Helpful hints and discussion about mental health and mental health issues as it relates to
news, popular culture and day-to-day life.


Sunday 20 July 2014

Flight MH17

Flight MH17: Multiple, Severe Loss and Grieving.

Because of what has happened in the last few days in Eastern Ukraine, with the downing of flight MH 17, I have felt an obligation to write a post about this, precisely because it has been so horrific. And quite possibly because, others may be struggling to make sense of all this, not least of which the victims’ families.

For some reading this post or thinking about Flight MH17, it may bring up profound grief or even tears. So talking about the emotional experiences of what we see and witness in the world can help, especially if we can process it.

And for those who may be feeling “emotional” or teary-eyed, this may be due to at least two, if not more factors. One of them I have already started to talk about which is “identification” or what you identify with (see my earlier (2) post (s) on identification: "Can I have your identification, please -- part 1 on personal identity, Link here:  And "Can I have your identification, please -- part 2 (on national identity), Link here:
Identification is similar to when you go to a movie  and you “identify” or resonate with or feel a character in the film  and thus you cry or laugh or become excited or angry or whatever the emotion may be, especially if you have had a similar experience to the character.

So therefore I would hazard to guess that many of the following people or groups of people would identify with this disaster and it would therefore bring up for them tears of grief, as there was a link of similarity:

            The Netherlands and all people of Dutch descent



            Family members of the victims of flight MH370

            Family members of the victims of 911

            Family members who have lost children to terrorism

            Family members of those who have been senselessly murdered, such as at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conneticut, or Virginia Tech or Columbine highschool in Colorado...   

And of course one can include Russians... Why, one might ask? Because, as seen in this photo taken from around Hrabove (the site of the crash),
        the Russians or Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine have also been suffering loss of life while the conflict over there has been raging.

            and the list for “identification” goes on....

The other, second reason why one might be feeling teary-eyed or emotional, if one is not directly connected with these events or “identifies” with them in some way, would be due to displacement.

            What is displacement? Displacement is usually when you transfer the emotion of some other experience onto your current situation.

            Let me give an example.

There was once an individual* whom I saw who was struggling with the death of someone close to him. Before seeing him that day, he tripped and fell over and skinned his knee and also quite severely torn his pant leg on a nice pair of dress pants. The wound on his knee was a small flesh wound, nothing an adult would really cry about. Yet when I saw him, he bawled his eyes out, like a baby.

            Why, you might wonder did he do this? Because of displacement. The individual had been struggling for so long in dealing with the death of a loved one and had been subsequently holding everything in, in order not to let everything go. He was obliged to do this as no one else in his family could.

            He finally “snapped” and how he snapped, was by skinning his knee. At this point, he allowed himself or could no longer contain himself and just had to cry. (Yay! I thought to myself). He subsequently felt much better as if a load had been lifted off his shoulders.

            However “displacement” happens more frequently than people realize. It happens because one is given license, so to speak, to cry over more serious issues.

            Whenever an individual carries around an emotional load, that they cannot discharge, because of whatever reason, the emotion will build. After a time, there will be a final straw, which will break the camel’s back.

So you may find a co-worker who has been dealing with abuse in silence and then suddenly snaps, because you inadvertently said the wrong thing. Or a pregnant woman will be over or highly emotional when viewing a sentimental film which she would otherwise consider maudlin.

Often times when you “cry for joy”, this is a displacement. You have been struggling for so long with something and holding it in that when the pressure is off, you finally cave in and cry.  Really, you should be jumping around and shouting “yahoo!” but you have been carrying a bottled up emotion that all you can feel are tears of relief.

This scene with actress Emma Thompson from the film, Sense and Sensibility illustrates what I describe. The character of Elinor, has been obliged to withhold her feelings due to social obligations and propriety of the time. When she is given back the hope that she can marry her true love and that all is not lost, well, she loses her self-possession. Watch.

So an individual may witness something only mildly emotionally disturbing or profoundly emotionally disturbing, but if they have been displacing their true feelings about something else, then having “a meltdown”, as most people call it, over some minor incident is quite understandable, like that man who began crying because he skinned his knee. What he was really crying about was the loved one he was losing. Hence, a displacement.


Finally dear friends, I will finish by saying that when serious, major, severe disasters occur such as this one, people struggle in their grief to find a meaning, or reason for the disaster. By having a reason or a meaning, it makes the loss less severe. It also makes the loss easier to comprehend, because otherwise you cannot literally fit it into your brain (or psyche). Hence this is why sometimes disasters like this are called “senseless”. I will not get into the metaphysical or theological, but this is where belief and faith make misery tolerable. Indeed, sometimes it is the ONLY thing that makes misery tolerable.

Lastly, a piece of music. Dominic Harvey of the The Winchester Cathedral Choir sings Pie Jesu from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D minor. It is a choral orchestral setting for a mass for the dead. The piece is in Latin and the words are very simple:

Pie Jesu Domine – Pious Lord Jesus

Dona eis requiem – Give them rest

Pie Jesu Domine – Pious Lord Jesus

Dona eis sempiternam requiem – Give them everlasting rest

 I welcome comments, questions for clarification and dialogue respectful to this post and any others.

Take care,


*Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual

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