Every survivor of abuse has experienced grief. It’s not always when a person leaves us or someone passes on—sometimes it’s the loss we feel over the fun childhood we never had. Or the betrayal of someone we thought loved us.
Grief is always complex—even more so when abuse is involved. Sometimes we attach to our abuser and feel devastated when they’re gone.
Or, other times, grief comes with anger…at our abusers or at the Universe for cursing us with such a difficult past.
No matter its source, grief is always intense. In my own life, it’s the emotion that’s driven me the closest to suicide. One distinct moment of betrayal and grief left me bedridden for three days. I couldn’t eat. I could barely get up to use the bathroom.
It’s such an overwhelming emotion, whether expressed or buried, that it’s essential we approach it with love.
First, Honor the Emotion of Grief
Grief, like all emotions, is natural. There is no shame in feeling it. There’s nothing wrong with it—it’s simply unpleasant and intense. But, intensity does not mean it is bad to feel.
Honoring the fact that the emotion is within you will help you heal it. It’s the choice to not force an emotion away. There’s nothing wrong with the fact it exists. This is the principle of acceptance.
Acceptance is extremely empowering and it brings a whole bunch of peace with it. When we can willingly feel what we’re feeling (whether we like it or not), we stop wasting energy trying to change a reality that won’t budge.
We can then cope better with the situation, because of the extra energy acceptance gives us.
Grief is also an emotion that must be felt to leave us. We can’t move past a loss of any kind without feeling and accepting our upset.
So, in order to heal it and feel better someday, you have to willingly feel the pain and discomfort of it right now. Here’s a blog to teach you exactly how to do this. And this program here will guide you to empowering acceptance.
Why Grief Must be Felt
Unlike some other emotional experiences, nothing can change grief. Once a loss has happened, that’s it. We will feel sad about it. We will grieve.
Anger can change. Maybe we realize the circumstances around someone’s actions and forgive them. Or we can boldly express a boundary, communicating the message our anger wants us too. So the anger stops.
Disappointment can change, often with a shift in perspective or the arrival of a new opportunity. Happiness can come and go, depending on things even as small as weather or as large as life changes.
Even fear can change, whenever the thing we’re afraid of goes away (or we overcome the object of our fear).
But grief cannot change. We can’t bring someone back from the dead or relive the childhood we never got to have. We can’t force someone to come back or speak to us again.
So, focusing on changing grief only exhausts us. It must be felt, fully and lovingly, for us to let it go.
How to Feel Grief without Becoming Overwhelmed
It’s important to lovingly process grief because it’s an intense emotion. This means sometimes burying it, temporarily, so you can come up for air.
All of us who have felt grief know how much it can feel like you’re drowning. It feels like piles of pain on top of us and, no matter how much we swim, we can’t seem to get to the surface.
So, sometimes, forcing ourselves to take a breath and ignore the feeling for a moment is essential. This is like ice-cream-and-a-movie therapy after a break up.
The key here is balance. We need to feel grief, without pushing it away, to heal it. But, since this naturally takes time, we also need to make sure we can function well during this healing process. This is where distracting self-care can come into play.
It’s a small distraction from our pain.
It’s basically allowing yourself to hurt (feeling the grief), then nurturing the wound (self care). As much as you want to heal the grief fast, it’s best to take breaks from focusing on it periodically. This list of self-care exercises is a great place to start.
At first, when the the emotion is raw, focus on switching between feeling it and distracting yourself from it. A lot of emotions will come up in even 5 minutes of focus. So, let yourself have that, then do something to take your mind off it. Then return to it when it starts to creep back up, repeating this process and gradually extending the length of time you feel the grief.
If 5 minutes is too intense, start smaller. Especially if you’ve repressed grief for a while, you may want to start with only 10-15 seconds. Breathe into it, invite it to be felt, and then pull away with a healthy distraction. Return to the grief after a little while.
Gradually, it will become easier to feel, since this is a technique that helps build distress tolerance.
Grief Becomes Easier Over Time
Everyone knows the phrase “time heals all wounds.” This is true, as long as you’re giving yourself space to feel that pain throughout the passage of time. Whether it’s ten seconds a day or an hour spent in contemplation of what you’ve lost, you are letting that emotion move through you.
This is how the pain will eventually leave.
You’ll be able to wake up, someday in the future, and feel like grief no longer dominates your life. You’ll be aware of how beautiful the world is—perhaps noticing this for the first time—because the weight of loss is no longer hanging over you.
All you need to do is feel it lovingly, then calm with a healthy distraction. This mix will make the process tolerable, while giving space for grief to be felt—which, in time, frees you from it.
So, how long do you think you’ll invite grief to be felt today? What sort of healthy and distracting self-care will you do afterwards?
Comment below, as the words you share may inspire other survivors to do this healing too! Come join the Uncover Your Joy Facebook group if you need a little additional support too. <3