Coping with loss in general is tough, but even more so if that person was an abuser. Whether it was through their death or your conscious choice to leave them, grief is natural and expected. Though that doesn’t make it easy.
So how do you handle it?
Especially when half the time you feel guilty for even having a sense of missing them? (After all—why miss someone who hurt you so much?)
Well, there are some very logical reasons why we grieve our abusers, despite all the harm they did us.
When this person was in your life, they forced their love on you. They manipulated you so you had to turn to them for affection. Then they took their kindness away to pull you even closer. To make you even more dependent on them.
Abusers are masters at convincing us that we can’t survive without them. That’s why it usually takes survivors so long to leave their side. Sometimes we’re only freed when they die.
They convinced you that you were helpless without them. That no one would love you like they did, that you’d never have any sense of happiness without them in your life.
All of this created a deep sense of connection, despite coming from an unhealthy base.
Additionally, so many abusers build upon our already present love for them. If they were a parental figure, we needed to love them to survive. In adulthood, it’s often after we enter a serious relationship (friendship or romantic) that the abuse starts.
The double edged sword of grieving an abuser
When it comes to abusers, coping with loss is so much more nuanced than any old death or departure of someone we love. (Not that this is easy with anyone, by any means. Abusers just happen to have a few extra layers of pain.)
There’s basically two things we grieve when our abuser is no longer in our life.
First, the obvious one. They’re no longer in your life. It feels like a piece of you is missing because, well, you were used to making hundreds of memories with them. Spending your time and energy and emotions with them.
Even when those memories weren’t happy ones, they were still significant. Losing them is a change in what your life is like and, as creatures of habit, we miss the old way things were. It was simple, predictable, and we got used to our life being like that.
They were also a human that we had real and valid feelings for. No matter the source of those, we felt some love and connection and letting this go is tough. It’s hard to walk away or lose anyone we love.
The second thing you grieve is the life you never got to have with them.
A big part of us wanted a life that was happy and compassionate and ideal with them. We wanted their love, without any hurt. We wanted to spend an eternity with them when they were at their best.
Because, as much as we have a right to hate our abusers, they had a light and charm to them too. We wanted to see that part of them and love the person that hid behind the mask of violence.
So, you’re also likely grieving the fact that you will never get to have that ideal life with them. The life where they stop hurting you and apologize for all they did. The life where they make amends and treat you how you always deserved to be treated—with love.
What you need to accept to make their loss easier
It’s critical to accept the life you did share with your abuser. There’s no denying they hurt you. You won’t have that ideal life where they were kind.
That’s why the grief is so raw—because your brain can no longer hold up that false hope that things will turn around and they will get better. The relationship is done. It’s over.
Now it’s time to acknowledge them for what they were—an abuser.
Granted, acceptance is much easier said than done. I bet you’ve already told someone “yes, I’ve accepted that they’re gone.” But a part of you is still longing for them to come back, apologize, and you’re holding out hope you can have the kind relationship you always wanted.
Even after four years, I’m still working on my own acceptance of this. There is a part of me wanting my abuser, a mentor and lover, to truly love me. He’s gone now and that won’t happen, but a piece of my heart still craves it.
Acknowledging this is tough, but it’s also the first step to acceptance. You can never heal something you reject.
So, if I don’t deny the fact that I do still have some longing for him, then I can process and heal it. I can accept that it lies in my heart and I can learn to be okay with that.
Accepting it doesn’t mean I’ll ever act on it. I wouldn’t go back to him, even if I could. Acceptance simply means that I honor the natural feeling that exists within me and I don’t shame myself for that. It’s a powerful healing tool for coping with loss.
When it comes to emotions, acceptance is the trickiest. So, be sure to check out this blog here for more on the topic. <3
Why it’s easier to long for an abuser than to hate them
I want to jump in with a quick note on the mess of emotions that comes with an abuser’s disappearance from your life.
You’re likely going to feel (or are already feeling) a collection of anger, sadness, grief, shame, and longing. A ton of conflicting emotions, all fighting for space in your mental spotlight.
And the most confusing one is likely the desperate longing for the person who hurt you.
That’s why I wanted to include this little section.
I want to explain why it’s so much easier to long for someone who hurt you than feel some of those other emotions (which is why longing pops up often).
Basically, longing prevents you from having to truly grieve your abuser. If you want them back and focus on that, you don’t need to hold them accountable for their actions. If you push anger aside in favor of longing, it won’t keep reminding you that they were bad for you.
But this isn’t really coping with their loss. You need to feel all those emotions—the natural longing and also the anger and venom and hurt.
That’s where healing will come from. And it will come if you do this!
Feel the emotions you can, enter into a place of loving self-acceptance, and let time work its magic. Every month you will have more freedom from your abuser and the loss you are experiencing.
A special note if your abuser took their own life
It’s a far more unique situation if your abuser took their own life (or if you think they might have, but don’t have confirmation).
One of the most common threats abusers use when we try to leave is, “If you leave, I’ll kill myself” or “I’ll die without you.” They want to make us feel responsible for their life, as a last ditch attempt to keep us by their side.
You are never (and never were) responsible for the decisions they make about their own life.
(Repeat this to yourself, right now. Say it over and over—because this is the most important thing to remember.)
They were a smart, knowledgable person who knew what they were doing was hurting you. They decided to do it anyways and, when the consequences of their actions came up (you walking away) they tried to avoid it by hurting you more.
You were so strong for walking away. Never feel ashamed of that.
You are not responsible for what they did. It was their pain, what they were holding deep in their heart far before they met and abused you, that caused them to take their own life. It was their lack of effort to heal and recover.
Their death is not on you. Please, above all, remember this as you work on coping with their loss.