Natalie D’Annibale, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, tells SurvivorNet that grief is a complex emotion.
“Reconciliation within interpersonal relationships may or may not benefit the survivor at the time of a family member’s or former friend’s passing,” she says.
She explains that it is normal to experience feelings of remorse or regret if the survivor had caused emotional (or physical) harm to the person who died, particularly if apologies were not extended to and/or apologies were not accepted by the deceased.
“Conversely, there might be a great relief following the passing of someone who has caused great harm to the survivor,” she explains. “If the person who abused you in life by way of emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse passes away, there can be great relief and finality at the time of their death.”
D’Annibale says that a loved one with a long-term illness may create “compassion fatigue.” At the time of passing, “there is relief that the loved one is no longer in pain and that their responsibilities have lessened.” The variables involved include the type of relationship, the ages of the parties, the length of their relationship, the years out of communication, and the willingness to accept responsibility, are all additional factors to consider in how one might feel surviving the loss of another.
“Most importantly, would be for the survivor to take the time to explore and understand the stages of grief. Those would include shock and denial, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression and ultimately acceptance,” she says. “It is quite common to experience the stages repeatedly during the first year of loss. Reminders, holidays, birthdays, special events, etc., will continue to trigger the survivor and may reengage memories that are either positive or negative of the person who died.”
Finding a licensed therapist who specializes in grief and loss as well as grief and loss support groups is most beneficial for the individual survivor to explore their feelings.
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Updated: May 16
The Trauma Bond
Trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome, in which people held captive come to have feelings of trust or even affection for the very people who captured and held them against their will. This type of survival strategy can also occur in a relationship. It is called trauma bonding, and it can occur when a person is in a relationship with a narcissist.
Within a trauma bond, the narcissist's partner—who often has codependency issues—first feels loved and cared for. However, this begins to erode over time, and the emotional, mental, and sometimes physical abuse takes over the relationship.
The codependent understands the change, but not why it is occurring. They believe they just need to understand what they are doing wrong in order to bring back the loving part of the relationship.
If they do manage to break free, all the narcissist has to do is go back to that courtship phase to win them back. The more the codependent reaches out to the narcissist for love, recognition, and approval, the more the trauma bond is strengthened. This also means the codependent will stay in the relationship when the abuse escalates, creating a destructive cycle.
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