I am writing this column in the week of the Queen’s funeral, so death and mourning are on my mind. Like many people, I was struck by the collective outpouring of feeling following the death of the monarch. The emotions on display perhaps revealed something about the affection and respect that many people felt towards the Queen. They possibly also spoke to an urge to come together at times of fracture and the comfort that can be found in ritual.
I wonder, too, whether the expression of public sadness was a way to assuage or release private sorrow. I know of several people who questioned the intensity of their reaction to the passing of a distant monarch. Perhaps its roots were embedded in the deep feelings around the death of someone close. Or maybe the Queen was the ultimate ‘blank screen’, on which we could project a range of emotions and fantasies? So, we mourned the passing of a woman who was described as ‘everybody’s Grandmother’.
But I also wonder about the pressure to be sad. When an event plays out on a national stage, it is easy to assume that everybody feels the same. It was perhaps especially hard to challenge the notion of a universal response when there were so many visible expressions of other people’s feelings – the long queues to walk past the Queen’s coffin, the mounds of floral tributes and the corporate messages of condolence that popped up in our inboxes.
‘I wonder whether the expression of public sadness was a way to release private sorrow’
But what if you didn’t feel sad at the death of someone you never knew? What if you didn’t feel anything very much at all? How hard might it have been to accept and be comfortable that you were empty of feeling when everyone around you seemed so full of emotion?
Someone who knows a lot about grief is John Wilson, who has worked as a bereavement counsellor for more than 20 years. In his article, John reminds us that everybody grieves in their own way. But his research also points to a ‘generalised pattern of grief behaviour’. He writes compassionately about the search for meaning in death, as well as the acceptance of its reality. John also – rather bravely, I think – explores the limitations of bereavement counselling. It is not, he believes, helpful to everyone. Timing is also important, as a period of denial and dissociation from the reality might be necessary before counselling can be effective.
Clients in abusive relationships are not always able to recognise the abuse. They might also be unable to acknowledge that their partner is abusive. Perhaps they are frightened or ashamed. The abuse might also be tacitly accepted by those around them. So, they become trapped. In her article, Cathy Press explains how to work therapeutically with people in abusive relationships, helping them to escape the toxic trap.
Terence Watts has developed ‘brainworking recursive therapy’ as a treatment for anxiety. It works in the gap between the brain’s reaction to a situation and the conscious awareness of that reaction, helping the client to change a learnt but faulty response. Terence explains how the therapy came about – and how it can be successful in just one session.