This site uses cookies (small files stored on your computer) to improve your experience...

Blogs - short snappy pieces, often topical, sometimes informal

Grieving is nearly always the first step in a process of inter-personal and collective reparation.

Chris Robertson reflects on Paul Hoggett's post Britain and Europe: What Moves People and offers his own thoughts.



Paul writes with his usual pertinent clarity on social dynamics. As well as pointing out the fallacy of evidence as a winning argument, he highlights the dangers of moving into a superior position that so easily slips into shaming.

I was particularly struck by this paragraph on nursing grievance

More important is resentment or what continental Europe has always referred to as ressentiment. This concerns the resentment of those whose suffering is not heard because, it seems, no-one any longer speaks for them. If this sense of injustice remains unaddressed then it turns in upon itself. In everyday language we refer to nursing a grievance – an original sense of injustice which then adopts a bitter, complaining and righteous tone. Nietzsche unkindly called this the ‘slave emotion’, that is, the emotion of the weak. Unaddressed resentment soon becomes this qualitatively different and toxic emotion, one the Europeans knew so well because of the role it played in the 1930s. This is the danger that Britain and Europe now faces once again.

I was at Marina Cantecuzino’s presentation on The Power of Restorative Narratives and know from my own hard won experience the challenge of releasing myself from grievances that come from injustice in the interpersonal field. It does seem another matter when it comes to the social, collective and cultural fields. Here it cannot be just a matter of personal release as there is often a cultural complex at work that binds me into a collective identification. This could be in the form of a trans-generational trauma or a wound to part of a collective psyche with which we identify.

Not only does our culture not offer suitable containers for supporting this sort of painful acceptance, it specialises in escapist forms of soothing through consumer entertainment and alcohol that are jokingly described as self-medication. It also engenders a form of entitlement that makes grievance a ready reaction to any challenge. This links with Sally Weintrobe’s insight into our Culture of Uncare and supports dissociation from responsibility for our destructive actions. With the current post-referendum collective dis-ease and the rupture of normal assumptions that is rippling through political parties, we need new forms to hold the anxiety sufficiently for creative responses to emerge rather than reactive scapegoating.

My experience through forty years of psychotherapeutic work with individuals and groups has led me to the conclusion that grieving is nearly always the first step in a process of inter-personal and collective reparation. The grief I may suffer through my sensitivity to a collective trauma, can be confused with my personal loss. I take personally what is not solely mine. The desperate terror at feeling lost, dysregulated, uncontained gets placed at the feet of a local scapegoat – which the EU is an easy target. The cultural dilemma facing us requires a diving into the immense grief of our ongoing losses as an essential gateway to repair.

The tragedy of Jo Cox’s murder brought a temporary opening to these deep feelings of loss. Despite her husbands moving statement, “What a beautiful irony it is that an act designed to advance hatred has in fact instead generated such an outpouring of love”, this opening could not be sustained. The continued failure to do so means carrying the haunting weight of that unmet grief within us leading to depression, despair, addiction and disease.

Understanding and giving an appropriate place to these powerful complexes both relieves us of the impossible task of singlehandedly resolving the climate crisis and opens the way to a vital if contained way of experiencing our collective grief. In a parallel manner Melanie Klein used the term ‘reparation’ to indicate the child’s endeavours, for instance in offering a cherished toy to the wronged other, to heal the parental image that it feels itself to have damaged by aggressive attacks. Through grieving and reparation, we move towards accepting the hateful part of ourselves that we know to have been destructive.

It is perhaps only an unravelling world on the brink of disaster and in need of radical repair that can awaken a re-visioning and heartfelt determination to heal.

Chris Robertson June 2016


Other articles on this subject

Europe, Climate Change: Imagining Oneself to be an Exception by Paul Hoggett

Britain & Europe: What Moves People? by Paul Hoggett