Disenfranchised Grief (A Complicated Grief)

Our society has a poor relationship with grief. It’s a topic we avoid. It is too uncomfortable.

Yet, when we’re faced with betrayal there’s a multitude of losses that we’re forced to confront, and to try to integrate. They include:

– The loss of the relationship/ marriage you believed you had had (was everything a lie and a fantasy?)

– The loss of identity, self-worth and self-esteem

– The loss of the person you thought you were married to/ believed you were in a relationship with (as they clearly deceived you and had a hidden side)

– The loss of the future you imagined you would have

– The loss of emotional safety in your marriage (and possibly physical safety, too, if there have been affairs/ hook ups, and so on)

– The loss of confidence and trust in your spouse (will you ever be able to believe a word he says?)

A Complicated Grief

And the grief of betrayal is a complicated grief. In many ways, it remains hidden for the person hasn’t died. Also, you may still be in a relationship with them. And the emotions you experience are both intense and complex. Some examples are:

– The fear of judgment (since you know people will talk; they will look for any weaknesses and tear you both to shreds)

– A powerful sense of shame (an inappropriate emotion as, clearly, you’re a victim, and should not be blamed at all) 

– In addition, betrayed partners and spouses are usually traumatized, and they frequently suffer from PTSD.

Dealing with the Taboos

Also, it’s true that betrayal, and a sexual addiction, are still taboo topics in society today.

– This leaves us feeling very isolated and alone.

– You have to wear a mask, and pretend that you’re OK.

– You can’t talk about the losses and what you’re going through.

– You can’t talk about the pain, and how long it lingers on.

This is disenfranchised grief, a grief that’s difficult to bear. It is formally defined as being:

the grief connected to a loss that is unrecognized by society at large.[1]

What to do About it

Not sharing your experience will impede recovery. Being silenced by the world won’t enable you to heal.

So, if you can, share your story, and talk about your grief. Find someone who will listen, and who really understands.

You deserve to be supported. 

Don’t carry this alone.

The only cure for grief is to grieve.

[1] https://www.affairrecovery.com/newsletter/founder/infidelity-how-betrayed-grieve-properly

There is a Sacredness in Tears

You’d think that purchasing a graduation dress for your grand-daughter would be a source of pleasure. A source of happiness. After all, you really wanted her to know she’s beautiful.

But not if you found yourself in Auschwitz years ago, and you never had the chance to mark that milestone in your life.

This was the experience of Dr Edith Eger, a teenage survivor of the Holocaust. She found that she was weeping after buying that new gown.

Weeping unexpectedly, and uncontrollably.


She was weeping for the good things that were stolen in the camps.

She was weeping for the dreams that now can never comes to pass. 

For we don’t just mourn and grieve for all the heartache in our lives.

We also need to grieve for all those things we were denied.

So, it’s not just for the trauma, and the damage from our past.

It is also for the good things we had wanted, but can’t have.

We need to let the tears flow freely for what could and should have been.

All the great ideas and plans; and all the normal hopes and dreams.

For Dr Eger, this included simply going to a ball. And the chance to be admired. To enjoy being beautiful.

How does this apply to us?

In this blog we tend to focus more on those who’ve been betrayed. But any kind of trauma can affect us in this way. For example …

We may find we need to grieve because we can’t relax and trust (because our spouse deceived us, and has built a life on lies).

Or, perhaps we need to grieve because we’re not ‘the only one’ (as our partner was unfaithful, or has paid for online sex).

Or, perhaps we need to mourn because our children’s lives have changed (as their parents are divorced  and, thus, the family’s not intact).

Writing our own list

So maybe it would help if you could set aside some time, to think about your losses.

All the trashed and broken dreams.

For the things that didn’t happen,

All the stolen fantasies.

For the multitude of losses you have buried in your heart.

So why not start that process, and allow yourself to grieve.

You will find that it is healing.

It will soothe, and bring relief.

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief.”

– Washington Irving

Putting a Limit on Grief?

How long does grief last?

Should we all agree on a period of time that is reasonable for mourning a death, or a loss?

These are questions that are asked by psychiatrists when they are revising the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – also known as the psychiatrists’ bible.)

But how do you put a limit on grief? Is two years too long for the death of a marriage? Is five years too long for the loss of a child? Is eight years too long for repeated abuse? Is ten years too long for a genocide?

Surely grief doesn’t follow some set timeline.

And perhaps we shouldn’t ask it to fit into a box.

Taking a Deeper Look at the Dark Emotions

In fact, perhaps the dark emotions we associate with loss, like sorrow and despair, aren’t really dark at all. Perhaps they are quite normal, and deserve much more respect.

Why? Because they tell us crucial things about the human heart.

They tell that we love.

That we’re able to love.

That we greatly value love.

And we long to be loved too.

This means that the loss of something precious and loved is a terrible, heartbreaking, distressing thing.

It something we never, ever wanted to happen.

And something that we wish we could reverse …

And yet we can’t.

Society and the Dark Emotions

So perhaps the dark emotions – as society describes them – are called the dark emotions not because they are wrong … but because most societies can’t handle them.

Hence, it wants us to repress them, and pretend they aren’t there.

But when we, and other people, cannot tolerate these feelings – when we are expected to act as if we’re absolutely fine – then we’re left alone in that pit of pain and shame.

That is not a good thing.

A Better Solution

Instead, if we can give ourselves permission to walk towards our pain, and to honestly experience all the awful, dark then, in time, we’ll likely travel to the other side of grief. To that place where light and darkness are in balance, once again.

And that is much more likely to heal us in the end.        

A time to Grieve

Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming.” – Vikki Harrison

What’s involved in grieving the losses associated with betrayal by a partner? What are the different steps we need to take?

1. First, we need to name the different losses associated with betrayal. Don’t limit this to a few obvious ones like loss of trust, or loss of self-esteem. There will be layers and layers of losses. In fact, once you start making a list of the loses, you might find that you are writing pages and pages.

Try to be as specific and detailed as you can. Some examples of things people write include:

I used to feel ok (even good) about my appearance. But I never feel beautiful now. I’m always criticizing my looks and figure … and I always imagine others are criticizing me, too. That’s a loss.”

I can’t watch a movie without feeling anxious, sad, or triggered. It’s the same with songs that used to mean something to us as a couple. That’s a loss too.”

Every time I have a PAP test I’m anxious until I get the results back from the doctor. Before, it was nothing more than routine testing. But everything is different now. That’s another loss.”

2. We need to walk towards the pain, and grieve for all these losses. This is the part we would rather avoid. However, pain that’s never processed will come between you and life. It will keep you stuck in the past. It will be a constant shadow, casting a pallor over everything. It will become the lens through which you see and experience the whole of life. You don’t want that to be the case.

3. As you grieve, you will find you start to let go of some of the very painful losses. This will help you to open up your heart again. This can make it easier to love once more.

4. It’s important to remember that grieving doesn’t mean you have to forget, or ‘cancel’ what was good about the past. When we first learn about the betrayal, we only see deception when we look back on the past. All positive emotions and memories are blocked out.  However, if you allow yourself to grieve, then eventually you’ll find you’re able to recall some happy memories, too. Initially, these might be related to things you did with others – such as your kids’ birthday parties. Or you might remember a holiday in a beautiful location – something you had enjoyed at the time. That is, you’ll be able to look back on those things which were good, instead of just being swamped by sadness and regret.  

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Sadder

Sometimes a loss is most keenly felt by the absence of something else.

An empty chair at a table for two, is a symbol and reminder that we’re now on our own.

A bare third finger when a ring has been removed reminds of commitments that are no longer there.

The silence in the room – no more laughter and loud screams – remind us of the family that use to fill this space.

The closet that looks empty and the carpet that is clean both testify to change, and to lives that have moved on.

When those losses hit with force, we’re reminded of good times and are conscious, once again, of the hole they’ve left behind.

If you’re in that place today, then allow yourself to grieve.

There’s no shame in being sad when you’re struggling with loss.

And that wrenching pain you feel – it reminds you that you cared

That you opened up your heart

 … And you miss the life you had.

Closure. Is there Really Such a Thing?

It has been said: ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The scars remain and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

Recently I heard of a woman in her 50s who had two lovely daughters – a school teacher and accountant.

This woman (we’ll call Amy) then added a postscript …

Roughly 20 years ago, she had lost her baby son. An unexpected cot death. No-one knew the reason why.

I remember how he’d he’d curl up at the bottom of his crib. Or how he’d smile and gurgle when he’d just finished a feed.”

Yes, I remember everything, as if it happened yesterday. And yet I lost my baby nearly 20 years ago.”

So shouldn’t I have closure? Do you think that I am crazy? I sometimes start to wonder if there’s something wrong with me.”

What’s Going on?

Amy has been grieving for her son in her own way. And yet she feels uneasy, and is questioning herself. The reason is, she’s heard that grief has certain distinct stages. Hence, Amy feels she really should be over it by now.

Kubler-Ross’ 5 Stages Model

This thought of gaining closure (where grief follows a set course, and culminates in finally achieving an acceptance) is based on Kubler-Ross’ famous 5 Stages Model.

But the thing is, this grief model was developed from her work with the terminally ill – and not from working through deep losses.

And, yet, these two experiences are clearly very different (dying, versus processing and integrating loss).

Think About It

For the person who is dying there, indeed, will be an ending.

But there’s not a neat ending with these other types of losses.

Yes – it’s true, the shock wears off, and we may go on with our lives. Perhaps we’ll even feel some joy and happiness again.

But, still, grief ebbs and flows.

I’d say it never truly ends.

The crushed dreams and the memories remain there in our brain.

We can’t erase what happened or rewrite our history.

We had great expectations. This is not what we had planned.

In Conclusion

So, perhaps we’re being unfair when we put pressure on ourselves to never fight or wrestle with what could and should have been.

Perhaps the pain will lessen and the scars will fade away – but maybe ‘total closure’ isn’t something we’ll achieve.

Just a thought.

There’s no need to cry about it ….

When I was 6 years old, my grandmother died. I spent the next few days at my best friend’s house. Nothing was discussed and no questions were asked.

On the day of the funeral I went to school. I had supper at my friend’s, and then my parents brought me home. My grandmother’s death was never mentioned again.

What did I learn about loss from this? I learnt to say nothing and to move on with my life. To just do other things and forget about the loss.

This was my family’s approach to pain. The same thing happened again and again.

But here’s the thing …

This powerful message that we can be immersed in pain and loss, and not be affected, or changed in any way, is like believing that we can walk through fire without being burned.

We can pretend we weren’t harmed – but there’s damage, just the same.  

And if we never grieve our losses, then we never really heal. The injuries are there – though they’re covered by thick skin. And usually there are scars – though the marks may seem to fade.

And if we don’t grieve properly then a numbness fills our heart.

And if the wound is deep enough, we may find that we detach …. Then we can’t get close, to people and we never trust again.

What can we do about it?

Grieving is the healthy antidote to this approach.  It’s a form of self-care.

A crucial form of self-care.

It allows us to make sense of the experience of loss, to become more whole again, and move forward with our life.

It heals us so we’re able to begin to love again. To open up our heart. To be vulnerable once more.

And it’s a way of holding on to our humanity as well. For we’re not just a machine. We need to care and be cared for.

Have you been able to grieve, in a deep and honest way?     

No Turning Back

There is no turning back to yesterday, or to last month, or to last year. No matter how much you wish you could go back and live there again, or how much you wish you could change what happened, you just can’t go back. You have to keep moving forward, my beautiful friend. You have to summon all of your inner strength … and focus on who you want to be now. Who you want to be tomorrow. It might take everything you have to let go of yesterday, but once you do, you can start finding peace.” – Nikki Banas

How do you feel about letting go?

Are you ready to let go?

Are you able to let go?

Can you face the truth that you can’t change the past?

That what happened has happened, and can’t be undone?

I know you can do it.

I know that it’s hard.

But I know that you’re fierce, and I know that you’re strong.

Maybe take the first step.

It’s a journey – I know.

You deserve to be happy.

Hold on to that hope.

Quote of the Day

Trust me when I say that I know how it feels to cry in the shower so that no-one can hear you.

And having to wait for everyone to fall asleep so you can fall apart.

For everything to hurt so badly that you can’t see a way out.

I know exactly how it feels.

But I also know that there is always hope and that the tide always turns.

Hang in there, and know that you are not alone.”

– Ella Hicks

Beautiful words.

Take them to heart.

Hold on to hope.

You are not alone.

Betrayal and the Dark Night of the Soul

but somehow the page stayed empty

Learning that you’ve been betrayed by your partner plunges you into a painful cycle of loss and grief.

Often the discovery comes as a shock, and the losses are more than you can even calculate.

– To begin with, you can no longer trust your partner or spouse (as they deliberately deceived you, and lied to your face.)

– Also, you feel you aren’t able to trust yourself (because you didn’t see the signs, and you experienced gaslighting.)

– And there’s the loss of the relationship you thought you had (which now feels like a lie and a fantasy.)

– Plus there’s also the loss of the future you expected, and had planned (as you cannot think ahead; and the whole of life has changed.)

Kubler-Ross and the Grieving Process

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who studied death and dying, has identified five common stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These are experienced in betrayal trauma, too.

Note: These stages are experienced a number of times, and are neither discrete nor linear. Also, grief follows its own schedule, is unpredictable, and often hits us unexpectedly.

For example, if betrayal is related to a sexual addiction, you might attempt to reduce the shock by telling yourself that at least your partner didn’t have sex with a real person (This relates to bargaining and denial).

But later you remember that he used webcams, and he paid real women to take off their clothes. Your response to this might be rage and disgust (which could also be equated with experiencing anger).

The next day, you feel too worn out and sad to motivated yourself to do any work (a sure indication that you’re feeling depressed.)

Then, as time goes by, and you start to find out more about the changes in the brain of a sex addict, you might have days when you feel you understand why your partner had succumbed, and done all those awful things. (This is the acceptance stage.)

Note: A crucial point that should be made related to acceptance is this doesn’t mean excusing what your partner has done. It will never be OK – and should never be OK.

Instead, acceptance is more about coming to terms with the fact that reality has changed for you.

It is also about starting to rebuild your life.

This is not possible in the first stages of grief, when time stands still, and you cannot think at all. With acceptance there’s a movement. We feel there’s been a change.

The Reality

The grieving process takes time. A lot of time. It takes much longer than you think it will take. It takes a lot longer than you want it to take. The losses are like tree roots that spread out underground. The roots go down so deep.  They’re extensive and wide.

How to Treat Yourself when you are Grieving

First, be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to feel the pain and sadness. Let the tears flow. Allow yourself to rant and rage. Allow yourself to be antisocial. You’ll also feel exhausted a lot of the time.

And be patient with yourself. Grief and loss are terrible.

But it won’t go on forever. The pain will subside. You’ll emerge from the tunnel, and eventually you’ll feel those positive emotions you cannot picture now.