On grief, disillusionment, and emotional pain

Published on 5 February 2023 at 14:09


The original targets of energy psychology modalities were anxieties and phobias – in Callahan’s TFT, the paradigmatic case was ‘Mary’s phobia of water’ and in Craig’s EFT, it was ‘Dave’s phobia of water’. Later, the focus of each shifted more towards trauma, and also the patterns of belief and internal models of relationships that have arisen from repeated early experiences. These developments have occurred in most of the well-known EP modalities and constitute valuable work. However, there are important aspects of mental life and disturbance that are not included here that are concerned with our relationship with emotional pain. 

As a broad generalisation, we might say that anxiety is to do with a fear of some kind of loss. This loss could be very varied, including, for example: loss of love, loss of a loved person, loss of esteem of self or others, loss of home, loss of safety, loss of life or limb, and loss of hope. By contrast, depressive pain is to do with a loss that has already happened.

Psychoanalysis has traditionally focused on the ego’s dysfunctional attempts to avoid danger and mental pain. These strategies of mental defence may result in a person being in the grip of self-deception, avoidance, or displacement of the true source of fear or pain onto other people or situations. Primitive mechanisms of denial, projection, and splitting are used to ward off the unconscious dangers or mental pain. The ego creates a story that is self-serving, perpetuating whatever role is chosen in the endless myths of victims, villains and heroes. Such stories, comforting in their familiarity, may contain truth but the problem with them is that they tend to become fixed – the ‘totalitarian ego’ will continually perceive and interpret events so as to confirm the biases of the dominating story.

What happens when these ego-narratives are challenged, by others or by circumstances? The person then experiences increased anxiety – and behind the anxiety may be pain. This occurs within EP work, but is not often acknowledged in the way we talk and write about it. Acupoint tapping, for example, does facilitate the flow of both energy and information – but in so doing, it can bring the person into deeper contact with their own true fears and mental pain. Although EP can work very well, and rapidly, when addressing traumas and fears from the past, that are no longer relevant in the present, there can be warded-off pain that is very real when it emerges currently and which may require processing and integrating over a relatively long period of time.

For example, a state of grief over the loss of (or abandonment by) a partner may evolve into a persisting state of depression. As we work with the client, he or she does not experience immediate relief, but may instead proceed into ever deeper awareness of emotional pain. Innumerable memories of times shared with the partner may come to mind, all now saturated with the pain of loss, abandonment, or betrayal. All of this will almost certainly link and resonate with earlier childhood experiences. In our work of endeavouring to help, we inevitable find ourselves addressing early states of emotional pain, and perhaps disillusionment, that had hitherto been unavailable to consciousness. The client may come to know deeper personal truth, but also pain that may be difficult to bear. EP can help, along with the empathic support of the psychotherapist who can provide an “all in this painful human journey together” kind of comradeship.

One of the paradoxical problems arising from EP is that its remarkable effectiveness can foster an optimistic and positive stance that allows insufficient space for acknowledgement of the pains, disappointments, disillusionments, suffering, and at times sheer horror, of human life, and of what human beings do to one another. Sometimes we can feel utterly defeated by life (and death) – at such times, a shared acceptance of that sense of despair and futility is the best we can offer, but that is itself no small thing.

In relation to grief, mental pain, and disillusionment, EP can still be very helpful, but we should not expect relief and recovery to be always rapid. The journey can be slow and painful – albeit facilitated and guided somewhat more effectively than in traditional talking therapies. Ultimately, it is the pivoting to higher wisdom and the opening to Source that provides true healing. Our magnificent EP methods are merely dimensional stepping stones to the ineffable.

Phil Mollon

Psychoanalyst and Energy Psychotherapist