Traumatic Loss—Collapse of a World
I am nothing without you.
Posted May 02, 2014
Martin Heidegger (1927) contends that death, if experienced as an authentically owned possibility, is non-relational in that it is unsharable: “No one can take the Other’s dying away from him…. By its very essence, death is in each case mine” (p. 284). In my own work (Stolorow 2011), by contrast, I claim that an authentic being-toward-death entails owning up not only to one’s own finitude, but also to the finitude of all those we love. Hence, I contend, authentic being-toward-death always includes being-toward-loss as a central constituent. Just as, existentially, we are “always dying already” (Heidegger, 1927, p. 298), so too are we always already grieving. Death and loss are existentially equiprimordial. Existential anxiety anticipates and discloses both death and loss.
In loss as possibility, all possibilities for being in relation to the lost loved one (other than imaginary and symbolic possibilities) are extinguished. Thus, being-toward-loss is also a being-toward-the-death of a part of one’s being-in-the-world—toward a form of existential death. Traumatic loss shatters one’s emotional world, and, insofar as one dwells in the region of such loss, one feels eradicated. Jacques Derrida (2001) captures this claim poignantly and poetically:
“[T]he world [is] suspended by some unique tear … reflecting disappearance itself: the world, the whole world, the world itself, for 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….” (p. 107)
“[A] stretch of [our] living self … a world that is for us the whole world, the only world … sinks into an abyss.” (p. 115)
The deeper, richer, and more multidimensional a love relationship, the more traumatically world-shattering will be its loss. Here is a link to a haunting song written and performed by Vienna Teng that beautifully captures the experience of world-collapse following traumatic loss: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcoRlhbHo_E
Derrida, Jacques. 2001. The Work of Mourning. Edited by P.-A. Brault & M. Naas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Heidegger, Martin. 1927. Being and Time. Translated by J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.
Stolorow, Robert D. 2011. World, Affectivity, Trauma: Heidegger and Post-Cartesian Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge. Link: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415893442/
Copyright Robert Stolorow