Single Status Update
Is there a word to describe the feeling of being upset that you stopped caring about a loss in your life? Just kinda wondering aloud to myself here. Like, you know, you have a bad breakup, or you find yourself having to move, and for the longest time, it's all you can think about - and then one day, you just don't even care that it's gone, and yet for some reason that in itself bothers you. I don't even know if that makes sense - either the emotion itself or my ability to explain it, but it's just been on my mind. Thought of an old girlfriend and realized I may never see or hear from her again, and then realized I don't care, and then realized that the fact that I don't care just doesn't sit right with me.
Well, in popular psychology, there are supposedly five stages of grief, with acceptance being the last. It's a partially discredited theory, as it doesn't match the fact that many people cope with loss without grieving at all, but there's a kernel of truth to it. Things that upset us greatly almost always lose their force to do so over time, as gradually we accept them, and then forget about them. We could call this post-acceptance step, "moving on".
Feeling guilty about having moved on is, perhaps, a paradoxical type of grief at the loss of grief. The upset we feel about a loss is proof, if only to ourselves, of how much we cared about the thing we lost. It's the last connection we have to this thing that was so important. But when we realise that we've stopped even caring, then we realise we've lost even that connection, which means we've truly lost the original thing forever. We feel guilty that we've "allowed" ourselves to forget, but also sad that we no longer have that connection.
We could also think of it in more low-level terms, in the brain's tendency to build predictive models of the world, and it's desire to avoid contradictions in those models that manifest as cognitive dissonance. A sudden and painful loss, such as the death of a family member of the end of a relationship, can be very difficult because it rips away a seemingly stable part of our mental model of the world, one on which we depend for emotional support and happiness. The intense discomfort we feel could stem from the sudden dissonance between our mental model of what is stable and important in our lives, and the new reality we are faced with.
But the brain is adaptable, and will eventually move to resolve a dissonance by gradually adjusting its mental model. And once the new reality is incorporated into our model, we no longer notice it, because it's no longer novel, but expected, and our emotions also return to their base state. This process happens gradually, but at some point we notice the difference between our current relative happiness and how horribly upset we were immediately after the loss. Since the fact of the loss hasn't changed, only our feelings about it, we are faced with another contradiction - finding we are not longer bothered by something we previously felt so strongly about - and this manifests as another dissonance. But, like the first dissonance, we can accept this too, in time.