Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Missing a Loved One on Thanksgiving: A Way of Grieving

By Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP

Thanksgiving, which is celebrated in this country across cultures, religions, ethnicity, geography and socio-economic levels, is an emotional mile marker. It brings to the table and to the mind and heart, those we love, those we will call to exchange loving sentiments, and those we love but who we have lost this year or many years ago.

Grieving For A Loved One Is Difficult During The Holidays.

Some say that the first Thanksgiving is the most difficult because the absence of the loved one is as startling as it is dreaded. It reminds us almost viscerally of the reality of the loss.
For those who have suffered a sudden and traumatic loss,  Thanksgiving can feel impossible with the pain they are holding.

Many report that they hardly know how they got through the day as they felt a combination of numbing, anger and disbelief, even as they cooked the turkey, sat with relatives, held babies and connected with family as best they could.

Still others say that the passage of years doesn’t lessen the tears or heartache. There is something about the Holidays, particularly Thanksgiving, that bring back feelings of love and loss as you look around the table.

A New Perspective on Grieving.

One way to handle Thanksgiving if we are grieving for a loved one is to reconsider the meaning of grieving.

Whereas early psychological theory always associated grieving with “letting go,” newer relational perspectives remind us that our sense of self is based on the relationships we have and those that we carry within us.

From this newer perspective, the role of grieving is not to “let go” but “ to hold on” in a different way.

Grieving becomes a journey to preserve our attachment to a lost loved one, to connect in our head and our heart in a way that transcends loss.

How is This Possible?

This is not easy, simple or quick, but it is a psychologically possible and emotionally restorative.

It is not incompatible with the holidays. In fact, it may be helped by the holidays.
It means going on while holding on-with tears, without closure, with a brick of pain in your pocket, with a mix of memories, with the fear of forgetting– as well as with the need to remember the stories, the names, the laughter, the moments, the loved one.

As Louise Kaplan invites in her book, No Voice is Ever Wholly Lost, it means that the dialogue with a loved one can go on and become a way of maintaining psychological connection.

It means having the realization that the physical death of your loved one is not the end of your attachment.

Grieving for My Mother This Thanksgiving

This will be the first Thanksgiving without my mother. She died at 95 years, a few days after Christmas when she saw her great granddaughter for the first time. She had waited.
  • Throughout these months, it has been too easy to forget that she is gone.
  • I have often been riding in my car thinking of something funny that I have to tell her, only to remember with some tears that I’m not going to tell her anymore.
  • Sometimes, I might remember something I could have changed or some way that she struggled. The sadness washes over me. It passes…
  • Sometimes I ask her if she can believe what is going on. Sometimes I ask for her help.
  • When I can, I remind myself that I am not going to forget the stories she told, the songs she loved or how much I loved making her laugh.
This Thanksgiving, in my heart and mind and despite my missing her, she will be there. As a person who loved to cook and loved watching family and friends eat even more than cooking, she will be remembered in the stories told and in the family rituals carried on by friends, children and grandchildren.

At some point when I am reminding my children of something they already know, they will tell me,” You are turning into Nauna.” At other times I will hear myself speaking and think the same thing.

But isn’t that the way it goes? Isn’t that the way we carry those we love?

Grieving is never easy but it can be a process of re-connection even during the Holidays.

This Thanksgiving, hold on to those you love who surround you and carry those you love who you have lost—They will be an enduring presence in your life.

Suzanne B. Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist. She is Adjunct Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Doctoral Program of Long Island University and on the faculty of the Post-Doctoral Programs of the Derner Institute of Adelphi University. Suzanne Phillips, PsyD and Dianne Kane are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Learn more about their work at
Visit Suzanne's Facebook Page HERE.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Inside a Nervous Breakdown

This post appeared in U.S. News & World Report on November 14, 2014.

Full article can be accessed here -
written by Amir Khan 

It’s another late night at the office – you’re going on 60 hours this week. You’re working on a project you know your boss is going to throw right back into your face. You finally make it home, only to pass out on the couch, wake up and repeat your own hellish version of "Groundhog’s Day." And somewhere between all the meetings, revisions and stress, you snap.

It’s called a nervous breakdown, and though it’s not an officially recognized diagnosis, clinical psychologist Denee Jordan says it’s a perfect descriptor of what the body goes through.​ “It’s similar to running a car without stopping or taking care of it until it just breaks. Our system shuts down due to the mounting stress,” says Jordan, director of mental health services for the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, an organization that helps children and adults with emotional or developmental issues.

Stress has become such a part of our lives that we often think it’s normal to feel that way, Jordan adds, and it keeps building until we can’t take it anymore. “We’re bombarded with impossible expectations,” she says. “We’re encouraged to be​ burnt out. The employee that works 17 hours a day is the one who gets the employee of the month award, but then feels ashamed when he can no longer keep up the pace.”

Recognizing the Warning Signs
Nervous breakdowns don’t sneak up on you, unless you let them. There are warning signs and symptoms that you’re pushing your body too far, says Jonathan Jackson​, director of the Center for Psychological Services and Field ​​Training at Adelphi University in New York. “It means quite a number of different things to different people, but there are some common experiences that we can identify,” he says.

Some people show symptoms that can seem like the symptoms of a severe mental illness, Jackson says. “They can experience an inability to distinguish what is real from what is imagined, including delusions and hallucinations,” he says. “These symptoms can be so disruptive that the person who is suffering them is unable to perform ordinary activities. It's pretty easy to identify people who are in the midst of this sort of breakdown, because they can't manage their distress, so they can't hide it.”

others, it’s much more subtle. “It could be a depression that takes hold slowly at first, and builds to the point that the person has lost interest in life, feels hopeless and has no energy to perform ordinary activities,” Jackson says. “This presentation is not as easy to identify because it comes on slowly and because people who are suffering this way often hide or deny it.” 

When you deny how much stress you’re under and let it build, the symptoms can get worse, Jordan says. “The more stress we encounter, the higher our baseline gets,” she says. “We begin to tolerate more and more stress in our lives, and it just spirals from there.”

Find the rest of the article here -