Complicated grief for adult survivors of abuse

Societal mandates assert that loss is accompanied by a conventional paradigm of grief, replete with ceremonial rituals and a finite process of mourning. Yet when the loss pertains to more intangible sources of grief such as prolonged abuse and trauma, one size does not fit all.

Adult survivors of child abuse, beset by complex post-traumatic stress disorder often grapple with persistent complicated bereavement disorder. They are plagued by persistent yearnings for the love and normalcy they never had. They are weighed down by innumerable intangible losses such as safety, dignity, belonging and a cohesive sense of self.

Family as Sacrosanct

For adult survivors of chronic child abuse the notion of ‘family as sacrosanct’ is a principle that fosters confusion, alienation, shame and outrage. Within the context of familial sacredness doctrines are explicit. Love thy mother and father and honor their function and authority.

However, when that mother or father robbed that child of his/her birthright, their innocence, their childhood, even their Self, who gets to determine how that child should ‘appropriately’ respond to sundry losses or the most glaringly pivotal loss of a parent’s passing? How is the survivor to measure up to a proclamation that has no bearing on her history or her reality?

Anecdotal Forgiveness

Anecdotal forgiveness seems to be the standard advice handed out to survivors of abuse. Survivors are advised to offer absolution to the abusive parent regardless of whether the abuser has attempted any sort of restitution. Ostensibly, this will set the abuse survivor free and concomitantly confer them the designation of good son/daughter. With religious zeal, this approach is considered a crowning achievement.

As you can see from everything written in this article asking someone to forgive their abusive parent, is like throwing salt into an already extremely painful wound, especially when that parent never apologised or felt remorse.

Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Dr. Judith Herman, refers to the aforementioned construct as the forgiveness fantasy. Dr. Herman states:

“Forgiveness is a relational process. “‘I forgive you’ is the response to a heartfelt apology and request for forgiveness. If the apology is never made, the process of forgiveness cannot take place. And “genuine contrition in a perpetrator is a rare miracle.”

I completely agree with Dr Herman’s words!

Those of you who feel that you have to forgive, don’t!

Inspired by on expressing anger and the topic of forgiveness. If I were her, I don’t think a perpetrator deserves forgiveness if there is no remorse.

Author: Courage Coaching

I provide empowerment, empathy & support. I specialise in dealing with dysfunctional relationships, particularly narcissistic abuse & encouraging self-compassion.

9 thoughts on “Complicated grief for adult survivors of abuse”

  1. I’ve only just spotted this in my reader. This post is fabulous and I’m so glad I inspired you to write this! 🙌You’re so right. Judith Hermann is great isn’t she, I’ve read quite a lot by her. Thanks for that reassurance. I am getting so sick of the forgiveness pressure. Nothing does my head in more. I want my parents to die asap, I can’t stand them, they’re vile. They show not one iota of remorse. They wanted me to apologise to them, for causing them family stress when I told them I’d attempted suicide because of them. Thanks for covering my back lovely, I really appreciate your survivor solidarity 💪💪💪💖🙌

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you saw the post! Judith Hermann is my new hero! I didn’t know about her until I wrote this post! I can’t believe they asked you to apologise?!! Well actually, now that I think about it better, both of mine wanted me to apologise for causing them stress when I was honest about my feelings! So I can believe it!! Narcissists/psychopaths with no empathy or remorse are vile indeed!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep they were residents of Vile-ville 😉 You’re doing a great job with your blogs-keep it up lovely 🙂 I hope you feel OK now after writing that difficult post earlier. Today feels like it’s lasted FOREVER! haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on I Sing the Body Electric and commented:
    On the topic of forgiveness I’d like to share this post on forgiveness. It has some interesting ideas which fit with my philosophy so I wanted to throw this out there to make people think perhaps in a different way about forgiveness/non-forgiveness of parental abusers. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Me too! I’ve done a post on the forgiveness/non-forgiveness debate today, largely saying it’s all up to us to make decisions either way without judgement from anyone. Will see how that sits with people :0

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Forgiveness without repenting is BULLSHIT. Even in the Bible, God forgives ONLY those who repent, not everyone. I have never received any apology from narcissistic parent’s only fauxpologies like ”i am sorry you were so oversensitive and dramatic and felt wronged but it has been years and let bygones be bygones”. Orcs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Coudln’t agree with you more..which is why I don’t understand why people keep expecting survivors to forgive their abusers, when they never genuinely apologise. All I have ever got is the same ” I am sorry you feel that I hurt you” rather than ” I am sorry I hurt you”

      Liked by 1 person

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