If you have ever suffered the loss of a family member or a friend, you’re probably familiar with the excruciating pain of impotence and powerlessness that comes with them. For us, who had loved ones pass away when we were still young and innocent, it had a lasting effect on our relationship with life and death. For me, however, after losing my father, it represented an existential shakeup to the fabric of my life and a redefinition of my understanding of safety.
This is not uncommon, of course. Most of us have to have that difficult conversation with our parents or friends about death and the facts of life. Thus, we are educated in a cruel way about the reality of our mortality, whether we are ready or not; Resulting in pain and anxiety in the luckiest among us, while trauma and scars accompany the rest.
The reality of life is inescapable. We will eventually, at some point that is unknown to us, leave this earth. That is the most solid fact humans can rely on. Nevertheless, we have to take that reality and move on with our lives. Push it back to the depths of our psyche and go back to living.
Making Sense of Trauma
I have always wrestled with the scars and memories left from my losses trying to make sense of their impact in my life and how to cope with them so that they don’t result in behaviors that affect the people I keep close.
Why was it so brutal? What lies beyond the pain of loss and suffering? Why is it still affecting me today? These questions may be too much for me to digest in an afternoon or even a decade. But I have some thoughts.
First, there is very little awareness of the importance of mental health on children, especially in third-world countries. For example, growing up, I was never taken to a therapist to discuss my father’s death. Instead, my family assumed the responsibility to educate us and ensure that we could cope and move on. This situation might have been due to how prohibitively expensive the prospect of long-term psychological treatment was —and still is— in my country, which highlights another problem that also needs attention.
Nevertheless, it is clear that in countries like mine, where family circles are close and heavily dependent on each other, children are less likely to receive professional help.
Second, experiencing a terrible outcome, despite your (and everybody’s) best efforts to prevent it and the monumental negative impact it might have on your life, reminds us of how little control we have over life, let alone our own. Whether it is a sudden, unexpected death or a long battle that comes to an end, we experience a loss of control and a shakeup of our comfort.
Control and Expectations
Man’s biggest grievances stem from their desire to have control over their destiny and everything in life. Our desire to control our finances, safety, health, relationships, success all create an attachment to an outcome and an endless pursuit of control. As I have pointed out before, attachment to an outcome is the source of constant anxiety and misery in life. Unfortunately, our desire for control happens to be the other side of the coin, giving us the same result.
This situation is even more sensitive to young individuals who still have not developed their brains fully. As we grow up, it is crucial to feel safe and nurtured to properly build our sense of self and independence. When not properly handled, a traumatic loss can create scars that affect our ability to function as adults since we might feel that the world is fundamentally unsafe and too volatile to live life fully.
Furthermore, a pervasive sense of lack of control can affect our relationship with society as a whole. Someone in this position, who at some point experiences less fortune than others, will feel that the world is random, cruel, and unjust, resulting in extreme behavior and radical beliefs.
Acceptance Liberates Us
So, what is the antidote to this?
Accepting that life, and the world, are free from the influence of your desires, beliefs, and expectations.
Life is not necessarily random, and believing that there is just anarchy will undoubtedly result in more anxiety and misery. However, embracing the fact that there is only a small degree of influence you can exert in your future, and that leaving the rest to the universe is not only OK, but all we can hope for will liberate you from the prison of control and expectation.
Finally, I want to remind all of our readers that this newsletter is a two-lane avenue. If you want to add something to what we share here, please reply to this email or leave us a comment. We know sometimes these topics can be close to home to some of you, and we would love to share our experiences and help you work your way out of pain. We can only offer so much, but we are here to help.
Stay safe; Stay Well.