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Shades of our existential pain: from despair to melancholy

Dipu Akter

‘There’s a light
A certain kind of light
That never shone on me
I want my life to be lived with you …
There’s a way, everybody says
To do each and every little thing
But what does it bring
If I ain’t got you, ain’t got you?’
This lovely song is one of the Bee Gee’s creation in the late 1960s. These lyrics express our state of emotional attachment with our object of desire in a situation of ‘fallen’ (in love). We don’t say ‘lift in love’, it’s always ‘fall in love’. Because some sort of emotional vulnerability is always there.The object we desire become the innermost point of our psyche, indispensable to find a reason to live. No matter how much light is around us; by the absence of our loving object, we often get lost in darkness.
We all very often go through some harsh moment more or less uncomfortable, intolerable with ourselves and our lives. We do become trapped in compulsive thoughts that, why I am here in this word? What is the purpose of my living? What is the meaning of my existence? Or, like the song, ‘But what does it bring If I ain’t got you?’ There is a set of predetermined meaning.
This question isn’t simply a query to get an answer. A significant amount of distress is embedded with this query. We may address this painful state as an existential crisis or pain. We literally feel the pain, our whole being almost grasped by it. Human life is destined to find the meaning of their life through something external. Most often, it is the person we confused them as our Prince charming or Cinderella. This position isn’t problematic unless someone gets stuck because of something or someone they didn’t get or lost once they had. The problem arises when an individual gaze long onto it. In psychoanalysis, an individual is being addressed as ‘Subject’. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan described a subject with the sign ‘$’. It means subject (S) is divided with a bar ( ). This division of a subject consists a little matheme of sadness, alienation in emotional involvement with other. Our life completely loses the meaning by the missing object that we desire intensely. The result could be normal sadness to severe form of grief. It’s the effect caused by the alienation from our object of desire. There are many shades in between. For instance: sadness, grief, despair, frustration, depression, melancholia etc. Each state has its own distinctive feature and intensity.
If we look around us, we will see all individual’s emotional reaction towards that loss isn’t the same. Some are coping very easily, but some just can’t. What are the reasons behind? We are left only with the hypothesis.Mourning or grief, from psychoanalytic perspective, is a very normal emotional response to loss, such as the death of our significant one, or rejection of love from someone we passionately desire. Whereas melancholia is unconscious and it’s pathological. It might be the result of the same fact, or sometimes it’s unknown. It depends on individual’s psychic functioning. If anyone experience melancholia instead of mourning, the situation often treated as a psychopathological disposition, and requires in-depth analysis on what is preventing him/ her back to life. According to Sigmund Freud, ‘In mourning it is the world which has become poor and empty; in melancholia, it is the ego itself.’ The distinguishing mental features in melancholia are extremely painful, complete withdrawal from the outer world, incapable to see the colors of life along with very poor self-perception, respect, and a tendency of self-punishment. In melancholia, the past doesn’t pass. It refers an inability to let go of the lost object. Individual become too clingy with it. This complex feature is absent in mourning or grief. It’s very common reaction towards any loss. Though in profound mourning following any loss contains the same painful frame of mind, but after a certain time, they manage to left behind that emptiness and back to life. All forms of psychological pain are actually kind of existential pain. According to Patrick Valas, “Depression doesn’t exist, but the pain to exist does.” How we experience life depends on how we are able to expand our focus to the broader world, willing to connect ourselves with eternal possibilities. It is a solution of any form of existential crisis. Instead of finding our worth or meaning, it is important to live our life spontaneously like how a fish swims, birds fly, flower blooms.

Dipu Akter
The University of Strasbourg.
Member of Fédération Européenne de Psychanalyse et Ecole Psychanalytique de Strasbourg (FEDEPSY), France.

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