Resources on complicated grief
August 8, 2011 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find resources on complicated grief, especially with regard to grieving something that never was?

I'm grieving a relationship that I ended because of abuse. I have suffered trauma from a wide array of abusive behaviours from my former partner and am in therapy for that. Having worked through a lot of the trauma - though I still have a long way to go - I'm at a different place now. My counselor has suggested that I have complicated grief and that it is all the more difficult because my grief is for a relationship/partner that was not like I wanted or ever hoped for. For example, I spend a lot of time thinking I must have been wrong about my partner and that it wasn't really like that and that it wasn't abuse, yet I know it was abuse. So I have a denial thing going on - and it's been a long time since I ended the relationship - but it still doesn't help with the complicated emotions I feel about the loss of my life partner, family stability, parenting support, etc.

Having reviewed lots of resources on abuse, domestic violence and so on, I have not really found much on the grief one goes through after leaving a relationship. In my case, it took a few months of counseling to even believe I was in an abusive relationship. I still struggle with it, even though it would be plain as day if it was happening to someone else.

By the way, I don't really know what complicated grief means, so info about that would help too.

Note: I have a lovely counselor and good support there. But I'd like to read more about complicated grief, especially where it comes to finding out that one's partner was not okay.

Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have specific researched clinical links to information about complicated grief, but I think my relationship with my mom and family qualifies. To hear about that, previously.

I recently answered a question about PTSD where I don't go into my personal history, but I do detail all the traditional an alternative routes I followed up on in the years I spent healing from childhood abuse. Here.


I felt through the process on my own back in the 90's because resources then were different. This next part is important. I figured it out on my own...


I mourned and grieved the mother and the relationship that I wanted but never had just like I had had that great mom, but she had died.

Turn this experience into mourning the death of something (it is a death, it's the death of a false reality) and don't focus at all on how you coulda shoulda woulda known better about the relationship. Grieve it like the death of a beloved pet, the loss of a valued family member. Play a slight trick on your mind and GRIEVE, even if no one is dropping off casseroles or the other traditional things. Give yourself the amount of time you think you'd need to recover had this person been awesome and actually died.

That's what I did. Got me past the hump, grieving like that got me unstuck.

Get to it.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:36 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your situation reminds of someone who experienced childhood abuse - a similar confusion about the nature of the relationship and the mourning for the the childhood/marriage that should have been. I don't have any particular resources to recommend but this might give you a lead to some useful resources.

Normal grief is the normal reaction to loss. Complicated grief is when a person gets stuck in the process.
posted by metahawk at 10:48 PM on August 8, 2011

The difficulty lies in the ambiguity inherent in the lost relationship. There is an intimacy in abuse and now it's gone. Good riddance, and yet . . .
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:15 AM on August 9, 2011

My take on complicated grief: simple is... X happened and it is sad. Complicated is X +y with some q on the side and some B over here.... Also, it is perfectly normal to grieve for what could and should have been. You deserve happyness. You deserve good things. Abusers trample on a lot more than they know. I don't have much to say beside nthng jben but... do grieve. mourn the loss of some of your hopes and dreams. Realize that they aren't gone forever. You may have to work for them, but they will almost certinaly come true... just probably not in the way you pictured it first :)

To throw out two religious things (as always, feel free to ignore) Grief comes in the evening, joy comes in the morning.... And God (whatever She/He/Platapi looks like) has a plan for you.
posted by Jacen at 5:43 AM on August 9, 2011

Complicated grief symptoms.

Also, this is about death of a person, but this paragraph might provide some insight:

"The source of complicated grief may be in the nature of the relationship before the death rather than in failure to process the event itself. When someone dies leaving unresolved issues, during an estrangement, or if the relationship was filled with conflict, the survivor may have tremendous difficulty accepting that there can be no reconciliation."

This article has a paragraph on grieving what never was.

You may also want to read about trauma bonding to help you work through your emotions.

It also helps to talk to other who have gone through the same thing. Find a message board for abuse survivors or ask your therapist for a support group. There is a lot on recovery and self-esteem, but most people feel the domestic abuse survivor should just pick up and move on. Then you feel ashamed for grieving a "loser." So when someone dies, you get pats on the back, when you leave an abusive relationship, you get, "how could you ever have done that?" And so the grieving is done privately and with shame that you could ever have feelings for an abuser. That's why you might consider talking with others who have been through similar situations. Don't dwell on it alone!

Best of luck to you.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:58 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

This Time article isn't specifically about complicated grief but I found it to be helpful about grief in general. It turns out the "five stages" of grief are a bit of a myth.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 8:00 PM on August 9, 2011

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