The Concrete and the Abstract
Whereas ‘good grief’ is typically an exclamation expressing surprise, alarm or dismay, grief itself is a reaction to a type of loss. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary grief is a deep and poignant distress caused by or if by bereavement. Whereas grief is indelibly linked with the loss of a person (or perhaps an animal) who has died with whom a bond of love or affection has been formed grief is not confined to physical loss only. Other more abstract losses that people may grieve include emotionally significant social interactions or emotionally significant social events.
There are no prizes for guessing where this article is going. The current Covid-related lockdowns require of us social behaviours that are clearly different to our social behaviours of the past and as such we may experience some loss and associated grief in response to curtailed or cancelled family or social interactions. If this happens various associated emotions, feelings and moods may of course naturally emerge.
The Psychology, the Philosophy and the Ethics.
From an emotional health perspective it might help to understand the differences between these emotions, feelings and moods so that if and when they occur they may be untangled, felt, and understood with a view to you managing them.
Ask yourself ‘what are emotions’? It’s a tricky question. If you answer that they are feelings well then it raises another question about whether or not there is a difference between feelings and emotions and if there isn’t a difference well we have yet another question – why do we have two words for the same thing?
Emotions are stubbornly resistant to definition to such an extent that some languages do not have an equivalent word for them but nevertheless at a basic level emotions are chemicals released throughout your body (and not just in your brain) in response to specific triggers. Triggers could be thoughts, smells, sounds, sensations, tastes, sights, memories etc.
Some of the emotions associated with grief can include anger, irritability, guilt, regret, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, yearning, sadness, worry, isolation, self-pity, fear and hopelessness.
Feelings happen as you begin to integrate the emotions, to think about them, to let them sink in. Whereas emotions are associated with bodily reactions that are activated through the release of neurotransmitters and hormones, feelings are the conscious experience of emotional reactions.
Moods are more generalised. They are influenced by a number of factors such as your environment (who you are with, what the weather is like etc.), your physiology (your state of health, food/drink intake, amount of sleep etc.), the focus of your thinking and also your current emotions. Moods can last from minutes to days or even longer.
A reason for the sense of grief that we may experience during periods of restricted social interaction is of course the potential social and familial losses associated with our altruistic attempts as a species to keep each other healthy and to protect the vulnerable. To honour our duty of care. Although difficult, behaviour such as this is to be commended.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that duty of care includes care of oneself so it should be noted that when we use the term ‘duty of care’ we are not just referring to a duty of care for others.
Behind the philosophy and the social justice and the physiology and the sociology and the psychology and the emotional regulation that we are considering in this article what we are really referring to here are our values. Who am I? Really? What do I stand for? So relatedly and with regard to the vulnerable in particular is there not a moral intuition on our part to prioritise their health and wellbeing over what could be deemed – in extreme cases though not all cases – unnecessary social narcissism? The vulnerable in society need special protections so with light thankfully becoming visible at the end of the tunnel it surely behoves us to assume personal responsibility in this regard and to act out of a place of utilitarianism.
In summary . . .
All individuals have intrinsic value as human beings so if regrettably we experience grief during periods of social restriction as a result of the loss of emotionally significant social interactions or emotionally significant social events, we may perhaps console ourselves to some extent that it is good grief.
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