Why does time not heal?

About how to cope with and survive loss.

10 September, 2023


Let us consider a case.

For years, a woman could not forget the traumatic situation when her relative died. She kept returning to it in her thoughts again and again. Her life came to a halt and closed off from anything new. The woman cried a lot and mourned. All her relatives and friends were very worried about her because they saw how she was suffering. Many tried to provide her with advice and in every possible way help her to «forget» and leave the situation in the past.

But everything remained the same. The woman had already given up hope that she would ever be able to «let go» of this situation and start a new chapter in her life. However, she continued to see a psychologist. The first relief came only after, in therapy, in addition to the feelings she already knew (grief, longing, sadness, and fear), she discovered her feeling of anger towards the deceased. After all, he was partially «responsible» for his death — he took significant and, from her point of view, senseless risks.

Only after this discovery was she able to slowly return to her real life and begin to resolve the accumulated problems over this time and take on new interesting life tasks.

The question is why did this happen — that seemingly innocent knowledge of her resentment and anger allowed her to take a new, previously inaccessible step?

Gestalt psychologists believe that each of our contacts with the world — another person can either be completed or not completed. If the contact is completely completed and all feelings associated with it are experienced, there will be room for a new cycle of contact. But it is not always easy for people to move through life so psychologically «smoothly», completing the previous stuff and not dragging along a trail of old traumas and grievances. This trail of unexperienced feelings is called «unfinished figures». They become «eternal» burdensome companions in life and are experienced as significant psychological discomfort: tension, anxiety, constant repetitive thoughts, fears, depression, and other unpleasant states and feelings.

In order to complete the old, it is necessary to «revive these figures», immerse oneself anew in the old situation, and this time experience everything about the situation. This can be emotionally exhausting, but it allows you to free yourself, and after restoring your strength, embark on a new path.


The most unpleasant thing about experiencing a loss is that in order to survive it, you need to acknowledge it. This means recognizing that something or someone very dear will no longer be an active part of your life — either due to their death or other circumstances (a breakup).

This is an excruciating realization that implies bidding farewell to a multitude of unfulfilled hopes and plans, which, in turn, also played a very important role (for instance, giving meaning to life or serving as a source of relief and comfort for their owner). Parting with them triggers a host of difficult emotions (as one acquaintance of mine said, «Am I supposed to cry for a week?!»). It's uncertain in terms of time, but usually, it is indeed a long and unpleasant process. On the other hand, if you grieve «for the uncertain or wrong subject» or try not to grieve, you can cry "forever", therefore your «figures» will not be «finished», overcome.

Psychoanalysts believe that those who can acknowledge and experience losses are happy, mentally healthy individuals and mature, developed personalities.

This is what one should strive for because the more personal resources one has for recognizing and coping with losses, the greater possibilities he has. For example, someone who tries to convince himself that something valuable is «not really» needed remains in the grip of his fears and fails to obtain what he desires. Someone who cannot acknowledge a loss will be forced to cling to the past and will be unable to progress further in that area.

Psychoanalytical psychologists have been and continue to be highly inventive in describing how people avoid recognizing and experiencing loss. All the psychological defense mechanisms described in the extensive literature are attempts by the psyche to avoid confronting traumatic loss.

Defense mechanisms are called protective because they PROTECT against excessive frustration. However, they also hinder personal development. They protect against both frustration and development. This is the price of using them. The absence of progress is experienced by the individual as stagnation, depression, bad mood, apathy, and emptiness.

About me

Maria Dolgopolova – a certified clinical and a jungian psychologist (Moscow Association of Analytical Psychology, an IAAP training candidate studying in CGJung Institute in Zurich) with a background in gestalt therapy (Moscow Institute of Gestalt and Psychodrama, Gestalt Associates Training Los Angeles) and in psychoanalysis of object relations.


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