Grieving the Loss of an Abusive Relationship
Updated: Sep 18, 2020
Relationship break-ups can be hard enough but when it's with someone abusive there are often added complexities. Whilst this article refers specifically to intimate partner abuse, these experiences can also happen in other relationships such as those with family or friends.
“Just because someone hurt you, doesn’t mean you won’t miss them.”
Ending intimate relationships are often far from easy, especially when the relationship has been harmful and abusive. There seems to be a consensus that the relief of being ‘free’ from your ex outweighs ‘everything else’, and almost disqualifies you from being able to grieve the loss of your relationship. Just because someone hurts you, either emotionally, physically, psychologically or financially, it doesn’t mean you won’t miss them.
“It is common to feel weak or stupid for staying.”
The grief can be intense and overwhelming, so much so you may frequently consider returning to your ex, even though you know the relationship is destructive, often going back and forth in your mind, or leaving and returning again and again. This can be even more challenging if you have experienced this type of relationship before, especially if you were still a child, or indeed if you have children with them. It is common to feel weak or stupid for staying in such a relationship, yet it is how many of us respond when involved with confusing and often complex relationship dynamics.
"It is totally natural to feel the loss and sadness when we lose someone that we love...even someone who we may also fear and loathe."
Some abusive relationships are all bad, yet many are not. There are often good bits. Abusive relationships don’t generally just ‘happen’. I have yet to meet anyone who decides one day to meet someone whom they fear, who criticises them, manipulates them, cheats on them, calls them names, puts them down in front of others, forces them to do things they really don’t want to, withholds money, drives their friends and family away… Abusive relationships often begin to the contrary, with their ‘best’ parts attracting us to be with them in the first place. Therefore, it is totally natural to feel the loss and sadness when we lose someone that we love, even someone who we may also fear and loathe.
“You feel further isolated and ashamed.”
This can often be really difficult for those around you to understand as they may feel angry about their helplessness to protect you from what you have gone through, saddened that you have been abused as you have, and may also be fearful that you will return, or they may not understand at all and really judge you. This can leave you feeling further isolated and ashamed. This is when accessing professional counselling can be really beneficial and help in the process of your recovery.
“Accessing professional counselling can be really beneficial and help in the process of your recovery.”
The right counsellor or psychotherapist will be trained and experienced in supporting survivors of intimate partner abuse, so they are fully aware of the potential complexities you may be experiencing in your grief. They will offer you the opportunity for greater self-knowledge, as well as gaining a clearer understanding of the dynamics of abuse you have experienced, such as power and control compared to healthy relationships. This can help reduce your chances of being entangled in similar relationships in future and empower you in rebuilding your life.
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Images by Mitch Hodge, Kristina Tripkovic and Cherry Laithang