Loss

When people experience a loss, they have several ways of dealing with it that are available to them. One is depression. People who choose that response are mostly the ones who feel guilty for the loss, so they punish themselves with pain and also use pain to maim themselves. Because if they don’t act, they can’t make another mistake that leads to loss. Obviously, loss is not the only thing that provokes depression. It’s just one of them.

Another response to loss is denying the loss or its significance. It’s not nearly as maladaptive as depression.

Yet another one is substitution of the object that was lost with a new object. By object I obviously mean whatever the ego attached to. When that object disappears (and it can be a person, a job, a feeling, etc), the ego is wounded. And depression, denial of significance and substitution are the available strategies to respond to this pain.

Of course, there’s always medication but I’m not talking about people who go for that method.

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19 thoughts on “Loss”

  1. I’m a “denial” person. I not only make myself busy in order to distract myself, but I also just shove those emotions right out of my head, as if I’m holding my hands over my ears and singing “LA LA LA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU” at the top of my lungs. Every now and then, my denial gets broken down, though, and I have a good, long cry. I’m always shocked by how emotional I can be when that happens. I mainly just keep it together and say, “Life is hard,” and move on. I think that’s how I am about my tenure denial right now. This time next year, expect me to be having panic attacks. 😦 But for now, I’m perfectly fine.

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    1. I guess I denied the significance of my negative tenure decision, then. The reason it didn’t feel bad was that they did not misrepresent or distort the record, or take anything out of context. No malignation, nothing ugly. The outcome seemed to matter less to me than did the decency of the behavior around it, either way. All the losses that have hurt, and that I’ve gone into depression over, had to do with active malice or injustice. What I wanted to do about the tenure situation was replace with a big shiny new ego object (fancy new career). I see that this would have been healthy — actually, all of my own advice to myself is healthy, if I’d only take it!

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      1. Well, there’s some pretty grave injustice around my case. My P&T committee gave me the highest ratings. The administration denied me based on “the needs and conditions of the department,” which is an absurd reason. I’m currently signed on for an overload in the fall semester because they need me so badly. Plus, we’d been approved to hire another tenure-track faculty member. They provost, etc., just don’t like me, so they wanted to get rid of me. The faculty thinks I’m great, and can’t believe what’s happening to me. But oh well… I’ll survive.

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        1. You’ll survive psychologically because the administration’s position is so patently self-serving and absurd, and because the faculty isn’t trying to gaslight you. One can be glad for these things, but it’s still one h— of a situation.

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        2. It’s a horrible injustice. In your situation, honestly I’d do the absolute minimum the next year. No preparing of classes, no grading of essays,multiple choice tests only, zero service, no office hours. I know you are too good of a person to do that but I’m not.

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        3. Fie. Honey. Don’t do an overload. Listen to Clarissa. They’ve exploited you for years; why not make them feel how much they’ll lose without you? Let the students complain to the administration that they can’t get the classes they need! Take care of yourself, not everyone else. Own oxygen mask first, all that.

          It is good to know that your department appreciates you, at least.

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          1. I’m planning to tell them that they have to find someone else to teach Humanities. But what I think is going to happen is they are just going to cancel my theater class for underenrollment. It’s only got 4 in it right now, but registration is still pretty early. It’s really irritating, though.

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        4. If you take that other path you discussed you’ll need to reclaim your time. They cannot expect you to take on a whole bunch of extra work when they’ve just sent a clear signal they don’t want you there long-term. I don’t know how much relationships with the faculty are important for that other path, obviously.

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      2. Replacement with a new object actually is the least damaging. But many people feel it’s getting off easy and that they don’t deserve such an easy solution. So they self-punish and don’t do it.

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        1. I was talked out of it – I guess because people thought it was too easy – and I have hated academia since. Not because I didn’t get tenure, I am actually friends with that department still and feel at home visiting that university, but because people in general said I owed it to the field and the profession to stay, did not have the right to break off the engagement, so to speak.

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          1. This is really wrong. You don’t owe anything to “the field.” Or to anybody. I understand why this must be a traumatic memory. And it does sometimes happen that the treatment you get at the time of a loss is harder to bear than the actual loss.

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            1. So true. All the destruction of me around academia hasn’t really been done by academia itself but by friends and family — . Without them I would probably be a happy and well regarded scholar by now, probably prominent. It’s ridiculous.

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              1. The really big thing, though, is that you have the strength to see it. Many people can’t see it because it’s too devastating. So they blame the job, their “laziness”, their genetic makeup, etc. Often people blame themselves for not working fast enough or whatever and forget that they do all their work while carrying a am enormous weight of pain and abuse. Which of course will slow them down. I’m talking more to myself than to you in this comment, to be honest.

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              2. Well, this is another of the reasons I do not like psychotherapy, because in it, if you do not say everything that happens is due to a “behavioral” problem of yours (and of your making) then you are “blaming” which is a sin. Saying “I was browbeaten by people with authority into doing X, against my better judgment, and was not strong enough to resist” is NOT acceptable and has to be treated as a self-serving delusion, whereas saying something like, you were born with defective energy levels and need pep pills, is considered realistic.

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        2. It was such a relief when I’ve started implementing solution 3 in my life, as opposed to mostly 1 with a smattering of 2. I couldn’t do it for a long time, because all losses felt irreplaceable, but then I got in therapy and a lot of irreplaceable losses from childhood came up, and in a way they were left hanging because I could’t make them unhappen, you know – you don’t grow into the sort of person who would have made it through horrible experiences without harm no matter how hard you work at it. Sit enough with these losses though, and something happens with daily life so that mundane losses become simply mundane. They can still be terrible, and upsetting, and irreplaceable, but they’re no longer the eternal recurrence of some unspoken mythopoetic event, so something in me just takes inventory of bruises, dusts itself off and keeps on living.

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  2. This is a really interesting thread. About 10 years ago I had two big losses in fairly quick succession – the sudden (and rather ugly) end of a long-term relationship and the realization that the whole tenure-track research career just wasn’t working out and was never going to happen for me.

    I think I had a short period of depression, but then I wound up going head first into a new hobby with a fierce intensity that really surprised everyone around me. I developed a new skill set very quickly and seriously considered turning that hobby into a new career. And after a couple of years on intensive focus on that, I totally dropped the new hobby and have relatively little interest in picking it up again. This also surprised everyone (myself included) because I was pursuing it so intensely and then dropped it. But at that point, I just had a strong sense that I was done with it and it wasn’t giving me anything anymore. In hindsight, it’s clear to me that the new hobby served to rebuild my sense of being a competent and skilled person, someone who could get something done.

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    1. I want to give this comment fifteen likes.

      I wound up going head first into a new hobby with a fierce intensity that really surprised everyone around me.

      I tend to do this, too. I think I might have broken up (emotionally) with my career and have been filling the void with activities I’d never thought I could pursue (e.g., writing short fiction), and definitely not with the zeal and devotion I have now. It is nice to produce something people read and like, and be part of a supportive online community, and not constantly be quizzed why I do what I do and who cares and get banged up in paper and grant review 24/7 and for what?

      It’s nice to have something other than work to put my intellectual self-worth into. I know I should feel awesome about myself regardless of external accomplishments yadda yadda, but that will never happen. Besides, I need to keep my brain busy.

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  3. Thinking about academic losses, the one that really hurts is the one here. The university asked me to put research time into major service / program-building, or rather threatened that if I did not, the program would be cancelled. So I did, and it hurt, and the program was not cancelled, but they fought me every step of the way and now hate me. I knew at the time that I should say no and take care of my own life, but I was pressured to treat the situation as an emergency and a time for self-sacrifice. It hurt to do it, it was like cutting off a limb, but I thought I would at least get a result — a happy and functioning, stable program. Instead I got hatred and emnity, and a program that makes it but is neither happy nor fully functional, since it still suffers muted shelling (so to speak). This hurts a great deal — I fought tooth and nail for hires and tenure, for instance, for people who now do not speak to me because I did not then do their full bidding — and I self-harm about it, and am debilitated by it, and live in fear of what they may do to me next over it.

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