Conscious awareness around where grief originates doesn’t necessarily make the process of grieving any easier but it does make it possible to go through the process, to start to move towards healing. At the same time moving towards healing is a scary prospect because it means admitting at the deepest level that a loss really has occurred, that life can never be the same again. At the unconscious level many prefer the pain when holding on to this pain means not having to let go of whoever or whatever has been lost to them.
Therefore there are all kinds of losses during the lifespan that have a high likelihood of remaining at the periphery of conscious awareness without ever being adequately worked through. These losses become unfinished business. They exert a profound impact on functioning in the present as people remain in the past, unable to accept their current set of circumstances.
Lost youth is an extremely painful area of loss that is almost never adequately worked through, probably because full acceptance of lost youth would mean full acceptance of mortality, and mortality is the bitterest of pills to swallow. Humans have always resorted to all manner of fiction and fantasy to find relief from the painful recognition of a reality where destruction of being is the unavoidable outcome.
What sort of coping mechanisms do people unable to accept their lost youth rely upon? The most common mechanism is probably to simply exist in the past, to allow nostalgia to wrap around them like a warm blanket as they tell and retell the same old stories. They take solace in a bygone era. The present is just a shadow, an annoyance to which they devote the minimum necessary attention. It’s the past, their lost youth, that is their true reality.
Another common coping mechanism is to project awareness around lost youth to sadness or negativity towards all of the aspects of the world that have changed. The younger generation has lost its values. Suspicion is aroused when encountering any new technologies. The old ways are the good ways, the right ways. The new ways are deficient, even morally corrupt.
But the connection is never made that it’s not the loss of the old ways that causes distress, not really. It’s the loss of youth, the uncomfortable feeling of being left behind. People yearn for the time of the old ways because in that time possibilities seemed limitless and life seemed like it would stretch on forever.
These coping mechanisms mean not fully engaging with the present, not fully engaging with life. While working through grief around lost youth is painful it paves the way for true happiness and fulfillment in the time that remains.