Moving through the Stages of Grief

By Demelza Desforges - MIN Ambassador, 20th September 2022.

Moving through the Stages of Grief

Monday the 19th of September 2022 was declared as a bank holiday in the UK, following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. 

Mums In Need respects the feelings of loss and sadness that many will be experiencing at this sad time. 

During times of sorrow, complex and difficult feelings can come bubbling to the surface.  Regardless of the root of the pain, it is important to acknowledge these emotions as they can be overwhelming at times.  

Grief and Abuse

Mums In Need are dedicated to supporting mums who have left abusive relationships but are still experiencing post-separation abuse.  

There are numerous barriers to leaving an abusive situation and it can take time and courage to end the relationship. Once you finally leave, your ex may display vengeful and malicious behaviours to try to maintain control. Single incidents may seem insignificant but when you add them all up within the pattern of post-separation abuse it is clear to see how this invisible harm can leave many marks.

All the turmoil leads to grief. The anguish may have started during the relationship but it is often not until we are out of it that we become able to process what has happened and start to face the difficult emotions that surface. 

Grief is a natural response to loss. When something ends you may experience all kinds of unexpected and complex emotions, from shock, disbelief, guilt and profound sadness. 

Grief is universal. We will all experience it to some degree at some point in our lifetime.  It may be from the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or when there is a change to life as we know it. 

Grief is very personal and it can be really difficult to deal with. Everyone has their own way of grieving but there are commonalities in the stages of grief. Although there are multiple ways of trying to make sense of grief, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 wrote that grief can be ordered into 5 stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We will look at these more closely below.

Processing the Loss 

It is common to feel intense grief after the end of a relationship, even if this was a toxic one.  Although there was abuse, it is ok to feel sad. You may not just be upset about the relationship ending, you may also feel a multitude of losses:

It is a common misconception that abuse will end once the toxic relationship is over. Instead, this is when things can become even more unsafe for a survivor. 

Harassment and stalking are among a multitude of post separation abuse tactics used by perpetrators to try and maintain control, or to punish the victim from leaving.  At times you may feel the urge to go back , even though you know for sure that the relationship is harmful and that returning would be bad for your children and you. It often takes multiple attempts to eventually leave a toxic situation. Once you are finally out of it you may be surprised when you feel sad, even though you may be relieved that you are no longer living with someone who displays abusive behaviours.

It is usual to feel overcome with grief after the end of a toxic relationship.  It can take a long time to recover and heal from this type of abuse.  Even though the relationship was unhealthy you may still feel like a bereavement has taken place so you need to give yourself time to face this and heal. 

Trauma bonding and the cyclical pattern of abuse

Individuals often feel like they are to blame for staying in a toxic relationship, or for going back to the toxic relationship instead of leaving for good. Understanding the theory of trauma bonding can help see that this is a ‘normal’ response to a very difficult and confusing set of relationship dynamics.

A trauma bond is when a person who has been abused feels a connection towards the perpetrator of abuse. It is a deep emotional attachment that manifests even though the person has hurt you.

The pattern of abuse is cyclical -the perpetrator will have a  nice phase when they will be very kind and loving towards you, then they build up tension, then an incident happens followed by remorse and apologies, then it is the honeymoon phase again built on fake promises, then the cycle starts again. 

It can feel good again at one stage of the cycle and at this point you may forgive and forget and you get sucked back in and the cycle repeats. You may find yourself justifying the person’s actions, diminishing the abuse and denying the negative aspects of this person’s behaviours.

In reality a person can be cruel and also kind. A person can be multifaceted but sometimes the kindness is not real, it is used as a tool for manipulation. 

When you experience the conflicting parts of the perpetrator (one side of him is loving caring etc, other is hurtful, toxic, damaging, mean, distant,) there is fear and love within the same relationship.  The Intense attachment through  trauma bonding becomes addictive. Many will come at you with recommendations and this can make you feel misunderstood or stupid. 

You may be unsure what to do for the best. You will want to do right by your children but you are likely doubting yourself. It is a roller coaster of emotions but you are not to blame for the abusers' behaviours. 

The conflicting emotions that arise when someone that you love hurts you, can create cognitive dissonance and you start to mourn what you think was there or what could have been.  

The grief you feel can be like a bereavement.  Understanding that it is ok to feel whatever it is that comes up for you, instead of judging yourself will help you heal from this situation and grow in the long run. 

Understanding the Stages of Grief

    People may understand that it is over but they refuse to believe it and feel unable to accept it. Denying that it happened     gives you time to absorb the information and process matters. It numbs the intensity of the situation. 

    Denial is a type of protection, it helps you from becoming emotionally overwhelmed.  It is a handy coping mechanism          so long as it doesn’t prevent you from moving through to the next stage. 

There is no specific timeframe for these stages. People will move through each phase at their own pace. Healing is not linear and sometimes you may experience multiple stages at the same time. You may go through a phase more than once, especially when a trigger can flash you back to an earlier moment in time. 

Emotional recovery is different for everyone. Being aware of the stages of grief and realising that these are natural reactions to loss can help people feel less alone in their experience.

Healing and overcoming grief:

Look after yourself by:

Allow yourself to grieve. Deal with the trauma and rebuild your life. You will need to regain the lost self-esteem. 

Understanding the dynamics and abuse tactics will help you make sense of what happened. Gaining self awareness, knowing your triggers and understanding how you became enmeshed in a toxic relationship will all help in your recovery.

Not everyone will go through all the stages of grief and they may not turn up in a set order. Avoiding grief may help you dissociate from the pain but it will only catch up with you later. Unresolved grief can manifest itself physically. In order to heal you need to address your grief and process it and grow through it.  Emotional healing is possible. Believe in yourself. 

MIN is here to help if you need them.