Grief and Loss


There are issues of grief and loss confronting the bereaved that are different from those confronting abandonment survivors. When a loved one dies, we are forced to face our own mortality. Death is absolute, irreversible and final: the yearning to be reunited with our loved one is fraught with a sense of complete hopelessness and despair. We are so afraid of death, and the idea that we’ll never see them again is so incomprehensible and terrible that we initially go into shock. The brain produces opioids (natural painkillers) which may account for the numbing that grievers report. This numbing helps the bereaved survive the initial trauma and for some, can create interludes of respite from intense pain.

Those who have been left by a loved one also report shock and numbing as part of grief and loss but there are differences. Abandonment survivors are not confronted with mortality but rather with the anger and devastation of being left. While they are often numb to life going on around them while juggling grief and loss , they rarely report being numb to the pain of rejection. Instead, they feel unremitting pain. This pain apparently overrides the pain-numbing effect of the body’s opioids.


Anger is common to both types of grief and loss. Many experience the death of a loved one as a form of abandonment and openly express their anger over being left behind. Those who have been abandoned are also angry, but for many, the grievance is real. Your loved one voluntarily pulled away. There may also be an element of self blame which adds to the internalising rejection. To compound matters, your lost partner may be oblivious to the grief and loss and pain you feel. Often while you are still suffering through the worst of it, your lost partner has already moved on to a new life or perhaps a new lover. So even though your relationship is lost to both of you, the one who was left carries a far greater burden of emotional pain than the one who did the leaving. Anger turned against yourself accounts for the intense depression associated with abandonment. It is one of the hallmarks associated with the grief and loss cycle.


When a loved one dies, the loss is absolutely final. Denial actually helps to ease the person into acceptance. With abandonment, denial is more complicated. Since your loved one is still alive, you can make contact causing more grief and loss.. In some cases, there might be the possibility for reconciliation. Abandonment survivors’ denial then, can be fuelled by realistic possibility. This creates a more active and tenacious kind of searching for the lost object. This difference does not make abandonment more or less painful than other types of grief, but it means that abandonment survivors may remain in denial and postpone closure, sometimes indefinitely with continued internalising rejection..


In grieving over a death, the mourner gets to keep the love of the person who has died, cherishing it, perhaps even feeling comforted by and in it. In contrast, when a loved one chooses to end a relationship, the love we once felt has been love taken away – perhaps to be given to someone else. It is an ambiguous loss. Love loss and rejection are special kinds of pain that affect your core beliefs about yourself.

One of the goals of abandonment recovery is to recognize this process as a legitimate type of grief. It is a grief that has two faces. One is common to all grief; everyone feels loss. The other – the narcissistic injury – sets it apart.


One of the primary tasks for all types of mourners is to accept the pain of loss. Even the bleakest moments of despair are a universal experience. We all have come to terms with loss at one time or another. The death of a partner or a partner’s decision to leave both remind us of life’s impermanence. Nothing, after all, can stay the same forever. All human beings are part of this transience of life. In the end, you must let go of all attachments; everyone must pass on. Accepting necessary losses is an important, though difficult, part of life. Remember that the pain of loss is a natural part of what it means to be human. The real work of grief is to accept this pain.


You can attempt what the widow cannot – to get your lost partner to return. The bereaved can only hope to rejoin their loved one on a spiritual plane. Accepting that their loved one is physically gone is a terrible challenge. Many grievers seek out spiritual; mediums in an attempt to visit the other side, where they hope to make contact. For abandonment survivors, the process of closure – of letting go of a relationship - when your lost partner is still alive is that much more difficult.

Sogyal Rinpoche , in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, quotes Buddha as saying:

What is born will dieWhat has been gathered will be dispersedWhat has been accumulated will be exhaustedWhat has been built up will collapseAnd what has been high will be brought low,The only thing we really have is nowness, now.

For many, recognising the transience of all things helps them deal with their own loss. For abandonment survivors, there is still that narcissistic injury to contend with – the invisible would of self-injury.

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