Feeling, Relating, Existing

On emotion and the human dimension

by  Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D.

Posts from a blog by Robert Stolorow, Ph.D., originally published on the 'Psychology Today' website. You can read the full archive of this blog and subscribe to the RSS feed at www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-relating-existing

Trauma Destroys Time

Because trauma so profoundly modifies the universal or shared structure of temporality, the traumatized person quite literally lives in another kind of reality, an experiential world felt to be incommensurable with those of others. This felt incommensurability contributes to a profound sense of alienation and estrangement from other human beings.

The Emotional Topography of Grief

Loss - especially traumatic or tragic loss - creates a dark region in our world that will always be there.


Vulnerability is constitutive of our finite existing.


Heartbreak is the signature emotion of authentic existence.

Meaning is Where the Action Is

Whether a therapist's expression of emotional understanding will produce therapeutic or counter-therapeutic effects will depend on the emotional meanings that such expressions have for the patient.

So-Called Masochistic Relationships

People often remain endlessly in unhappy, abusive, or depriving relationships by blaming their suffering on their own shortcomings, their not having "gotten it right" yet. Such an interpretive pattern can keep someone futilely trying to get it right forever.

Honesty: The Film

Existential honesty owns up to the inevitable heartbreak of loss.

A Non-Pathologizing Approach to Emotional Trauma

When we dwell with others' unendurable pain, their shattered emotional worlds are enabled to shine with a kind of sacredness that calls forth an understanding and caring engagement within which traumatized states can be gradually transformed into bearable painful feelings that can be seamlessly and constitutively integrated into whom one experiences oneself as being.

"Out There"

Sarah Stark's novel, "Out There," contains rich and valuable descriptions of the essential features of emotional trauma in general and of combat-related trauma in particular - the shattering of innocence, the disruption of temporality, the alienation and estrangement, and the longing for a sibling in the same darkness.

Review Essay on "Levels of Life" by Julian Barnes

In the course of describing his experience of grief, Julian Barnes fleshes out in excruciating detail how traumatic loss entails the collapse of one's world, a reconfiguring of time and space, a sense of profound estrangement from those who are not grief-stricken, and the dread of a second loss that impends with the passage of time - the fading of memory of the lost beloved.

Whatever You Want

In perceptual accommodation, I see myself (and you) the way you see me (and yourself), in order to secure a needed bond with you. My subjective reality is unconsciously surrendered and is usurped by yours.

Traumatic Loss - Collapse of a World

Traumatic loss shatters one's emotional world, and, insofar as one dwells in the region of such loss, one feels eradicated.

Emily Running

In the experiencing of authentic temporality, the whole structure of human existence has to be brought into view - namely, that it is authentically intelligible only in terms of its stretching along between birth and the possibility of death, between two abysses of nothingness.

Philosophy as Therapy

For both Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the purpose of philosophical concepts is to point us toward the path of transformation rather than to explain. Both philosophers seek to expose the illusions, sedimented in linguistic practices, that cover up our finitude and context-embeddedness.

The War on Grief

The enormity and everlastingness of the grief following a traumatic loss are not manifestations of psychopathology; they are a measure of the depth of love for the lost beloved.

Heidegger and Contemporary Psychoanalysis

My aim is to show how Heidegger's existential philosophy enriches contemporary psychoanalysis and how contemporary psychoanalysis enriches Heidegger's existential philosophy.

A Soldier's Memoir

Throughout the rest of their lives, those who have been traumatized encounter what I call "portkeys" that transport them again and again back to the original experiences of trauma, so that time is felt to be circular rather than linear.

Death, Afterlife, and Doomsday Scenario

It is from the horror of the doomsday scenario posed by climate change that the minimizers and scoffers turn away. Ironically, in turning away from the extreme dangers of climate change, we contribute to the coming to be of the horrifying catastrophe we are evading. We must face up to our apocalyptic anxiety before it is too late for the survival of future generations.

When Grief Finds a Home

Denise Levertov's poem, "Talking to Grief," captures beautifully the process whereby grief (and other traumatic emotions), in finding a welcoming home in which to dwell, can become truly one's own - i.e., can become seamlessly and constitutively woven into the fabric of whom one experiences oneself as being.

On Valorizing Shame

The valorization of shame in the name of social awareness and socialization is all too often a rationalization for emotionally abusing young children.

The Shame Family

In feeling ashamed we feel exposed as inherently flawed or defective before the gaze of a viewing, judging other. In shame, we are held hostage by the eyes of others; we belong, not to ourselves, but to them. In that sense, shame is indicative of an inauthentic or unowned way of existing.

On the Inconsolability of Grief

"Death takes from us not only some particular life within the world, some moment that belongs to us, but, each time, without limit, someone through whom the world, and first of all our own world, will have opened up."

Portkeys to Trauma

Experiences of emotional trauma become freeze-framed into an eternal present in which we remain forever trapped, or to which we are condemned to be perpetually returned through the portkeys supplied by life's slings and arrows.

Death Don't Have No Mercy

Although the possibility of emotional trauma is ever present, so too is the possibility of forming bonds of deep emotional understanding within which the devastating emotional pain built in to our finite human existing can be held, endured, and eventually integrated.

On Being a Remainder

Being the remainder of an emotional world shattered by trauma is a source of the uncanny sense of estrangement and isolation from the world of everydayness that is experienced by traumatized persons.

Existential Aphorisms

"Every generation of poets and thinkers attempts to make sense of the enigmatic, unfathomable face of life, with its laughing mouth and mournful eyes. This will remain an unending task." - Wilhelm Dilthey

Undergoing the Situation

When we dwell with others' unendurable pain, their shattered emotional worlds are enabled to shine with a kind of sacredness that calls forth an understanding and caring engagement within which traumatized states can be gradually transformed into bearable painful feelings.

The Tragic and the Metaphysical

It is my view that the lamentable, endlessly recurring cycle of atrocity and counter-atrocity that has been so characteristic of human history derives significantly from the turning to metaphysical illusion in the effort to evade the tragedy of human finitude.

Powerless To Protect

A tragedy like the shooting spree at and near Santa Monica College brings us face-to-face with our existential vulnerabilities - vulnerabilities to harm, death, and loss - and the existential vulnerability of all those we love and, perhaps worst of all, the limitedness of our ability to protect them.

Giving Sorrow Words

William Shakespeare well understood the importance of bringing grief into language.

The Boston Marathon Bombing as a Collective Trauma

The Boston Marathon bombing is a collective trauma for all of us, bringing us face-to-face with our existential vulnerabilities - vulnerabilities to harm, death, and loss - and the existential vulnerability of all those we love and, perhaps worst of all, the limitedness or our ability to protect them.

Integrating Emotional Trauma

Like its analogue, "secure attachment," "trauma recovery" is an oxymoron - human finitude with its traumatizing impact is not an illness from which one can or should recover. A felt requirement to recover from, or become immune to, the circling back to emotional trauma can be a source of intense shame and self-loathing when, inevitably, it cannot be achieved.

I'll Be With You When the Deal Goes Down

When we dwell with others' unendurable pain, their shattered emotional worlds are enabled to shine with a kind of sacredness that calls forth an understanding and caring engagement within which traumatized states can be gradually transformed into bearable painful feelings. We must not turn away.

Portraits of Sorrow

The message I hope you will take away from viewing this gripping video is this: When you encounter devastating grief in yourself or someone else, never turn away.

Everybody's Changing and I Don't Feel the Same

The loss of a loved one shatters our evasive illusions and confronts us with our finiteness and transience and with the finiteness and transience of all those we love. When our emotional world becomes shattered in this way, we need to find a context of human understanding, a "relational home," in which our traumatic emotional pain can be held and borne.

Out To Sea

Following the death of a loved one, we typically both grieve the person who has been lost and preserve the bond with the lost person within our own being. This dialectic of loss and continuance is beautifully captured by the song, "Out to Sea," written by Stephanie Stolorow to commemorate the scattering of her grandmother's ashes in the waters of Monterey Bay.

Varieties of Love and Loss

The nature of a loss experience will depend complexly on the forms or dimensions of love that had constituted the lost relationship. If you, or someone you care about, ever experience a traumatic loss, never think or utter the words, "You have to let it go and move on." Do not turn away.

Empathic Civilization in an Age of Trauma

If we can help one another bear the darkness rather than evade it, perhaps one day we will be able to see the light.


Painful emotional states become unbearable when they cannot find a "relational home" - that is, a context of human understanding - in which they can be shared and held. Severe emotional pain that has to be experienced alone becomes lastingly traumatic and usually succumbs to some form of emotional numbing.

The Girl With a Broken Smile

A poignantly beautiful and inspiring song gives testimony to the power of friendship - what the ancient Greeks called Philia - in the face of terrible tragedy.

Gun Control and the Slaughter of Innocents

Our ability to protect those we love from tragedies like mass killings is severely limited. We must be able pursue gun control without embarking upon a "War on Guns" to evade traumatic feelings and vulnerabilities that we need to own and face.


A renewal of humanistic values and practices is taking place in contemporary psychotherapy, embodying a move away from formulaic and manualized techniques and toward engaged empathic-introspective inquiry and emotional understanding.

Nothing Without You

Following a traumatic loss, the significance of our everyday world collapses, and we feel painfully alienated and estranged from other human beings.

Playground Museum

Schuyler Iona's musical tribute to those who died on September 11, 2001 is a gift to all of us, giving us extraordinary access to an experience of world-shattering trauma and a courageous effort to emerge from it.

Climate Change, Narcissism, Denial, Apocalypse

Apocalyptic anxiety anticipates the collapse of human civilization itself and of all meaningfulness. And it is from apocalyptic anxiety that we turn away when we deny the extreme perils of climate change.

What Did We Learn From 9/11?

Witnessing the instant deaths of more than 3,000 civilians, Americans were forced to recognize that they are just as vulnerable to assault, destruction, death, and loss as any other people on earth.

Never Again!

The relentless circling back to experiences of emotional trauma is ensured by the finiteness of our existence and the finiteness of all those whom we love.

Don't Expect a Miracle, Second Edition

Obama could no more miraculously save us from the cumulative consequences of many years of economic foolishness than Bush's holy war against the "forces of evil" could resurrect our lost illusions of grandiose invincibility.

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