Grief is commonly thought to be a psychological symptom. However, more and more research is showing evidence that grief might also have various physical symptoms, too. Could it be that the losses that individuals acquire can cause grief even in people who are unrelated to them?
Is it possible that empathy, which lingers in most humans, can cause total strangers to grieve about the world’s suffering in general, even unintentionally. In recent weeks, just to name some of the most recent events, there have been many recorded personal tragedies around the world. People who lost those dear to them; all of them, some longer than others, are going through the stages of grief.
‘Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.’
― John Green,
Could it be that we all, as a collective body of humans, in one way or another feel humanity’s grief collectively?
On Friday, November 13, 2015 in Paris, 130 people died due to attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers, who hit a “concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants and bars, almost simultaneously,” according to reports by the BBC.
The tragedy shook the entire world, as people from all around the world showed their solidarity to Paris via social media.
The following tweet shows the “Peace for Paris” symbol used after the Paris bombing to illustrate solidarity to Paris, and portray a common wish for peace.
Then on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, 32 fatalities were reported to have been caused by a bombing at the Brussels airport and a metro station. The tragedy shook the entire world, especially those who were related to the victims of the attacks.
Just recently, the explosions that took place at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport in Turkey claimed the lives of 36 people.
If it’s not war or terror claiming lives in the name of some type of alleged subjective-framework of justice, then it’s human rights violations.
The Senate of Minnesota, not long ago, passed a resolution that expressed its concern about “persistent and credible reports of systematic, state-sanctioned, forced organ harvesting” in China. According to an online news report, most victims who are relieved of their organs are prisoners of conscience, the largest number of whom are Falun Gong practitioners.
Mind over matter
Scientists suggest that grief might not just be experienced psychologically, but may also have a physical effect on the body.
Research on test subjects has shown that people who lost their partners seem to experience “a range of major cardiovascular events in the immediate weeks and months” after losing their loved ones.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is what researchers call the symptoms that can occur “after acute mental or physical stress.”
Is it possible that we collectively partake in the loss of others somehow?
The collective unconscious
According to Carl Jung, a former Swiss psychiatrist, the collective unconscious is a part of the unconscious mind, which is shared among beings of the same species. In other words, while everyone of us seems to think independently, there is a part of our mind that is shared by all people.
Could empathy and sympathy toward the mishaps of others possibly create a psychological burden on our mind, that to some degree mirrors the psychological symptoms of grief?
Could it be that the sum of all personal losses is a collective loss to all humanity, and on an even grander scale is a burden to the entire human race?
The hundredth monkey effect
Wyall Watson, in his 1979 book Lifetide, mentioned the hundredth monkey effect. According to Wyall, a group of Japanese scientists on the Japanese island of Koshima apparently witnessed an interesting and unexplained phenomena in 1952 that took place among macaque monkeys.
In the story, scientists observed how one generation of monkeys began to wash their sweet potatoes in salt water before eating them. This behavior spread to the next generation of younger monkeys. So what makes this phenomenon so unexplainable?
The scientists apparently later witnessed monkeys on an island far away from the previous one also washing their potatoes. They had not been doing this before. Somehow, the new behavior had spread from one colony of monkeys to another colony on an island nearby. How this behavior could have traveled across the water is unexplainable, and is what has been coined the hundredth monkey effect.
Watson was convinced that the reason for the phenomena was that once a critical mass of monkeys with the behavior was reached, the behavior instantly spread across the water to monkeys on islands nearby.
The story was followed up in 1985 by Elaine Myers and thoroughly reviewed. She came to the conclusion that the research reports by the Japan monkey center were not enough to support Watson’s story.
Grief in a nutshell
Although they are a psychological symptom, emotions seem capable of effecting us physically. Whether we all share a collective unconscious or the hundredth monkey effect really took place is not the real point here.
The question at heart here is whether there is a connection between humans that goes beyond the visual and physical. Is there something like a collective empathy that runs like a string through the hearts of all of us?
If we look at the world as a collective race of humans, is it not so that everything that happens, happens to us all? Is the grief of one heart then not a small part of grief in the greater heart of all humanity?
If so, is all the good done for the better of others, not also good done for ourselves? And thus good done for the better of all humanity?
There is not enough conclusive scientific evidence that would allow us to answer “yes” to these questions. However, there are enough inexplicable phenomena to prevent any open-minded scientist from answering “no.”
One thing is certain, dealing with grief means letting it happen and never giving up hope that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. Because surely enough, that light always comes if we can forbear the hardships on the way to it.
Amanda Folkson, a psychotherapist and therapist, says that “you need to pay attention to your body and not bottle up your feelings.” She adds: “Allow yourself to have your tears if they want to come. Take the time you need to grieve. Talk about the person you have lost, it’s an important part of letting go,” according to her quote on Netdoctor.
In the wider scope of it all, it seems like there is nothing wrong about celebrating our strengths, if we can also acknowledge our weaknesses.
There is nothing wrong about admitting that we are wrong. We can only change things when we acknowledge that there is something that needs to be changed.