When someone loses a loved one to death it is recognized that the person will go through a grieving process that is considered acceptable by family and society. Not only is it accepted but there are rituals to assist the person in mourning the loss and family and friends provide support and companionship at various levels after the death of the loved one.
Unfortunately the grief that one feels after trauma or the end of an abusive relationship is often not recognized and validated for the one who has experienced the trauma. In fact, the person who has experienced the loss may not even recognize the grief and loss involved until she has begun the healing process.
Significant traumatic events, particularly interpersonal trauma, extreme physical trauma, and the trauma of war, change the life of person who has experienced it. The change can actually create a new life in which the person feels the loss of who he or she might have been. In the loss of a relationship, even one in which the person was abused, she may be mourning the loss of the relationship she was hoping to have rather than the actual one she no longer has. This grief is rarely recognized or addressed, even though many of the feelings occurring post-trauma can be traced back to grief.
Validation of this loss can provide an opportunity for the person to begin to recognize what she may be feeling. I have heard people rebel against being called a “victim” or a “survivor” because they did not like the new identity and instead wanted to go back to who they were. This anger is a part of the grieving process.
In order to assist a person through this process it may be helpful to ask about personal and culturally appropriate rituals that are used to help and spend some time talking about the loss. After this loss has been recognized the person may then be willing to look at who they have become since the trauma and the strength and resilience that they carry that has helped them get through both the trauma and the loss.