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Robert D Stolorow Ph.D.

The Emotional Topography of Grief

A region of loss remains in our emotional world forever.

Julia M. Schwartz
Source: Julia M. Schwartz

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Emily Sierra Schwartz Stolorow, a bright star who lit up our world until her tragic death on her 20th birthday on June 3, 2015.

"Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell."—Edna St. Vincent Millay

Reminiscent of Freud's view of affects as quanta of bottled-up energy released from the interior of a mental apparatus, ordinary language often speaks of grief in quantitative terms, as coming in big waves, a welling-up or eruption of sorrow from inside us. Consistent with post-Cartesian psychoanalysis's shift from mind to world (Stolorow, 2011), here we describe the impact of loss on the topography of our emotional world--the emotional landscape in which we dwell.

The impact of loss and grief on our emotional world was compellingly captured by Jacques Derrida (2001):

“[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).

Loss—especially traumatic or tragic loss—creates a dark region in our world that will always be there. A wave of profound sadness descends upon us whenever we step into that region of loss. There we are left adrift in a world hollowed out, emptied of light. It is a bleak region that can never be completely eradicated or cordoned off. The injunction to "let it go and move on" is thus an absurdity. There will always be "portkeys" back into the darkness—the dark realm in which we need to be emotionally held so that the loss can be better borne and integrated (

(Written in collaboration with Julia M. Schwartz.)


Derrida, J. (2001). The Work of Mourning . Edited by P.-A. Brault and M. Naas. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Stolorow, R. D. (2011). World, Affectivity, Trauma: Heidegger and Post-Cartesian Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge. Link:

Copyright Robert Stolorow and Julia Schwartz


About the Author

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.