Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stages Of Loss And Grief For Incest Survivors.

Back in 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote her book called On Death and Dying. In that book she gives us the five stages of grief.
Denial and isolation
Anger
Bargaining
Depression
Acceptance

Grief takes time to get through. Each person takes however long it takes to get through the grief. Some stay in denial longer, others get angry and stay stuck there for awhile before moving through to the other steps. However long it takes is individual to the person. You can go back and forth between the stages until you finally reach acceptance and the grief ends.

Grief isn't just about death. Each loss in your life brings grief also. With incest survivors, many losses happen because of the abuse. The earlier in childhood that the abuse starts, the more losses you have to deal with. If you don't grieve the losses, they pile up and add to the pain and to the length of time that it takes for you to heal.

As a child being abused, stuffing everything inside is the form of denial that is often used. The brain blocking memories is an extreme form of denial used in order to survive the pain of abuse. I know from certain clues that I have that I don't have access to some early memories. I have written about labeling myself an adulteress several times on this blog. 

As an adult, I used denial in order to try to have a "normal" "happy" life when I first left home and then the first years of being married. I told myself if I didn't think about the incest that I could pretend it didn't happen and it wasn't still affecting me if I didn't think about it. I did my best to convince myself of that and I hoped it was working for about 10 years as I grew more and more angry and unhappy. The denial came to a head one day when I heard myself screaming at my husband and telling him that I hated him and my life. A part of me was standing off watching and listening as I screamed those hurtful words at him. Thankfully that part of me stepped in and took control and knew that the person I hated was myself because I couldn't pretend and I couldn't make the pain and anger go away. That was in the 1970's and there were only 3 books on incest at the county library where we lived. They gave me a little bit of relief but not enough. Self-help books were becoming popular so I read everyone of them that the library had and worked hard on improving me as much as I could. I was blessed that my husband forgave me for those hurtful words that I threw at him that long ago day. 

Isolation played its part in keeping me stuck in the pain too. I felt totally alone in my pain. I always felt alone and different, even in a good marriage. I felt like no one would understand if they knew and I was afraid they would judge and blame me if they knew about the incest. I was married for 8 years before I told my husband because I was afraid he wouldn't love me if he knew. If I stayed isolated, then maybe no one would ever know. Of course isolation just added more to my pain also.

The next stage of anger really scared me. I knew that the anger inside of me had grown to rage. That is what happens when you stuff anger deep inside and don't deal with it. It grows. The only anger I saw in my childhood was my dad's rage and my mom's passive-aggressive behavior. When she was mad, she would get quiet and you knew something was wrong but you never knew what. She always denied that she was angry. The passive-aggressive anger was hurtful and crazy feeling because it was never acknowledged. The rage was scary because it might become dangerous and violent. I was afraid that my own rage would become violent too if I let it all out. 

I was angry that the denial didn't work. I was angry that I was abused by those who should have loved me and protected me. I was angry at myself for being a child and not being able to protect myself. I had to do some blaming in order to get though the anger. I don't recommend staying in the blaming stage because then you just stay stuck in the anger and you do need to move past the anger stage in order to heal.

Bargaining is that stage where you just wish it would all go away and you would do anything to make that happen. You have conversations with God and ask Him to take it away and you may even get angry at Him because He won't. Free will isn't free will if God takes away all of our hurts. It is our responsibility to work our way through the feelings, not God's responsibility to take it away. He loved me through it even when I was angry at Him.

Depression is the stage of feeling all of the deep sadness, shutting down the tears and feelings, and pushing them back inside. Louise Hay says depression is anger turned inward. I have grown to believe this for myself. I know from a very young age, I was full of sadness to the exclusion of all other feelings. I know I carried the deep sadness with me at least as young as 5 years old. It may have been there before that and I just don't remember. It seems like for most of my life, I felt that deep sadness. I didn't know where it came from or how to get rid of it. I hated to cry. I was taught as a child that tears just brought on more hurt from my parents. Have you ever had a parent tell you, "I'll give you something to cry about, if you don't stop that right now." Once I reached this stage of grieving, the tears started. I cried for a year at 12-Step meetings because I didn't want my family to see the tears. I didn't know how to explain them to myself, much less to them. At that point, I still felt that tears were a sign of weakness too. Today I know they are a sign of strength. I still don't like crying but I do it when I need to.

You can go back and forth between all of these stages of grieving until you finally reach the last stage of acceptance.  With acceptance comes relief. When you accept the losses then comes change when you let go of all of the pain caused by the losses. With acceptance the losses lose their power to hurt you any more and the abuser loses his power over you too. With acceptance, you take back your personal power and you move forward with your life. With letting go of the losses, you now have room in your life for laughter and peace to enter. 

Each time that an issue comes up, I find more losses to deal with and more grief to feel and go through these stages again. Today, I get though the grief in only a day or two or three, not weeks, months or years. Today I am aware of what it feels like to grieve. Today, I know that if I want to feel the joy, I also have to feel the grief when it comes. 

I am sharing the link that gave me the idea to write this post and to share my ideas on grief. Remember these are just my opinions and experiences with grief. Grief may be different for you. I do know that if you want to heal from incest, you have to allow yourself to grieve.

"The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief" @
http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/000617

Patricia

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