By Ox Drover
Many of the people who have been victims of a sociopath have commented here at Lovefraud about how much “different” breaking up with a sociopath is than a “regular” break up, how much more painful. I’ve read comments from former victims about how intense the feelings are after being conned by a sociopath whatever the relationship has been, whether family member, spouse, lover, or child.
I have also felt these same profoundly hurtful feelings as I have worked my way along the difficult and rocky road toward healing. Even though my profession was as a registered nurse practitioner, and I’ve studied “the grief process” as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, one of the people who has defined and studied “grief” for many years, knowing about something and experiencing it are two different things. However, learning about and naming some of the feelings we have as we progress through this painful period and resolve the feelings and pain of profound loss does at least let us know that what we are experiencing is expected, and though painful, is very “normal” and that it will not last forever.
What is grief?
In an article called “The agony of grief” for the magazine Utne Reader (Sept/Oct 1991), the author, Stephanie Ericsson, who had suddenly lost her beloved husband while pregnant with their first child, stated, “Grief is a tidal wave that overtakes you with unimaginable force, sweeps you up into its darkness, where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces only to be thrown out on an unknown beach, bruised, reshaped….” “Grief is utter aloneness that razes the rational mind….”
Just exactly what is grief, though? Most of us know that “grief” is a sadness we feel when someone we love dies, or even when we lose a beloved pet, or something in our life that we value is taken away, but grief is much more than just sadness and tears when someone we love dies. Grief is a predictable cycle of feelings we have as we resolve the loss of anything that is important to us. Grief over the loss of something or someone very important to us may actually take many months, or even years, to resolve into acceptance of that loss.
Grief that is not fully and completely resolved can last a lifetime, and cause a lifetime of continual pain. Resolving and processing the cycle of emotions caused by the loss of an important part of our lives, is a valuable addition to the healing we need to experience after the sociopath is gone.
Wikipedia defines grief as a “multi-faceted response to loss, particularly the loss of someone or something to which we have formed a bond of attachment.” The few words to describe something so profoundly emotional and deeply painful still doesn’t scratch the surface of such an important concept.
In some way, a relationship with a psychopath has hooked us so deeply, that when that relationship turns from “wonderful” into deep emotional and/or physical abuse, we are devastated, I think, more than with the loss by death of a loved one (with the exception of a suicide possibly), because we know that the loved one didn’t die to hurt us, to leave us, but left us unwillingly. Realizing that a psychopath seems to enjoy hurting us or is totally uncaring about our pain caused by their abuse is some how a deeper, more significant loss than an “ordinary” loss of something important.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, described grief as a “five step process.” Her focus was on people who knew they were terminally ill, however, later she expanded this to include the feelings of anyone experiencing a profound and deep loss.
The stages of grief
According to Kubler-Ross’s model, the five stages of grief are:
- Denial: The grieving person will use the temporary defense mechanism to diminish the huge loss that is being suffered. “I feel fine,” or “This isn’t really happening to me,” are some of the responses a person in this stage would feel.
- Anger: “Why me?” “Who do I blame?” are some of the questions the person in the second stage would ask themselves as they recognize that denial is futile and replace the denial with anger and a hyper-awareness. This stage of anger may be demonstrated by bouts of rage and anger at anyone or anything that can be “blamed” as having caused the loss that led to the grief. This is why many people become angry at the physician over the loss of their loved one, or the hospital, nursing home, etc.
- Bargaining: “Ill do anything … to reverse or postpone the loss.” The person grieving may at this time frantically search for some way to alleviate their suffering by regaining what was lost. Anxiety will be high.
- Depression and sadness: “Why bother? There’s nothing left to live for. I can’t go on.” Crying and depressed moods are the hallmark of this stage and are an important part of the process. Many people who care and attempt to be supportive of the grieving party may try to “cheer them up” in some way. Feeling, processing and experiencing the sadness is an integral part of the process though for the grieving individual.
- Acceptance: The grieving party comes at last to peace, acceptance and understanding of the importance of the loss.
While there is some debate about the “five stages of grief” as described by Kubler-Ross, and though each person experiences grief in a unique and individual manner, there is much commonality in our experiences. The one thing that is almost universal, however, is that the stages are not in order, but a cycle of “roller coaster” rides that repeat the up and down, and changes from one stage to another and back again.
What is the best way to support a grieving person?
Being able to verbalize our feelings and having those feelings validated by others is one of the most healing salves that can be applied to grief. Each of us must do our own grieving, but having someone to whom we can verbalize our feelings, and feel in turn that they validate our feelings as legitimate and real, is the best medicine for grief.
The person listening doesn’t have to do anything, but rather be an active listener. To be present for us. Just their presence says to the grieving, “I hear your pain, and I am sorry you are hurting.”
Not setting time limits is essential in the grief process, either for ourselves if we are grieving, or for others. Unfortunately, “bereavement leave” for most jobs is three days paid leave for the death of a spouse, child or parent.
“Disenfranchised grief” is the term denoting grief that is not acknowledged by society. For example, when one has had an affair, and it is discovered and broken off suddenly and the secret is kept as quiet as possible, open grieving for the loss is not acceptable. Shame and guilt contribute to the disenfranchised guilt as well and make it difficult to process.
Grief for unmarried partners in the event of the death of one of them is many times disenfranchised since the union was not a “legal” one, whether the partners were heterosexual or not.
Setting “artificial time limits” on grieving will also cause it to become disenfranchised grief, as the normal societal support network will withdraw support for the grieving individual by saying “It’s time you get on with your life and get over this.”
Not having closure is another cause for the disenfranchisement of grief.
In Part 2, we’ll explore some of the ways we can help ourselves with our own grieving process, and to be a presence for others in their grieving.