The person you loved—maybe more than you ever loved anyone before—and who loved you just as much, is gone from your life, never to return. Of course you’re grieving.
But wait a minute, you tell yourself. You shouldn’t be grieving because you know this person didn’t really love you, and, in fact, your soul mate didn’t even really exist at all. You know now that after the glorious beginning, your relationship slowly became an ever-worsening emotional hell because of manipulation and from being treated with a stunning lack of empathy by person who was incapable of it, and who was also unable to love.
What are you supposed to do with that?
The people you know tell you what to do with it, and you might even tell yourself: If he or she was just an illusion, then you haven’t really lost anything. If he was an abusive creep then you should be happy he’s gone, not sad. Why don’t you just realize that, and get over it?
You don’t get any support from others, so you stop talking about it. They only made you feel wrong or ashamed of how you felt. And you chastise yourself for having feelings that don’t make any sense and that seem ridiculous in light of what really happened. But that hasn’t helped to ease the grief you feel.
What’s going on? you ask yourself. What should you do?
Grieve, that’s what.
“I do at times feel a sadness, a deep sadness that I can’t explain even to myself; I suppose it’s for what could have been, Or maybe even… I don’t really know, sometimes I think if I could work that bit out it would be the last piece of the puzzle, does that make sense?”
~ A Reader
I saw a therapist for several months after it ended. When she didn’t understand something, she told me she didn’t, and then she would ask me to explain it to her. She would ask for more and more details, until she finally understood. By that time, I understood a lot more, too.
One day early on, I sat across from my therapist, shell-shocked and in mourning. She was trying hard to understand my grief, and she asked me how I could be grieving the loss of something that wasn’t real and someone who never loved me. I told her that none of that mattered and that it didn’t need to make sense. It wasn’t about logic; it was about what I felt. I told her my love for him was real; it was love for someone and something I believed were real. I told her I was experiencing the same feeling of loss we have when we know we’ll never see a loved one again because they died, only instead of him being in a car crash or something, what took him away was being a psychopath. I told her it was not the illusion I mourned, nor the jackass my soul mate turned out to be— I felt grief for what I was believed was real before I learned it was an illusion (that may not seem to make sense at first glance, but there’s a profound difference between the two).
She furrowed her brow and nodded slowly, trying to wrap her head around the whole thing.
At our next session she came in, sat down, and looked me in the eye. Then she said, “I’m sorry for your loss.” I don’t know if she understood what I’d told her or if she realized that grief was what I felt no matter what she thought I should be feeling, but I deeply appreciated her words.
“Reality is what we take to be true.”
~ Physicist David Bohm
I had thoughts that my grief was somehow wrong, but I didn’t listen to those thoughts. I’d had more than enough of having my feelings invalidated, and I decided to just go with it. To me, it felt as if there was some innocent child within me who simply couldn’t comprehend what had happened, and who didn’t understand where he’d gone or why he wasn’t coming back. And then I felt immense compassion for that part of me that simply couldn’t comprehend such a shocking betrayal and such a completely unexpected turn of events, and who deeply missed that illusory person.
That compassion worked wonders. My seemingly inexplicable and inappropriate grief needed time and acceptance and acknowledgement, just like any other grief would. I took close to two years for it to resolve. Hey, it takes our hearts a long time to catch up with our heads. The illusion they create — the soul mate — is extremely powerful. It’s what makes the whole miserable and crazy experience possible, so that tells you just how powerful it is. It also speaks to how hard it is when the heart finally knows that all hope is lost.
Healing involves working your way through the trauma and reclaiming your power as you go. Acceptance helps you do that. Not just acceptance of what happened, but acceptance of all of the feelings that arise along the way. Acceptance isn’t the final stage in some neat and orderly process; it helps you move through the process.
“There is no walking backwards, and I am lost in the Labyrinth Invisible. I cannot retrace my steps. I wrote my name on the wall of the Labyrinth… I wrote my name but I can find it no longer; My ashes blow around like dust.”
~ Neil Gaiman, The Books of Magic : The Invisible Labyrinth
If you’re grieving but refuse to let yourself do it fully because you don’t think you have a “valid” reason to, or if others won’t let you grieve and they don’t give you the support they would give someone who was grieving for reasons they felt were “valid,” then you experience something called Disenfranchised Grief. This is not a good thing.
Disenfranchised grief is grief that is invalidated, for one reason or another. We or others don’t think we should be grieving, because we’re not entitled to it. Disenfranchised grief arises in any circumstance in which society denies our “need, right, role, or capacity to grieve” (Doka, 1989). It happens when the death or the relationship were ones that were stigmatized by society. An abusive relationship is one of those.
“Rejecting feelings is rejecting reality; it is to fight nature and may be called a crime against nature, ‘psychological murder’ or ‘soul murder.’ Considering that trying to fight feelings, rather than accept them, is trying to fight all of nature, you can see why it is so frustrating, draining and futile.”
~ Steve Hein, MSW: Invalidation
Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died (but not necessarily) to which a bond or affection was formed. Unexpressed grief can leave emotional scars and depression behind. An understanding therapist can be very helpful in this situation if family and friends aren’t able to be there for you in an accepting and non-judgmental way (or if you’re not able to be there for yourself in an accepting and non-judgmental way).
To anyone reading this who is suffering with this perplexing — yet very real — grief, and mourning the loss of something that turned out to be an illusion:
I’m sorry for your loss.
A lifetime ago: The door to a new strange new country opened, and I walked through it into a
place of sunlight and storms, waltzes and wild winds. As I stepped with doubt onto this new
road I heard the door swing shut behind me, and the bolt slide home.
There I traded freedom for blind passion, pleasure, Let’s Pretend; for the illusion of a
love. I was enchanted, held in bonds of velvet-covered steel.
The air was soft, the breeze was gentle. Stars and sunlight danced together. Dreams bloomed,
words enchanted, and a touch could light a fire.
And then the air turned chill, cold, freezing. The sun burned, the stars fell. Words filled
me with fear and a touch with dread.
A lifetime ago: I found the door to a once-beloved country, and I walked through it, into a
place of peace and comfort, soft light and warm winds. As I stepped with joy onto this
familiar road I heard the door swing shut behind me, and the bolt slide home.
I had lost the soaring, shining dream of dancing, the promises, The Enchantment of the Lie.
As the bonds fell away I knew the aching pain of loss, the vertigo of freedom, and the glory
of the gift of wings.
© 2016 Linda
To find out how to deal with disenfranchised grief, please read “Disen-whaaaat?? Understanding Disenfranchised Grief”
To learn more about your feelings after an abusive relationship ends, and the role neurochemistry and psychology play, read The Spellbinding Bond to Narcissists and Psychopaths – What’s Happening in the Brain? by Rhonda Freeman, PhD, neuropsychologist.