The desire to recover paradise lost without having been expelled from it. This describes ‘solastalgia’, a term coined by Glenn Albrecht; writer, philosopher, and professor and Sustainability Chair at Murdoch University in Australia until his retirement in 2014.
In 2005, in his article “‘Solastalgia’ A New Concept in Health and Identity”, published in the Philosophy Activism Nature journal, Albrecht said that this neologism has its origins in the notions of solace and desolation.
“Solace is derived from solariand solacium, meanings connected to the alleviation of distress or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events. Desolation has its origins in solusand desolarewith meanings connected to abandonment and loneliness. (…) algiameans pain, suffering or sickness. In addition, the concept has been constructed such that it has a ghost reference or structural similarity to nostalgia so that a place reference is imbedded. Hence, literally, solastalgia is the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of isolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory,” reads the article written by the Australian philosopher.
When describing it, Albrecht points out that in a strict sense solastalgia is also the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides is under immediate assault (physical desolation) and is manifest in the erosion of the sense of belonging (identity) to a particular place and a feeling of distress (psychological desolation) about its transformation.
“Solastalgia is not about looking back to some golden past, nor is it about seeking another place as home. It is the lived experience of the loss of the present as manifest in a feeling of dislocation; of being undermined by forces that destroy the potential for solace to be derived from the present. In short, solastalgia is a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home,” says the same article.
Droughts, deforestation, sudden changes in the climate, or even earthquakes are some phenomena that tend to transform the immediate environment of millions of people around the world, which according to Fernando Guzmán Cárdenas, who holds a doctorate in humanistic psychotherapy from Universidad Nexum de México in Culiacán, Sinaloa, not only generates solastalgia in a negative sense but also leads to a greater connection between humans and the environment.
“It is empathy at such a level that these things have a negative impact on our emotions. However, that doesn’t mean we should run away from them or belittle them, even when they may be mostly negative, as in cases of depression, sadness or despair. Symptoms of solastalgia also lead us to be sensitive to what happens on Earth,” he explains in an interview for Tec Review. Guzmán Cárdenas also holds a specialization in Gestalt clinical practice from the Center for Therapy and Psychology in Madrid, Spain.
Opportunity for change
Similar to the legendary medieval alchemical transmutation of lead into gold, the emotions caused by solastalgia can become an opportunity for improvement. According to Guzmán, if someone feels sad or distressed, then on the one hand they have to experience these emotions and express them, but on the other hand, the door is opened for the antithesis of solastalgia, which is soliphilia, to emerge.
“Solastalgia would be like the awakening of an awareness that saddens and soliphilia would be like a personal response to fight against certain situations in the world, instead of just being locked up doing nothing. Solastalgia can be disabling, but it can also generate mobilization and creativity which are both favorable for the human race,” says the psychologist, who, through @drfernandoguzmanc, says that the words used to describe any situation are very important because they shape the personal perception of reality.
In this sense, interpretation has a greater influence on the psyche than events that occur per se. This is what Eduardo Pérez Amezcua, who holds a master’s in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy from Centro Eleia in Mexico City, tells us. He states that there are conscious and unconscious internal structures, but humans give more weight to the former because they are the ones that be perceived more easily.
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“People often say that they know themselves, but in reality, they don’t. They only know the conscious part, but the unconscious part is what determines 90% of the way people work,” explains the psychoanalyst in an interview for Tec Review.
According to Pérez Amezcua, there are many people who believe that they are afraid of external phenomena, but in reality, it is a more internal matter. For this reason, they tend to display greater anxiety than is understandably normal during a natural event.
The problem arises when the fear is disproportionate; when it is out of place and context. According to Amezcua, the crux of the matter is not the phenomena themselves, but the necessity to investigate the subject’s particular circumstances.
“The conscious reasons for someone doing what they do are not the only ones, and probably not even the most important. So, you have to learn their own symbolism (from the unconscious), just as an archaeologist who deduces how people lived in a society that no longer exists from finding fragments (symbols). You have to do this, but with yourself,” comments the expert in psychoanalysis, who states that any natural phenomenon can cause someone to try and find positive or negative meaning in what they understand as reality.