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It's in my head. Mourning, in the digital era

A grave in a cemetery. Drawing. (SOLLIER CYRIL / MAXPPP)

Today is November 2, which is, in the Christian tradition, the day of the dead, when many families go to the cemeteries to honor those they have lost.

But today, with the development of social networks, one can also find, to honor them, his disappeared on the accounts that they had created there, and which can continue to exist, after their disappearance. The psychoanalyst Claude Halmos explains how this digital age can help to mourn, but also can help slow it down.

Franceinfo: Do ​​you think that this possibility can have an influence on the mourning that loved ones have to do, the ones they loved?

Claude Halmos: I think that in order to evaluate this influence, we must go back to what the expression “mourn” means. Mourning is the psychic work that anyone who loses a loved one is forced to do. Why ? Because she had invested in this loved one – this is Freud's explanation – a capital of love, that she can no longer, since he has disappeared, invest there, even though her desire to to do is always so strong. She finds herself, with this desire, facing emptiness, and in unbearable suffering. And the “mourning” is the work, long and painful, that she will have to do to get out of this suffering.

How is this work of mourning going?

It is done in several stages. The first is always a denial: we refuse to admit that the deceased is no longer there; and sometimes even hallucination: we think we see it, for example. And then, little by little, we finally accept the idea of ​​his death. But then we start – this is the second stage of mourning – to idealize the memory that we have of her. And it is this idealized person that will – third step – “mourn”.

And this mourning is finished only when one can, without ever forgetting the dead person, of course, regain the desire and the strength to invest one's love elsewhere.

What influence can social networks have on this work of mourning?

It is variable according to individuals, and both positive and negative. It is positive when social networks allow the bereaved to share their grief with all the loved ones of the deceased, to feel supported by the group she forms with them; and the idea that it will contribute to the memory that all will keep of him.

But social networks can also complicate grief. First, because their public dimension can disrupt the intimacy that everyone needs to do, at their own pace, and in their own way, the path they must take. But above all because the fact that the accounts can survive those who created them, can come feed illusions that will lengthen the work of mourning, or even prevent it from coming to an end.

In the first phase of mourning, for example, that of denial, continuing to write to the deceased may maintain the illusion that she is still alive. And in the second phase, the tendency to idealize the death can be reinforced by the fact that we find, among relatives, a similar trend. In other words, on social networks, in the area of ​​mourning, as in others, caution is required …

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