Grieving any kind of loss can be very difficult at the best of times and can cause feelings of confusion and desperation. If you identified strongly with who you were in the relationship or had your primary focus on your partner then the loss can be quite confronting, leaving you feeling lost and not knowing who you are anymore or where you belong.
To avoid grief we may stay in unhealthy relationships that are clearly not working to avoid facing the prospect of being alone or experiencing the inevitable feelings of loss.
What actually is Grief?
Grief is dealing with the loss of attachment. When we form an emotional attachment to another person we naturally invest our time and energy into the relationship, and consciously or unconsciously we are getting our needs met through our partner, to feel loved and needed, to feel worthy. When we are having these needs met through another person we place ourselves in a vulnerable position because if the relationship breaks down, we are then left with feeling the emptiness of what we did not give ourselves. Unless you are extremely evolved, feeling some kind of grief cannot be avoided, but there are things you can do to support yourself into not sinking into the depths of depression if your partner leaves you.
- Meet your own needs – Whether in a relationship or not it is important that you know what your needs are and meet them yourself. Love and nurture yourself, appreciate who you are and what you bring. Care deeply for the beautiful you. By doing this you are setting a foundation on which you can stand in any given situation. Let that foundation of love be your rock, not your partner.
- Do not hold back your love – Be as loving as you can be towards others. Many times we grieve not so much for the loss of our partner but for the fact that we did not show them our true selves or that we did not express lovingly with them on a consistent level.
- Know that your relationship is not your life – The relationship you are in may be amazing, your partner may be amazing and what you have together incredible, but it is amazing because you are, it is how you are within your relationship that makes it what it is. When you live the love that you are and share it with your partner it is a beautiful experience but if they leave or walk away that love does not go because it is something that you are, not something you get from someone else. Love cannot leave you, but you can choose to express it or shut it down, the choice is yours.
- Allow yourself to feel your hurt – If your relationship breaks down it hurts. So allow yourself to feel it but be careful not to indulge in these feelings as this will confirm and cement your negative emotional state. Feel it, acknowledge it and get on with being as loving and gentle with yourself as you can.
- Be gentle with you – Lets face it, drowning your sorrows in a bottle of chardonnay or downing a family sized block of chocolate actually ends up making us feel a whole lot worse! So take time to care for yourself, eat to nourish, hydrate (with water!), exercise, and find a close friend or trusted therapist as a support to share what you are feeling.
Stages of Grief
By understanding the process of grief we can make sense of the variety of emotions we may be experiencing. Anyone who has experienced deep grief can relate to the ‘waves’ of emotion that can arise and then subside. Grieving is not linear and each stage may be felt at anytime until the final stage of acceptance is reached and maintained consistently.
- Denial – as a response to the initial shock, the protective method of denial comes to the fore to buffer the hurt. We may even isolate ourselves from others to avoid the truth we do not want to face.
- Anger – As we get to a point where we can no longer deny the truth, but are not ready to feel our hurt, we use anger to mask the pain we do not want to feel. Anger may be directed at the loved one, at yourself or even at God, especially if your partner has died.
- Bargaining – In an attempt to make some semblance of being in control again we can bargain with ourselves, “if only I had been more loving”, or “If I hadn’t ignored him so much he wouldn’t have left me for someone else”, “maybe if I change she will take me back?”. This is our last line of defence before the dropping into the painful reality.
- Depression – When we realise we are not able to fight the truth any longer we may simply withdraw from life, there is a sense of defeat or giving up. This withdrawal creates a space within in that is felt as a deep emptiness, which is depression.
- Acceptance – In this final stage we begin to accept the truth, that our loved one has gone and will not be returning but realising that there is life after death so to speak. We commit back to life and start to feel ourselves again.
Kate Chorley is an experienced psychotherapist who has supported many of her clients through their grieving process. She practices in the Blacktown and Parramatta areas of Sydney and via Skype. Contact Kate here on or call 0402134097