Book Review: Anatomy of Regret: From Death Instinct to Reparation and Symbolization Through Vivid Clinical Cases, by Susan Kavaler-Adler Ph.D., ABPP, D.Litt
Reviewed by Barbara E. Berger
That deepest part of the sleepless night, when a person dares to wonder – Is it me? – might help unlock doors separating the heart and mind, the self from others, and a soul from its heart’s desire.
Is it me? Is this question a courageous search for self-awareness? Or a dangerous descent into the self-doubt seeded when the mother first looked away from the infant and ignored her cries? When the mother was not good enough, was not attuned; and the infant could not develop strong, solid and confident without that foundation?
Does the question herald a night of self-blame? Or hours tallying others’ crimes? I’m okay. It’s them. Or, might the question precipitate a realistic and successful grieving of losses – a necessary developmental journey – allowing for growth?
Alone, it might be impossible to navigate successfully that dark terrain. But, having the right guide – an attuned therapist – can make the difference. Then the client might be able to face, acknowledge and grieve the hole of his missing foundation, and connect the walled-off rooms of his psychic house. This healthy self-integration, Kavaler-Adler explains, is “a psychological state in which one can be both separate [from others] and creative, as well as internally connected and loving, a state … coined as the love-creativity dialect.” p. xviii
The Anatomy of Regret explains the role of regret in the needed developmental mourning process. The reader witnesses Dr. Kavaler-Adler working with her clients so they can mourn their losses and lost opportunities, then self-connect and form successful loving relationships with others. She demonstrates the process by detailing nine case study vignettes of clients’ struggles with psychic regret. The Anatomy of Regret is “a journey into the deep levels of psychic change, which can occur when the grief of regret can be faced consciously.” p. 230
This “psychic regret” is more than an intellectual exercise, a defense against painful awareness, or self-blame. It is not a supernatural phenomenon, or self-punishment, or martyrdom. Through it:
… one moves beyond mental, neurotic, and self-attacking modes of guilt to the conscious experiencing of the ‘grief of existential guilt’ that takes place in the body, in clear visceral experience …. To feel the grief of regret is to be embodied. Tolerating such grief, related to the pain of compassion towards those whom one has hurt (including the hurt towards one’s own self) is a manifestation of a separate and individuated self …
–Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler, The Anatomy of Regret, pp. xvi-xvii
The reader will be inspired by Kavaler-Adler’s evolving theory of developmental mourning and the role of regret. With healthy grieving, the question “Is it me?” has an answer: one that can open the door to “making peace with internal ‘bad’ objects,” allowing “for a rebirth of self into full emotional presence,” where “life becomes a vital endeavor of love and creativity evolving in the ‘now.’” p. 231
See B. E. Berger’s review of Susan Kavaler-Adler’s Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change, a New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis.