Transform Grief and Loss–How to Create a Life and Marriage that Thrives

Transform Grief and Loss: How to Create a Life and Marriage that Thrives

In my last post, “How to Reclaim Your Life and Strengthen Your Marriage” I mentioned that part of the reclamation process is grieving what was lost. In this post, I want to explore more deeply what this means and what this looks like.

Little Deaths; Being Abandoned.

When we live for some time abandoning ourselves within our relationships, we experience “little deaths”. What I mean by “little deaths”, is that every time we hide, or bury, or dishonor a part of ourselves, our soul suffers from the subsequent abandonment. When we consistently hide or bury or deny a part of ourselves, we experience a death of that part.

Abandonment by Others

When I talk to clients about abandonment, I often hear first about all their experiences of others abandoning them. Sometimes the abandonment happens early in life by primary caregivers; sometimes, it is later in adulthood, within significant relationships.

To be abandoned by the ones we love and trust the most is one of life’s most painful experiences. I spend a lot of time helping clients explore and heal from these painful experiences.

Abandoning Oneself

As I get to know my clients’ stories of abandonment, I am struck by how, more often than not, these experiences lead to patterns of abandoning oneself in relationships. This is often a learned response.

When we are repeatedly abandoned (either physically or emotionally) by others, we develop coping strategies to protect ourselves. These strategies are used in the hopes that we can prevent those we love from leaving or betraying us. 

Mastering the Art of Accommodation

One of the most common protective strategies developed to prevent being abandoned is accommodating to others and what they want while hiding what we want. Those of us who have experienced abandonment on some level can become masters at the art of accommodation.

We accommodate with the hope that we will be loved in return. We perfect the art of agreeing, saying “yes” to every request, and anticipating what others might want. We master the art of “not rocking the boat” and avoiding conflict.

This requires us to hide and bury parts of ourselves. When done over and over again in patterned responses, the abandonment of self is a given. The hiding and burying parts of ourselves is essentially dishonoring, disrespecting, and de-valuing ourselves. And this is an act of betrayal. The message we send to others is that since we do not even value ourselves, others do not have to value us either.

Destructive Agreements

Somewhere along the way, we make this silent agreement with our loved one: “As long as I agree to accommodate to you, silence my voice and hide myself, you agree to love me and never leave.”

This is a very destructive agreement.

Pointing Out the Betrayal

Once I understand just how my clients have mastered the art of keeping love by abandoning and betraying themselves, I gently point this out. I introduce clients to the idea that, now after years of painful abandonment by loved ones, they are inflicting the same pain on themselves.

And in the moments when clients realize they have betrayed themselves, the grief emerges once again.

The Silent Agreement

Here is what the silent agreement sounds like, generally speaking:

  • I agree to avoid discomfort, anger, anxiety, and conflict by hiding myself, and not expressing my desires.
  • I agree to not express my individual thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • I agree to not risk showing my true self in this relationship if it means it makes you uncomfortable, angers you, or makes things inconvenient and more challenging.
  • I agree to accommodate to you and to love you by sacrificing myself and by making your life more important than mine. 
  • In return, you agree to never leave me.

Is This True For You?

Let’s take a pause.

  • What happens to you as you read the above? 
  • Does this feel familiar?
  • Where do you feel this in your body?
  • What emotions arise?
  • Are you ready to learn how to acknowledge this pattern, stop abandoning yourself, and begin the grieving process so that you can grieve the losses and reclaim yourself?

First Steps: Forgiveness

The first step in the grieving process is forgiveness. We must forgive all the ways we have abandoned ourselves and caused ourselves more suffering. We must slow down, and with compassion, acknowledge that, yes, we did not honor or respect ourselves.

A New Understanding

When we understand our own story, we can begin to understand that we have done the best we could with the tools we had at the time. Even the abandoning of self was done in an effort to protect and survive.

We must embrace our misguided efforts with love. We must acknowledge that behind every act of betrayal was fear, pain, and the longing to be loved.

Forgiveness Requires Compassion

Forgiveness requires compassion and understanding. If we approach this exploration with anger, criticism, judgment, and regret then we will feel even worse. Compassion allows us to explore painful things in an atmosphere of curiosity, patience, love, and understanding.

With compassion, we learn how to accept our human limitations and our mistakes. It requires us to let go of negative labels and self-defeating ideas that keep us stuck in the cycle of abandonment.

Building Emotional Muscles to Self-Soothe

Compassion requires us to build the emotional muscles of self-soothing. These are:

  • Muscles that allow tenderness, empathy, and unconditional love to surface;
  • Muscles that when activated calm our nervous system and bring us to an inner state of peace;
  • Muscles that help us to acknowledge, name and explore our emotions with curiosity; muscles that foster responses of love.

Forgiveness Allows Us to Acknowledge our Loss

Once we are the path of forgiving ourselves, we can then allow the feelings of loss, grief, and sadness to emerge even more. This is our opportunity to not only soothe our pain but to begin to access our own healing energy.

Our Healing Energy

We each have within us a tremendous capacity to heal ourselves. Our minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits want wholeness, peace, and joy. Like plants growing in the direction of the sun, we naturally move in the direction of love. And in so doing, we take the first steps in repairing the hurt of abandonment and reclaiming ourselves.

The Process of Grief

Grieving is a process. It is not something we decide to do one day and finish it on the same day or even the same week or month. As we grieve, we begin to unravel and reveal all the ways the abandoning has impacted us.

We acknowledge, name, and honor the losses. We reflect on the loss, its meaning for us, and the complex ways it effects us.

We decide what losses might be permanent. And what losses might be temporary. What do we need to say goodbye to forever; and what can we invite back into our lives?

Go here to receive suggestions for letting go and grieving the losses…

Transforming Grief

And then we allow the grief and our new understanding of our loss to be absorbed into our bones and to transform us. Meaning, we allow it to change us, inform us, teach us and strengthen us so that we can become our best selves.

We take the pain and let it enrich and improve our lives. We set intentions to move toward love, no matter how afraid we are. We commit to never abandoning ourselves again.

One of my heroes, Kris Carr, has a meditation that claims, “No matter what, I will not abandon myself.” This is a powerful mantra to live by. It allows us to love ourselves and to love others healthfully. It honors our worthiness.

Entering New Ground

The forgiveness, the grieving, and the transformation bring us to new ground. It means that, now, in our intimate relationships, we must participate differently. We must learn how to be supportive, respectful, encouraging and loving to our partner while we are simultaneously supporting, respecting, encouraging and loving ourselves.

Replacing the Tendency to Abandon Ourselves

In our commitment to “never abandon ourselves no matter what”, we are essentially promising ourselves to learn how to show up differently in intimate relationships.

Instead of hiding and agreeing and accommodating, we will be making requests, expressing our desires and opinions, carving out time in our lives to nurture our dreams and our soul’s voice.

Practice

Like everything else worth learning, replacing our tendency to abandon ourselves with more loving and respectful ways to be in a relationship, requires practice.

As you practice, please remember you will fall backward and forget. You will make mistakes and repeat harmful patterns. But now, you will recognize much earlier that these patterns no longer serve you. They inhibit your growth. They detract from your happiness. They deprive you of deep and abiding love.

To commit to this practice, all you need is the willingness to explore, reflect, be curious about yourself and have a desire to cultivate a deeper understanding of how you tried so hard for so long to survive.

I hope that from this moment forward you will be moving toward love and never abandon yourself again. 

Peace in the Journey,

Jane

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Jane Ryan

Jane Ryan, M.A., LMFT, is a Licensed Couple and Family Therapist with twenty years of clinical experience and a speciality in helping couples navigate the challenges of intimate relationships. Jane also has a sub-specialty of helping couples navigate the relational and sexual effects of breast cancer.