The end of this year is coming and a New Year lies ahead. How we manage endings and beginnings says a lot about our history of relationships and attachment.
2020 has been all about endings and beginnings. In March the ending of face-to-face sessions indoors and the beginning of Lockdown. Beginning to write a Blog here, to stay connected to clients and offer support and meaning-making at this strange and threatening time. Ending a way of practicing that had served me well for two decades.
Therapy is also about endings and beginnings. Very often about deaths: of parents, loved ones and children. And other endings: separation, divorce, loss. Beginnings – new phases also bring us into therapy: the birth of a child, a new relationship, a wedding. These events can raise old, unprocessed feelings of previous losses, dropping us into unexpected places of low mood, depression and anxiety.
We are made up of endings and beginnings. How we experience, manage and process them affects how we move forward and engage in later attachments and losses.
Unprocessed, unexpressed, unexplored losses, trauma and events can stunt our development. Causing blockages they prevent us moving freely into new relationships and experiences. Our internal and historical experiences are reflected in how we engage in relationships.
For example, if we are untrusting and unwilling to create intimate relationships it is likely we experienced untrustworthy and unloving relationships in early childhood. Entering easily and confidently into relationships suggests safe and positive early attachment.
How we come out of relationships is interesting too. Do we do the ending? Or is the ending always done to us? Do we find a new partner before leaving our current one? Very quickly afterwards? Or do we take a lengthy break between the two? How do we repair the wounds of severance?
So many questions! Always more questions. The point I wish to make is that multiple challenges, wounds, losses make it difficult to bear the risk of trying again. Whether an intimate relationship, a job, pregnancy, or your own small business after two national lockdowns, picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and starting all over again is sometimes too much.
It is after one of these exhausting, despairing experiences of loss that we can find ourselves doing something differently. We suddenly go in an unexpected direction, end an unhappy relationship, enter therapy.
During my training I found it tedious when my psychoanalyst repeatedly referred to our breaks. Every Easter, summer, Christmas for four years she would ask how I felt about the approaching break, how I felt post-break. “It’s just a break!” I dismissively thought. Obviously I didn’t say that. I wish I could have.
Our response to any event is telling. In therapy we are particularly interested in our responses to loss. Using these moments and shared experiences in therapy we put a microscope to what might be triggered.
I now enquire how my clients feel about our breaks. Some respond anxiously, some ambivalently or dismissively. In longer-term work I see initial anxiety reduce over time, representing the developed sense of self, increased trust in the therapeutic relationship, confidence that the break will be survived and we will return again, as planned, to what is familiar and known. Change may happen in the break, and that too can be integrated, talked about, understood.
Endings and beginnings are a natural and regular part of change. How we manage change is the important bit. This year has shaken us all up and invited us to face all sorts of losses and endings.
It has also got us talking about these vulnerable and difficult experiences which is a very good thing. The Anna Freud Centre offers a document for coping with unexpected endings and loss. It is written for teachers and carers to help young people, but the writing style and content makes it accessible for all ages and those unused to considering their emotional needs. It is a good introduction to considering our internal emotional world and helping us think about what the coronavirus pandemic means for our psychological state. Attachment and loss is the essence of human existence. The simplicity of it, and the complexity, makes it an area we can all relate to.
For me, Christmas and New Year is a perfectly tidy Ending and Beginning. All wrapped up and neatly presented in a perfect 7 days. I know it is coming and how long it will take. There is much preparation and then a shared leaving it behind and starting anew. I am fortunate to be able to engage in this time of year without suffering associations of earlier tragic losses. This is an evocative time of year. If it evokes pain and sadness it can feel particularly painful and inescapable amidst the conflicting lights, tinsel and apparent ‘jollity’.
I am ready to say goodbye to 2020. There has been a great deal of very hard work and I feel deeply appreciative to my clients for bringing themselves so bravely this year. I am immensely grateful to have reached this point along with all those I have journeyed alongside. I look forward to continuing on with you all in a New Year, however we might do that.
This month’s photo is a ‘Red Sky at Night’. My hope is that, rather like the promised Shepherd’s Delight, this year closes offering a similar new dawn of good things to come.