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.

Why?

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

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?