Saturday, June 9, 2012
Billy Batts On Loss, Anger, and Acceptance
The Kübler-Ross model, commonly called The Five Stages of Loss, is a hypothesis first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying, which was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients.
Her five stages of loss have now become widely accepted. My own cognitive psychologist, Dr. R., has pointed out that these stages often occur for any loss, not just death or illness. It could be the loss of a job, loss of status, loss a lover, almost anything.
Kübler-Ross stressed that these five stages are not meant to be complete or chronological. The hypothesis is that the reactions to loss are as unique as the person experiencing them.
The five classic stages include:
Denial — "I feel fine;" "This can't be happening, not to me."
Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left after the loss. Denial can be conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. Denial is a defense mechanism and some people can become locked in this stage.
Anger — "Why me? It's not fair!;" "How can this happen to me?;" '"Who is to blame?"
Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Anger can manifest itself in different ways. People can be angry with themselves, or with others, and especially those who are close to them. It is important to remain detached and nonjudgmental when dealing with a person experiencing anger from loss.
Bargaining — "I'll do anything for more time without the loss;" "I'd give up this if only..."
The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay loss. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will loose, but if I could just do something to buy more time..." People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example "Can we still be friends?.." when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it's a matter of life or death.
Depression — "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?;" "I'm going to lose this soon so what's the point?"; "I miss the way things were, why go on?"
During the fourth stage, the person begins to understand the certainty of loss. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed. Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for the 'aftermath'. It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. Feeling those emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation.
Acceptance (or sometimes, Resignation) — "It's going to be okay;" "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."
In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their loss or other tragic event. This stage varies according to the person's situation. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.
As I wrote earlier, it doesn't take a loss as traumatic as illness or death for these five stages to kick in.
When I feel slighted or criticized illogically or unfairly, I have an incredibly hard time accepting such losses. I lock onto the "insults" with denial and fierce anger. My form of bargaining usually takes the form of endless OCD-style rumination, where I replay conversations or disagreements, over and over in my head, conjuring up countless logical points where I finally prove myself right. When I finally realize even though I may be technically correct, I'm seldomly, if ever, going to win the real-life arguments, or change the outcomes, or even get acknowledgement about the reasons for my points of view, depression briefly sets in, and then I finally I accept the loss of argument or status (resignation).
Even so, I am fully capable of flaring up, OCD-style, and locking onto the anger and bargaining stages, even years later. I seldom forget slights, perhaps they are "softwired" into my brain and and thus can't be totally extinguished. Some scientists believe this bad memory encoding could be a result of the supreme efficiency of the "lizard" brain (aka the limbic system), where losses are cataloged so that snap decisions can be made later in life. These limbic system structures are believed to be involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those that are related to survival. Such emotions include fear, anger, and emotions related to sexual behavior. The limbic system is also involved in feelings of pleasure that are related to our survival, such as those experienced from eating and sex.
One of the most terrifying portrayals of pent-up "lizard" brain anger breaking free from its cortex-controlled leash is the murder scene in Goodfellas, wherein crazy Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and calculating Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) stomp "made-man" mafiaso Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) to death in a barroom, all because Batts "breaks DeVito's balls" about his boyhood days as shoeshine boy.
Here's the setup for the Billy Batts murder scene from Goodfellas (1990):
Tommy DeVito: No more shines, Billy.
Billy Batts: What?
Tommy DeVito: I said, no more shines. Maybe you didn't hear about it, you've been away a long time. They didn't go up there and tell you. I don't shine shoes anymore.
Billy Batts: Relax, will ya? Ya flip right out, what's got into you? I'm breaking your balls a little bit, that's all. I'm only kidding with ya...
Tommy DeVito: Sometimes you don't sound like you're kidding, you know, there's a lotta people around...
Billy Batts: I'm only kidding with you, we're having a party, I just came home and I haven't seen you in a long time and I'm breaking your balls, and you're getting f**king fresh. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you.
Tommy DeVito: I'm sorry too. It's okay. No problem.
Billy Batts: Okay, salud.
Billy Batts: [takes a drink] Now go home and get your f**kin' shinebox.
Tommy DeVito: Mother f**kin' mutt! You, you f**king piece of sh*t!
Billy Batts: [taunting] Yeah, yeah, yeah, come on, come on, come on!
Tommy DeVito: Motherf**king... He bought his f**king button! That fake old tough guy! You bought your f**king button!
Tommy DeVito: You mother f**k... F**k! Keep that motherf**ker here, keep him here! [leaves]
Billy Batts: Go home and get your f**king shine box.
Tommy DeVito: Just don't go busting my balls, Billy, okay?
Billy Batts: Hey, Tommy, if I was gonna break your balls, I'd tell you to go home and get your shine box. [to his friends]
Billy Batts: Now this kid, this kid was great. They, they used to call him Spitshine Tommy.
Billy Batts: [under his breath after Tommy leaves the bar] I'll f**k him in his *ss. I f**ked kids like him in the can in the *ss. F**kin' trying to break up my party.
Billy Batts: Hey Jimmy! What's right is right. You understand what I'm talking about?
Jimmy Conway: It's all right. It's all right.
Billy Batts: No. The kid's over here. We're hugging and kissing over here. And two minutes later, he's acting like a f**king jerk.
Jimmy Conway: No, no, no, no, no. You insulted him a little bit. You got a little bit out of order yourself.
Billy Batts: No I didn't insult him. I didn't insult him.
Jimmy Conway: I'm sorry. You insulted him a little bit.
Billy Batts: No, I didn't insult nobody. Give us a drink. Give us a drink.
Billy Batts: Give us a drink. And give some to those Irish hoodlums down there.
Jimmy Conway: There's only one Irishman in here.
Billy Batts: On the house. Salud.
Jimmy Conway: Top of the mornin'.
Of course, this heated exhange proves to be the beginning of the end for DeVito and Conway. If only they'd taken the healthier choice of accepting the loss of respect -- but it's tough to keep the lizard down when a eff-ing mutt is "busting your balls."