Grieving the Death of the Living
Mourning an Abuser Who is Still Alive
Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Expert
Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine
There are things that we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and people we can’t live without but have to let go. ~Author Unknown
It would seem that letting go of a relationship with someone who used, abused and objectified you, whether parent, friend, sibling, partner or spouse, would be a huge relief—a monumental weight off your shoulders. From a logical standpoint, freedom from years of control and oppression should feel good—and it may for a short period of time.
Whether your abuser leaves you or you leave your abuser, whether you choose measured contact or no contact at all, there will come a time when the relief you initially feel disappears and is replaced by a range of disturbing emotions.
Ending a relationship with someone with whom you were emotionally invested is always painful. But realizing that the relationship you thought you had never existed and that you meant nothing at all to the person you trusted and loved is completely devastating.
While coming to terms with what happened to you, you may experience periods of unexplained loneliness, emotional wavering and deep depression that lasts days, weeks or months. You may experience bouts of sadness, denial, and anger, in no particular order. This is all part of the grieving process.
Though your abuser may still be alive, the idealized relationship you hoped for is not. Your belief that the person will change is gone and a huge void, that hope used to fill, remains.
The grieving process is painful, but it is an integral part of your healing. It is important that you let yourself experience all the feelings that come up—cry when you need to cry, allow whatever anger you feel to rise to the surface. Anger is a necessary part of the healing process. It is the vessel through which your wounded-self regains its voice.
Be gentle and accepting of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, even if they seem illogical. Take care of your physical needs—eat healthily, drink lots of water, exercise, rest when you are tired, get plenty of sleep. Surround yourself with love and support.
It may seem as if the suffering will never end, but it will. Do not set a time limit for your grief. It is different for each of us.
There are five stages to the grieving process as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying. Since Kübler-Ross’s grieving stages apply to death and dying, not abuse recovery, I have modified the explanations. The stages are still perfectly relevant.
You may experience the first four of the grieving stages in any order and may go through each of them more than once. Acceptance always comes last.
- You find excuses and reasons to hold on to the relationship.
- You want to believe, against all logic or rationale that things can change.
- You do not want to believe that the relationship is actually over.
- You refuse to accept the reality of what happened to you.
- The bad things that happened don’t seem so bad and the good things seem much better than they actually were.
- You isolate yourself from others.
- You are angry at yourself for putting up with the abuse.
- You are angry at your abuser for ruining your life.
- You are angry at other people for letting you down.
- You are angry at God or the Universe for punishing you.
- You hate your abuser for everything he has done to you and fantasize about ways to get back at him.
- You hate yourself for being so angry and blame your abuser for making you feel that way.
- You feel desperate about losing the relationship.
- You suffer from anxiety over the loss.
- You are willing to change your ways or give your abuser another chance to change his.
- You are willing to forgive and forget what happened and start with a clean slate.
- You are willing to renegotiate the boundaries you set.
- You ask him to agree to counseling or offer to go yourself.
- You are overcome by feelings of profound sadness.
- You feel hopeless and helpless.
- You are unable to snap out of it.
- You cry often and are inconsolable.
- You are unmotivated and lethargic.
- You have disturbed eating patterns.
- You have disturbed sleeping patterns.
- You self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
- You withdraw into yourself.
- Acceptance: Always the final stage
- You come to terms with the loss.
- You feel peaceful.
- You are able to let the relationship go.
- You accept the limitations of your abuser.
- You accept the choices you made.
- You let your resentments go.
- You are ready to move on.
The Yugoslav writer Meša Selimović summed up grieving the loss of a relationship beautifully in this quote:
“Everyone says love hurts, but that is not true. Loneliness hurts. Rejection hurts. Losing someone hurts. Envy hurts. Everyone gets these things confused with love, but in reality, love is the only thing in this world that covers up all pain and makes someone feel wonderful again. Love is the only thing in this world that does not hurt.”
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Randi Fine is a narcissistic abuse expert and coach, and the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.