The Emotional Topography of Grief

Loss—especially traumatic or tragic loss—creates a dark region in our world that will always be there.


Because we are limited, finite, mortal beings, vulnerability to trauma is a necessary and universal feature of our human condition. Suffering, injury, illness, death, heartbreak, loss--these are possibilities that define our existence and loom as constant threats. To be human is to be excruciatingly vulnerable.


In virtue of our human finitude, heartbreak is built into our caring engagement in the world.

Meaning is Where the Action Is

Whether a therapist’s expression of emotional understanding will produce therapeutic or counter-therapeutic effects will depend on the emotional meanings that such expressions have for the patient.

So-Called Masochistic Relationships

People often remain endlessly in unhappy, abusive, or depriving relationships by blaming their suffering on their own shortcomings, their not having “gotten it right” yet. Such an interpretive pattern can keep someone futilely trying to get it right forever.

Honesty: The Film

Existential honesty owns up to the inevitable heartbreak of loss.

A Non-Pathologizing Approach to Emotional Trauma

When we dwell with others’ unendurable pain, their shattered emotional worlds are enabled to shine with a kind of sacredness that calls forth an understanding and caring engagement within which traumatized states can be gradually transformed into bearable painful feelings that can be seamlessly and constitutively integrated into whom one experiences oneself as being.

The Phenomenology of Pain

My prolonged severe pain was a black hole at the center of my emotional experience, sucking into its darkness aspects of my engagement in the world.


Death and loss are existentially equiprimordial. Existential anxiety (Angst) anticipates both death and loss.

"Out There"

Sarah Stark’s novel, "Out There," contains rich and valuable descriptions of the essential features of emotional trauma in general and of combat-related trauma in particular--the shattering of innocence, the disruption of temporality, the alienation and estrangement, and the longing for a sibling in the same darkness.

Review Essay on "Levels of Life" by Julian Barnes

In the course of describing his experience of grief, Julian Barnes fleshes out in excruciating detail how traumatic loss entails the collapse of one’s world, a reconfiguring of time and space, a sense of profound estrangement from those who are not grief-stricken, and the dread of a second loss that impends with the passage of time—the fading of memory of the lost beloved.

Whatever You Want

In perceptual accommodation, I see myself (and you) the way you see me (and yourself), in order to secure a needed bond with you. My subjective reality is unconsciously surrendered and is usurped by yours.

Varieties of Limitude Experience∗

Most often the term finitude is used to denote our temporal limitedness—our mortality. But the term can be seen to encompass all the ways in which finite human existing is limited, and they all can be sources of emotional trauma.

Traumatic Loss—Collapse of a World

Traumatic loss shatters one’s emotional world, and, insofar as one dwells in the region of such loss, one feels eradicated.

Emily Running

In the experiencing of authentic temporality, the whole structure of human existence has to be brought into view—namely, that it is authentically intelligible only in terms of its stretching along between birth and the possibility of death, between two abysses of nothingness.

Philosophy as Therapy

For both Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the purpose of philosophical concepts is to point us toward the path of transformation rather than to explain. Both philosophers seek to expose the illusions, sedimented in linguistic practices, that cover up our finitude and context-embeddedness.

The War on Grief

The enormity and everlastingness of the grief following a traumatic loss are not manifestations of psychopathology; they are a measure of the depth of love for the lost beloved.

Heidegger and Contemporary Psychoanalysis

My aim is to show how Heidegger's existential philosophy enriches contemporary psychoanalysis and how contemporary psychoanalysis enriches Heidegger's existential philosophy.

A Soldier’s Memoir

Throughout the rest of their lives, those who have been traumatized encounter what I call “portkeys” that transport them again and again back to the original experiences of trauma, so that time is felt to be circular rather than linear.

Death, Afterlife, and Doomsday Scenario

It is from the horror of the doomsday scenario posed by climate change that the minimizers and scoffers turn away. Ironically, in turning away from the extreme dangers of climate change, we contribute to the coming to be of the horrifying catastrophe we are evading. We must face up to our apocalyptic anxiety before it is too late for the survival of future generations.

When Grief Finds a Home

Denise Levertov’s poem, “Talking to Grief,” captures beautifully the process whereby grief (and other traumatic emotions), in finding a welcoming home in which to dwell, can become truly one’s own—i.e., can become seamlessly and constitutively woven into the fabric of whom one experiences oneself as being.

On Valorizing Shame

The valorization of shame in the name of social awareness and socialization is all too often a rationalization for emotionally abusing young children.

The Shame Family

In feeling ashamed we feel exposed as inherently flawed or defective before the gaze of a viewing, judging other. In shame, we are held hostage by the eyes of others; we belong, not to ourselves, but to them. In that sense, shame is indicative of an inauthentic or unowned way of existing.

On the Inconsolability of Grief

"Death takes from us not only some particular life within the world, some moment that belongs to us, but, each time, without limit, someone through whom the world, and first of all our own world, will have opened up."

Portkeys to Trauma

Experiences of emotional trauma become freeze-framed into an eternal present in which we remain forever trapped, or to which we are condemned to be perpetually returned through the portkeys supplied by life’s slings and arrows.

Death Don’t Have No Mercy

Although the possibility of emotional trauma is ever present, so too is the possibility of forming bonds of deep emotional understanding within which the devastating emotional pain built in to our finite human existing can be held, endured, and eventually integrated.

On Being a Remainder

Being the remainder of an emotional world shattered by trauma is a source of the uncanny sense of estrangement and isolation from the world of everydayness that is experienced by traumatized persons.

Existential Aphorisms

"Every generation of poets and thinkers attempts to make sense of the enigmatic, unfathomable face of life, with its laughing mouth and mournful eyes. This will remain an unending task."—Wilhelm Dilthey

Undergoing the Situation

When we dwell with others’ unendurable pain, their shattered emotional worlds are enabled to shine with a kind of sacredness that calls forth an understanding and caring engagement within which traumatized states can be gradually transformed into bearable painful feelings.

The Tragic and the Metaphysical

It is my view that the lamentable, endlessly recurring cycle of atrocity and counter-atrocity that has been so characteristic of human history derives significantly from the turning to metaphysical illusion in the effort to evade the tragedy of human finitude.