Feeling, Relating, Existing

On emotion and the human dimension

Everybody’s Changing and I Don’t Feel the Same

The loss of a loved one shatters our evasive illusions and confronts us with our finiteness and transience and with the finiteness and transience of all those we love. When our emotional world becomes shattered in this way, we need to find a context of human understanding, a “relational home,” in which our traumatic emotional pain can be held and borne. Read More

"Everybody's Changing."

A beautiful, haunting song that I've never heard before. Thank you for this. I won't forget it either.

Loss and transience

Thank you, Helen.

grieving together

Bob, Bernie's passing, a shared loss. I offer these lines with deep appreciation for the relational dwelling place you provide here.

What do you know sun of the dismal dreary day
What can you tell me water of the parching drought
What can you say light of the swarthy chilly rain
and you wind of all of us branches stout
that sometimes in your gust rebound
What do you know lingering enduring flame
of the ashes that will snuff out your reign
What can you ever know of joy nostalgia
in your bittersweet might and main—
the stuff of relatedness "thick"
Margalit might say.

© 2013 Ernesto Vasquez

your poem

That's beautiful, Ernesto, thank you so much.

on dwelling with grief and loss and finding a 'relational home'

As a newcomer to the 'self psychology' community with no knowledge of Bernie, though i can see that he was very special to many people, I offer the following.....

I was twice confronted with this existential challenge by the time I was 22 - now 43yrs ago, following the deaths, in separate accidents of my sister and father. Kahil Gibran's poem - (see first verse below) helped me to make sense of my pain.

My father's and sister's sudden death brought home to me the fragility of life causing me to decide that i must 'live my life' to its very last breath for in that living I honour them and myself. The decision compelled me to find ways to firstly embrace my pain and then to accept its place in my life as an expression of my humanity. For pain is part of who we are and, without it, we would be hollow clanging expressions of ourselves.

I had just graduated from university as a social worker when my father died. That juxtaposition of the personal and professional shaped my emerging practice as a counsellor - the more I 'could sit with and embrace my own pain' the more i was able to help clients confront their own existential realities and to do so without fear or trepidation.

Now 43 years later i am still confronted with many challenges and losses. What i have recently discovered though is that the deep crevices carved into my soul by the pain have become like organ pipes which resonate with life, energy and music. As i listen to that inner music i am able to rejoice in life and all that it offers - discovering through my pain what it means to be to truly be human.

On Joy and Sorrow
Kahlil Gibran
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

trauma and existential vulnerability

Thank you for these very moving reflections and poem.

Denial of death

It's great to see that you are writing a blog for Psychology Today, Bob. A friend, Bob Edelstein, is also blogging on matters existential in this magazine.

I was sorry to hear of Bernie's death. I heard him speak at some conferences at UCLA years ago, and remember him as a wise, kind man. The book you wrote with him and Atwood in 1987 had a great impact on my theoretical and professional growth. I can imagine how painful his passing is to you.

One of the ways, of course, that people deny the fact of their own endings is to posit the existence of some eternal essence of themselves, a soul. I myself don't have such a belief, but my wife and other members of the spiritual organization she is part of do seem to have, at least some of the time, a sense of connection to the universe that gives them a some solace in the face of the reality of death. I don't have that feeling and sometimes envy them. About the closest I get to it is the knowledge that, when I die, the stuff of which my body is made up will go to make new life.

denial of death

Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Stephan. My essence, like yours, is finite all the way down!


Loss courses through our work.

You were undoubtedly a good friend to Bernard Brandchaft. May your memories and your mourning be a comfort to you.


A good friend indeed. Thanks, Risa.

Your comment about Bernard Brandchaft

Thanks for your comment, but I didn't mean to imply I was a friend of Brandchaft. I heard him talk at a few conferences and was impressed and inspired by a book on psychoanalytic treatment and theory he wrote with Bob Stolorow and George Atwood.

Bernard Brandchaft

Thanks, Stephan.

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Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D. is one of the original members of the International Council for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, which stems from the work of Heinz Kohut.


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