It’s Narcissist Friday!
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance
The stages of grief
I have often felt that the death of a marriage should be considered as sad as the death of a person. Something alive and wonderful has died, and those who suffer such loss usually go through a kind of grief. In a sense, this is true for any serious relationship. The loss of the support and love of a parent can be a traumatic part of the narcissistic experience. The lack of respect from a boss or a pastor is a serious loss that should be mourned. The betrayal of a friendship can cause great grief.
There are many books and studies written about the stages of grief. We suffer grief whenever we suffer loss. I have told people for years that grief is the process of discovering who you are after that loss. When a relationship dies something important dies. We lose a piece of ourselves that we invested in the relationship. Even when we finally understand there was no real relationship, we lose the value of what we thought we had. It hurts. It is confusing. It is grief.
Loss of a relationship triggers a process that may be a surprise. We know that we go through grief when we lose a loved one. We also go through the stages of grief when we lose a relationship. These stages are normal cultural ways of dealing with dramatic and unwelcome change.
The grief process is complicated somewhat when the relationship dies over time. Even as people drift apart, or begin to see the reality of narcissism, we can begin the grieving process. When the loss is drawn out over months or years, a person will likely still go through these stages. If the relationship struggles through near-death, then reconciliation, then near-death again, a person may experience this cycle of grief more than once. However, if the process takes years, the stages of grief may be hard to identify.
Here’s what I mean. Eunice had some minor red flags before she married Tim. He wanted everything his way, even at the wedding. He could be critical and hurtful in the things he said, but she pushed her concerns away. After all, they were lovers. These things weren’t really that bad. (denial) After they were married, she found him to be even more critical and unkind. She began to wonder if he really loved her. When she asked him, his response was so limited and disappointing that she began thinking of leaving him. She found excuses to avoid intimacy as a way of protesting, but nothing changed. (anger) Her mother told her that a real relationship was 100% the responsibility of both people, so she decided to do things to make him happy. She worked hard to serve him in creative and gracious ways, but still nothing changed. (bargaining) Finally, Eunice gave up. Life seemed to have little meaning. Alcohol was tempting, as were medications, but Eunice chose to sit at home and watch the television. (depression) When Tim came home that day and told her he was leaving, she felt only relief. The marriage had died long ago in her heart. Finally, Eunice was able to move on. (acceptance)
Now that story crudely illustrates how the stages of grief can be processed while the marriage is still going. It seems more obvious when the marriage or relationship suddenly ends. If Tim had simply come home one day to tell Eunice that he had found someone else and was leaving, she may have gone through all of these steps of grief within months. The suddenness of the change makes grief seem more real and reasonable to us. Some people go through grief after job loss or when they have to leave a church. Some experience these steps over a lifetime as they process their narcissistic relationship with a parent.
These steps are real and common enough to be seen as normal. Not everyone experiences them in the same way; some steps go by quickly while others take time. But if you find yourself struggling with these five feelings, don’t be surprised or afraid. It is grief, and grief is normal. You simply have to process what has happened and what it means to your life now.
One more quick note: Depression is a normal part of this process. After the denial, the anger, and the bargaining, the energy has been spent. You are weary, disillusioned, and sad. The hurt has become part of your system. Now, you feel mostly numb. You just want to crawl away. Please don’t take this stage lightly. This can be a dangerous time. Find someone to talk with. Medications can help and can be temporary. Don’t allow your feelings of worthlessness and rejection to take over. Everything that you were, everything that made you feel good about yourself, is still there. The people who support you will say things that are hard for you to feel, things they mean to encourage you. They are right, and you will eventually agree. Just hold on until the depression stage passes. Be careful not to make too many big decisions, especially about new relationships. Just take care of yourself.
Grief is how we get through sudden and negative changes. Narcissism often provides these changes. Your grief is normal, and you will get through it. Just don’t be afraid to accept the help and perspectives of those who care about you.