“Am I a Terrible Person?” What happens when Grieving a Toxic Relationship.

Maybe you grew up with a parent that wasn’t always there for you or was maybe abusive or neglectful in some way. Maybe you have loved someone that struggles with addiction and as a result has lied to you or stolen from you or just plain hurt you.  Maybe you have had a partner cheat on you or treated you poorly.  So what happens when one of these folks from your life dies? Or what if they are in the process of dying?

It can be a struggle to navigate all of the emotions that come along with grieving a toxic or complicated relationship.  The emotional and even physical experience of the grief process can be overwhelming and often leaves us questioning if we’re doing it right.  Emotions can range from not really even feeling sadness, but just anger.  You can even be confused about feelings of sadness or love if the person was abusive or unkind.  You can experience feelings or uncertainty over what our roles are in the death process or how much we should be helping. Feelings of relief or freedom are common as well and then sometimes you can feel shame about having those feelings.  Maybe you just feel numb.  Maybe you have already grieved and don’t really feel many emotions at all.  All of these complicated feelings are COMPLETELY NORMAL!

There are two main points that I want to focus on for a complicated grief process. The first is to become the ultimate “includer” of your emotions and thoughts.  Treat yourself as if you were your own best friend. Whatever feelings come up, wrap your arms around that feeling and accept it as part of the process.   Offer an affirming “That makes sense given everything I’ve gone through.”   Don’t make yourself bad or wrong for your feelings or thoughts; it’s just your system making meaning and sense out of the past relationship with this person and it is part of the process of healing.

The second point is about forgiveness.  Forgiveness is not about the other person, it’s about your own healing.  It is also not saying that the other person’s maltreatment was okay. You’re not giving that behavior permission by forgiveness.  It is about letting go of toxic resentment that will only hurt you.  Holding onto the resentment deserves compassion as well. It can be your system’s way of trying to protect you from making sure that person never hurts you again or trying to find some power in a relationship that made you feel powerless.  It is rare that we can get through this alone and it can be helpful to find a good therapist. So love yourself through it, but finding a way to let go of the resentment will be an important part of your healing process.  We can often demonize or sanctify people after they have died.  Being able to sit with the WHOLE truth will help us heal and grow. Give yourself time.  There is no expiration date on the grief process and there is not right or wrong way to go about it. Take care of yourself, breathe, practice compassion.  Be well beautiful “bad a’s”.

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