Grief; the one and perhaps only word that can conjure more emotions than the word love. It is near impossible to describe. It’s like a tsunami of emotions that suddenly overwhelm you to a point you didn’t know you could reach. Your mind is caught in the eye of the storm, spinning out of control. It’s a physical pain that encompasses your whole being, tightening every muscle in your body while sucking the air out of your lungs; even breathing becomes painful. The tears stream down your face uncontrollably and your heart physically hurts. Grief involves a major loss of something we are attached to. It is not limited to death. There is often grief involved with the loss of a relationship, a home, job, or a friendship.
There is no timetable that comes with grief. It is completely individual and situational. There is no right or wrong way to deal with it, only what is best for you. There are common stages the majority of people will deal with when it comes to grief; denial and anger, bargaining, depression, and eventual acceptance. Each person will experience those steps differently. These stages may sound familiar if you have suffered a deep loss, like a death. You may have passed through them on your path to healing.
We learn how to mourn for other people, great losses, and even material attachments. Unfortunately, we haven’t been taught, as survivors, that it’s ok to mourn all that we lost. We lost our innocence and our ability to trust. We lost our voices out of fear and shame. We lost the developing identity that may have been, had we not been violated. We became empty shells with no functional ability to process the trauma occurring. We could not fight or flee, so we froze. The survival instinct of the brain took over to save us from unbearable trauma In essence we lost our childhoods, and we need to grieve such an immense loss in order to heal.
Grieving for an external loss seems to come more naturally than trying to grieve for oneself. Trying to understand the loss of your inner child involves having to acknowledge that you still have an inner child. We also need to accept the fact that “little you” was hurt and violated, and that we are never responsible for the trauma endured. Self-blame is something many survivors struggle with for years.
Anger is almost innate for most survivors. It stems from the abuse, and can often last a lifetime. We are rarely presented with the opportunity to express the anger we are burdened with to the source that caused our pain. Despite carrying it around for so long, we are often incapable of outwardly expressing it appropriately. When anger becomes internalized, we act out in a multitude of ways. These actions can lead to self-destructive habits such as addiction or self-harm as a method of coping. We may need help dealing with, properly expressing our anger, and recognizing its effects in the present. We may seek help through therapy, or a self-help workbook, or an online course. I believe it eases up as time passes. Mine certainly has, but I think it is something we will carry with us, to some degree, through the rest of our lives.
Bargaining is a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability as we attempt to regain a small piece of the control we lost as children. For years we play the “what if” game, wondering if we had done something differently, or if we had spoken up, would we still struggle as we do now? As children we can’t do much bargaining because we are unequipped to do anything other than go into survival mode. As we age, beliefs depending of course, we sometimes try bargaining with a “higher power” to trade or give up anything we can think of if the abuse stops.
Depression affects nearly every single survivor. It varies in degrees, can come on sporadically, an last only a few days, yet for others, it is never ending. Our depression may have started when we were children, but may not be recognized and diagnosed until we’re teens or adults. It’s often not until our twenties and thirties that we can even begin to process and heal from the trauma we suffered as children. Grief from any major loss brings a heavy sadness and emotional weight that often carries on for years after. Depression is certainly not limited to grief but is an indication that something deeper lays beneath the surface.
Acceptance for survivors is multi-faceted, and for some, it may never happen. It’s difficult to accept any loss, but accepting losing a childhood that can never be reclaimed is a long and arduous process. It becomes further complicated because often our abusers are family members, friends of the family, making it even more difficult to acknowledge such a betrayal as our truth. With proper support, we can try to learn to accept the traumas that have melded us into the people we are today.
So allow yourself to grieve. Grieve for your inner child and all the losses that you suffered. Just remember to show yourself the same support and caring that you would give to anyone else.