The supposed benefits of grieving -- just another form of denial

Carolyn Baker and others (such as Rob Hopkins) reckon that a crucial point is that transition needs to concern itself with not just the hand and the head but also with the heart. In a recent article she reveals(?) that grieving is (supposedly) a necessary, beneficial, part of adaption to traumatic change. (PS: In her pages you always have to scroll down past the introductory blurb to get to the article.)

Unlike these nice, pleasant, successful people, I don't just write and theorise about coping with extreme adversity. I have survived many years of adversity such as would have wiped out these others several times over. In the real world, not all problems have solutions. Not all victims of injustice come out as survivors.

Consider for instance my situation in recent years. I had at last discovered the cause of my chronic invalidity, as due to the dental mercury poisoning by the NHS which still pretends that no such illness exists, and I do not have the ~£10,000 to remove this mercury from my teeth. Due to decades of chronic fatigue I had few friends to speak of and none close and nearby to lean on.

Then in 2005 I was plunged into a horrendous harassment crisis. I found myself sharing my house with a violent deceitful lifestyle alcoholic lifestyle criminal in the adjacent flat. Plus all the like alco-criminals drawn magnet-like from all around. Simultaneously with being threatened on the violence front, I was also threatened by the housing "cooperative" continuing with conspiring and attacking me on a more institutional front. I struggled to write the reports on their criminality and thereafter the book linked on that website.

Then they started their corrupt legal action for my eviction. Then in 2007 the evil liar judges Truman, MacDuff and McKenna told a huge pile of lies with the result that I was suddenly forced out of my home of 17 years, just about immediately. Even though I had nowhere to go. As it happened, Mohammed my neighbour of 15 years had a barely inhabitable hovel nearly unoccupied at the time, which I was able to move some of my things to. Else I doubt I'd be alive and writing this now.

Let's look at the situation when that falsely-granted eviction was enforced. I had been working flat out for the past 50 months to try to challenge the institutional abuses, while also trying to manage relations with the criminals making an uninhibited reign of terror in my house. I really was looking forward to defeating the legal case and then at last having a bit of a rest.

But instead I had to immediately continue even faster. I had to sort out and try to remove the tons of my possessions such as this computer I'm typing on now. I was soon physically clapped out by the impossible overwork involved. I had to walk long distances to and from the new address. Many times I was close to collapsing with exhaustion in the street. I had to do a huge amount of thinking and difficult deciding of what to do about the numerous problems that had arisen. I no longer had a phone or internet or knew my local area, or where most of my things had ended up or not.

In this context there was no shortage of things to get incandescently angry about. Such as a supposed justice system that assaults the victim and gives victory to callous evil criminals. No shortage of things to grieve about. But did the nice judges say I could really do with a week or two to grieve about anything? No. Just in their deceitful pretence, the law (supposedly) could not give any extra time before the corruptly-granted eviction must take place.

I just had to get on with doing and deciding. Similarly, consider the situation of these survivors of Stalingrad, living in a hole in the ground.
Don't you think they could do with a year or two of grieving over the numerous friends and associates they have lost? And the disappearance of the whole world they have lived in all these years? But instead, they just have to get on with things. Likewise the millions of soldiers caught up in the conflict, constantly experiencing the unpleasant deaths of their team-mates, and yet having to just get on with things.

The composer Felix Mendelssohn died within months of the death of his sister. In the intervening he wrote his absolutely uncharacteristically harsh F# minor quartet. It's clear he died of a broken heart.
And not long after the Tay bridge collapsed while a train was passing over it, the designer of the bridge died, and again it seems clear that he also died of a sort of grief or shame. Queen Victoria, after the death of her husband, wore mourning black for the rest of her life.

I am not here saying that these grief-engulfed persons were unworthy or second rate. I am saying that there are some people we may not be able to help, who may not be able to be part of the future.

I question whether there is any evidence that grieving improves anything. Rather what is needed is coming to terms with that which we cannot change. Some people are better at this than others. Different people have different strengths and weaknesses. Some inflexibly carry on as if nothing has changed (low Neuroticism), some just crack up and fail that way instead (high Neuroticism), others become insane (high Psychoticism).

In my experience, emotions are only rarely useful. They are a primitive system serving as a failsafe for when more sophisticated thinking and theorising are short of useful ideas of what to do. The proper thing to do is to be in control of one's emotions and to set out on the work of rational analysis of one's predicament. And where necessary coming to terms, with resignation to that which cannot be changed anyway.

To a great extent, a person's response to adverse changes can be improved by skilled use of nutrition and other techniques. I believe that my own expertise in this has been crucial for enabling me to survive so far. If you are interested in further information or discussion on this and or other matters, send full contact details and personal information to my email address. That's r [at] energyark[dot]net


  1. As a student of Stoicism and REBT I agree that the ability to deal with reality, and especially with diversity, in a non-reactive fashion, is what we ought to strive for. Nonetheless I have repeatedly seen evidence that grieving can indeed be a step on the way towards that level of non-involvement for many people, and it has helped me -- without in any way impairing my ability to go forward or deal level-headedly, on the contrary.

    It is, as you suggest, fundamentally a question of how one handles one's own nervous system. Unacknowledged emotion does cause health problems in my opinion, and the ability to acknowledge those emotions can make a person ready to face the future in a very different spirit. This is very different from wallowing in grief for self-indulgent reasons and represents a catharsis.

    It is also not necessary to have 'time off from life' in order to grieve. You can very well do it as part of your ongoing life, and watch its effects unfold. It depends on how you choose to go about it.

    I'm sorry that your life has been, and continues to be, so difficult, and I admire the level-headed spirit with which you are coping. What kind of people survive in the future, how, and in what spirit, remains to be seen.

  2. Nnonnth... Perhaps I shouldn't rule out different individuals' differing ways of adapting. And I agree there's an important difference between acknowledging one's emotions and self-indulgent wallowing in them. But I'm sceptical of whether there is any real evidence that grieving is a useful step on the way. Maybe it's just an unavoidable step, much as getting something wet is unavoidable on the way to the shop on a rainy day, but doesn't actually benefit one apart from a free hairwash or hatwash.

    As regards the idea that one can grieve without having "time off from life", maybe that depends on whether you are mercury-poisoned as one of its symptoms is difficulty doing anything let alone doing more than one thing at a time!

    I suspect one factor in coping is whether a person has had some "hardening" by adversities in their earlier life. I suspect that many people have not. Such as the 20-yr-old who kills himself due to losing a girlfriend. But how does losing a girlfriend compare with losing years 15 to 55 of your life to an illness that officially does not exist?!

  3. Don't rule out different ways of adaptation -- but by all means go on making the very valid point that they better actually be ways of adapting, rather than ways to avoid it.

    For many, the avoidance of grief is a way of not facing reality. I personally could not forge myself into any kind of steel without grief. Many primitive tribes are very expert at this. It doesn't have to be showy -- it is about acknowledging the hard truth of existence, something our own culture is terrible at.

    I'm not suggesting you do it if you don't want to. You do need some time, and if things are moving too fast, it is hard work. What I mean though is that life doesn't need to stop; it can be a part of the process.

    I totally agree on the question of 'hardening' although I think it is more endemic to our culture. I'm with Heraclitus: "It would not be better for human beings to have all they want." So simple and so true. Western oil life has been about trying to have all we want and we are softer, weaker, and more miserable as a result. It is absolutely true that those who face reality are stronger; we are about to discover how quickly people can learn.

    The sad fact of your situation is that people will not acknowledge and stand by your position. In the future, I believe, that will not necessarily have to be; one day we will all be more familiar with hardship and able to look it in the face. Heaven knows we need it.

    There is a flipside, though -- I have studied enough psychology to know that too much very early hardship deadens some and causes splits in their personality, especially if trauma is involved. A wailing scream of grief from the depths of the soul is often the first thing heard as the person consciously becomes aware of what has happened to them -- that is useful. :) as they integrate it they become strong, because they are themselves for the first time. The mind works in funny ways; they need to use those primitive mechanisms to reboot the consciousness.

    Yes, I believe (as I just wrote on Greer's blog) in the Stoic concept of apatheia. But there is no known recipe for producing it; I think for some grief will be a step on the way to reality. I don't agree with the idea that grief alone is sufficient adaptation!

  4. I wouldn't be so quick to judge other people, Rob hopkins for one has had some pretty pretty crappy things happen to him in the early days of the transition movement in ireland -how about having the home you'd worked on for 10 years been burnt down in 1 night - arson?

  5. I agree about not judging other people too quickly. But never judging is unlikely to be wise too. The notion of Rob's cob house burning being remotely comparable to my own experiences is very telling, actually because it is so utterly trivial by comparison. According to a report, he had a wife, four children, good health, a career, another house to live in, etc, and was the victim of an obvious crime. Contrast this with my situation of 40 years' serious illness resulting in my having no family and negligible social network (though such good friends as I do have I must not begrudge) or money or earning capacity. Having a non-home burnt down is very different from being suddenly totally EVICTED into homelessness, one's life thrown utterly into chaos, yet supposedly being the rightful recipient of such punishment by "honourable" judges who also imposed a massive "costs" of far more money than I'd ever seen in a lifetime of benefits dependency. And please note that that is only that one eviction event. There's a huge ton more bother over many years that preceded it that is simply too much to get into here. So, in conclusion, the evidence you cite actually reinforces my point of their lack of adversity rather than undermines it. Anyway, it is never quite clear what is good fortune or bad. Maybe I have been blessed with a surfeit of sanity and intelligence and positivity? And with preconditioning in adversity which prepares me for the future? Who knows?!

  6. And: "...the house wasn't insured..." Evidence of Rob's wisdom anyone?