9 Ways to Deal With Loss
Why People Can’t Get Over a Lost Love
“You had me at cathexis,” is a line of real-life dialogue from one of our own nine love-lives. It’s also a pun on the signature line in the movie, Jerry Maguire. If break-ups are the most common form of loss around us today, then the term cathexis is the first key to un-locking their pain.
It goes way back to Sigmund Freud but it was Dr. M. Scott Peck who made it meaningful to the masses in his cross-over, blockbuster, The Road Less Traveled:
We must be attracted toward, invested in and committed to an object outside of ourselves, beyond the boundaries of self . . . Once cathected, the object is invested with our energy as if it were a part of ourselves, and this relationship between us and the invested object is called cathexis.
Peck uses the word “object” because people cathect in everything from pets to inanimate artifacts — look at Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Hummer. The Greek mythology of King Midas is a morality tale about the peril of cathecting in material forms.
When cathexis combines with love for an actual person, though, it rises to the level of a peak experience. The problem is that when that peak fails to sustain itself as a plateau, which was the ideal to Abraham Maslow, we poor humans are forced to de-cathect from our beloved.
Joan Didion’s 2005 book, The Year of Magical Thinking, documents her agonizing decathexis from husband John Gregory Dunne after his death (she refused to get rid of his shoes for a year because she thought he might still need them).
And as Britney Spears is showing, it’s even harder to decathect from a person who is still alive because you can call them:
Sources tell TMZ that Britney has been trying to phone former flame Justin Timberlake, but he’s not taking her calls — and, as TMZ recently reported, JT isn’t keen on any love rematch. We’re also told that when JT’s ex, Cameron Diaz, got wind of the calls, she didn’t like it one bit — and has tried to get through to Britney’s people to ask her to stop calling her old boy.
Free advice to Brit, Cameron and the rest of the stars recovering from break-ups: don’t act on your impulses to try to win back the beloveds you’ve cathected in, or fall into the trap of staying connected to them through your pain. See your impulses as a reflection of the sublime experiences you created together, and use them to honor the qualities of the relationship that were so precious to you.
Sounds good but what the hell does that actually mean?
If decathexis is withdrawing emotional investment from an object outside yourself — whether it’s a cat or a Cameron — what do you replace it with? Hunter S. Thompson famously quipped, “I hate to advocate sex, drugs and violence but they’ve always worked for me.” Well, that’s the Hollywood method.
The self-fulfilling move is to pull those energies back inside your own skin, rather than swapping out the cathected object for a substance or a new lover. Here are some pointers from Caroline Myss, who is the author of Sacred Contracts and absolutely brilliant on the dark night of the soul, the pre-Freudian phrase for decathexis:
How many of you could sit here this evening if I started to play the kind of music that most annoyed you, coupled with cooking something whose fragrance most offended you, and then I found out a whole lot of other things that drove you right up the wall, and then I said, ‘Okay, now order yourself to tune out and meditate’? How many of you would succeed?
Squat, right? In order for you to, quote, create your own reality you have to have a whole lot of external dynamics in place before you can relax. That’s not creating your reality. Creating your reality ought to be this: ‘no matter where I go the outside doesn’t have influence over me. It can’t pull my power out of me’. But the way we define it is, “I create my own reality externally and then that calms me internally.’ It should be exactly the opposite. And that’s where the journey begins.
This is a process that will break you in half before it will rebuild you. You need to put wiring that was previously in the hands of the outside world into your own hands.
STEP 8: Getting Over a Break-Up: The ‘Spotless Mind’ Method