What’s Going On?
Despite what we might naturally be inclined to think, the stages of grief do not necessarily occur in order; they are not linear, and they do not have to only occur once. In fact, we can even experience all of the stages at the same time. Wonderful, right?
We made up our minds; we have finally made a decision, committed to it, acted on it. Oh, boy. Now what? We understand why we left. No one really wants to die. No one really wants to live in constant fear or anxiety. No one wants to feel disrespected or unloved. No one really wants to have their freedoms compromised or feel trapped.
Be Prepared, It Is Gonna Hurt For a While.
When you leave the abuse behind, you are going to begin experiencing a unique type of grief and heartbreak. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. Here is what to expect:
Typically, psychologists have identified stages of grief to include:
- — Denial or Numbness From Shock
- — Anger, Anxiety, and Frustration
- — Depression, Detachment, and Sadness
- — Bargaining and Dialogue Creation
- — Acceptance and Moving On
But, despite all of this knowledge, we also recognize this: We still loved them. We still love them. You see, love isn’t one of those feelings we can simply disengage or cut off and on like a light switch. It takes time, circumstance, and willingness to hold onto or let go of love.
And then there is the other big issue. We don’t even know who we are. We have no idea how to operate without this person in our life anymore. It fundamentally changes how we think, act, speak, and feel. It is like a vital organ has now been removed, or like a puzzle piece gone missing.
Key Things to Remember in Regard to Grief After an Abusive Relationship:
You aren’t grieving over that actual person as they now exist.
You are grieving over:
- – The person who you thought they were.
- – The relationship you hoped to have.
- – The potential future you were working to create.
- – The time and energy you lost during the relationship.
- – The loss of your own independent identity.
- – The feeling of “love” itself which was actual just trauma bonding.
- – The benefits of the relationship itself such as companionship.
- – The fact you feel like you failed in some way.
You Will Still Have Fear and Anxiety Because:
Even though you have physically left the situation of chaos, fighting, and drama, your mind and body will continue to fight the good fight.
- You are afraid of being alone and being lonely.
- You don’t know how you can survive without that personemotionally, physically, or financially.
- You are likely feeling physically sick like you would during a drug withdrawal and detox. Your body has literally been in flight or flight adrenaline response mode for a very long time, causing imbalances in the brain and your hormones.
- You fear the unknowns of the future, such as your capabilities or likelihood of finding another love. Real love, that is…
- You may be worried about social skills, making friends, dealing with family, and finding support around you again. You may have “forgotten” how to do this.
- You are worried about outcomes related to court proceedings and justice being served.
- You are still likely in some degree fearful of being stalked, harassed, or being physically harmed or killed.
- You are way out of your comfort zone and what you are normally used to, including the relocation and your daily rituals being restructured. You may be having a hard time adapting to the quick changes. You may be working a new job, or may have a completely different lifestyle or quality of life than you are used to right now.
- You may have symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, C-PTSD, such as having flashbacks or nightmares of abusive incidents, being sensitive to lights and sounds, having headaches and zoning out, feeling angry easily or for no reason, and being triggered by certain things such as word phrases, behaviors, or anything else related to your specific relationship.
please note: If you have suicidal ideation, reach out for support and seek a qualified therapist as soon as possible. The sooner the trauma is addressed, the quicker the healing process can be initiated. Remember that these impulses are temporary and more normal than people make it out to be, and we need to take control of those feelings right away.
This includes developing coping strategies to move past the struggles. First, recognize that these feelings are temporary and will pass. You will come out better and stronger in the end. Coping is unique and individualistic in nature. You will need to look inside to find what’s right for you. I have found the following tips below personally helpful.
But It Does Get Better.
Here are just a few starter ideas to cope.
Attending church or participating in spiritual based healing and meditation.
This can be a great way to meet new people and form healthy relationships, especially if this had been a part of yourself that you’d lost before from the relationship. Find a place you feel welcomed, a place where you can fit in without making yourself uncomfortable or nervous. The guidance and wisdom when found from spiritual connection can be useful to feel renewed; it can provide you with a preparation of something to fall back on the rest of the week, should troubled time arise.
Listening to certain types of music, usually loudly without any other background noises.
For some odd reason, certain sound wave patterns seem to relax those with PTSD. I have found metal or hard rock music to be especially and strangely relaxing to many who are in suffering. Trying ASMR sounds as therapy to relax could also be beneficial. Experiment around until you find the ones that work for you. For example, I enjoy sand noises, crunching of apples, and soap being cut. The sound of water can also be healing, such as from a fish tank, rain, or using simulations of natural water sounds may help.
Keep the lights dim, use candlelight, avoid fluorescents, and wear sunglasses.
Sensitivity to sunlight can impact physical ability to see and concentrate on the road which can evoke anger and road rage, and also cause flashbacks and lead to traffic accidents. Candlelight can be soothing and relaxing, since it is a soft warm light whereas fluorescent is a bright cool light which can trigger anxiety.
Avoid driving in rush hour or heavy traffic when possible. The road rage is real.
PTSD sufferers and trauma survivors can feel angry and aggressive for no reason, and as a result can be impulsive or make driving errors while distracted. Play it safe, and make rituals for before and after driving to keep you calm. Practice breathing or other techniques to implement when you start to feel out of control.
This is seriously my favorite: Take a bath.
Use aromatic oils and scents, healing salts, and anything you find comforting. This really calms my nerves and anxiety. I also find it surprisingly satisfying to allow myself to feel temperature differentials by switching from hot to cold water.
Try to keep as busy as possible and be in the moment.
If you sit around too long, you will start overthinking or begin to ruminate. If nothing else, focus on breathing for at least 5 minutes. I’ve found doing things with my hands to be particularly helpful, including crafts or art. Anything that is tangible can help keep you grounded or bring you back if your mind is starting to wander.
Be open and around with those around you in your support network.
Speak up if something has triggered or bothered you. Be respectful and kind while letting them know it is important to you explain you have little to no control over how it is making you feel or respond right now. Healthy people in your life will respect this and try their best to accommodate your needs. Do not hide feelings or hold them in suppressed.
Use exercise as a means to deal with unchecked emotions including sadness, anger, or guilt.
Especially try new activities that you’ve always wanted to try, or activities that your abuser might have specifically discouraged. This will give you a new sense of reward and empowerment, making you feel both mentally and physically strong. My personal favorite is boxing.
Healing is Going to Take Time.
Just remember that it took you a long time to get here and to get out, and it is going to take a while for you to heal. Please remember that it is possible, and you will get through this temporary transition to freedom. It may not seem that way sometimes, but remember that you were strong enough to leave and you are strong enough to survive this, too. Join a support group and lean on others that have been through and understand this, too. Most importantly, be kind to yourself.