from loss and grief is real. Many can imagine what isolation does when a person is subjected to solitary confinement. Or recall dogs that have been left in cages and begin chasing their tales and exhibiting other anxious symptoms. The loss from the death of a loved one or losing a job or the rejection of a cherished family member, friend, or beloved creates a similar dynamic.
To illustrate it with another example, there was an old Japanese experiment that demonstrated the impact of others on rice. Three jars were filled with fresh picked rice. One was placed in a dark closet by itself. The other two were placed next to each other. The words, “I love you” were taped to one jar while the words, “I hate you” were placed on the second jar.
After one month, the rice that held the words, “I love you” was still fresh and smelled sweet as if it had just been picked. The second jar of rice with the “I hate you” note had rotted, turning black and smelling foul. The observation is that loving attention can sustain us in ways that aid our health and longevity. Negative attention can harm us. This is where the lesson from the third jar comes into play.
The third jar that was segregated in a closet by itself had rotted almost immediately, and far sooner than the jar with the “I hate you” sign. Isolation, abandonment, and despair from loss can be real—and the most damning experience.
It can cause a host of ailments, including anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases—death. Death can be as sudden as heartbreak syndrome or suicide, or slower from a deteriorating illness.
Finding ways to process the grief and loss are as important as finding supportive relationships around you. It is also essential that you honor your own personal path to healing and give yourself space to realize there is no one right way or timeline.
Sometimes the people we most care about may be not be there the way we want or need them to be. This can happen because the pain and loss brings up their own losses or fears of losses, so they can’t handle your pain. Finding others with similar losses can help in such situations, along with support groups. Or finding new friends by seeking out passions and hobbies like, painting classes, sculpting, hiking clubs, bird watching, yoga, cycling, martial arts, and the list goes on. Fill in the list with something you’ve never tried!
Also, it is okay to protect your boundaries when people tell you “should” or “must” as in, “You should do…” or “You must do…” because those often signal that its their own internal scripts, or parental introjects, and many times it may not even apply to you.
The big thing is that being pushed to heal tends to backfire, so gently informing others that you’re not going to get over it (like in the death of a loved one) and that you thank them for trying can help teach them. In time, you’ll find and develop ways and relationships to help you get through it.
Acknowledging your pain, processing it, cultivating positive relationships, and finding meaning are the steps for healing and growth. Spirituality is often at the heart of the deeper healing—and studies reveal prayer and meditation helps to heal bodies and minds in innumerable and unexplainable ways.
Cicero wrote in 44 B.C. as he was approaching his own death, “While we are trapped within these earthly frames of ours, we carry out a heavy labor imposed on us by fate. Indeed, the soul Is a heavenly thing come down from the celestial realm, pressed down and plunged into the earth, contrary to its divine and eternal nature. But I believe the immortal gods planted souls in human bodies to have beings who would care for the earth and who would contemplate the divine order and imitate it in the moderation and discipline of their own lives.”
He proceeds to cite a number of great thinkers that believed the same thing. Whether it is belief in fate, the soul, an eternal heavenly place, or just the mystery of not knowing, the belief in a higher purpose tends to provide the deepest healing to the severest of losses.
Genius physicist, Albert Einstein, wrote, “There are only two ways to live your live. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
The death, loss, or rejection may bring pain. The pain is real and deep and through the journey of it, may the ethereal miracle of the shattered pain be like the seed that is destroyed to make room for the emerging plant. May your despair heal through all the necessary steps that lead to your personal and wonderful seedling.