The ending of a relationship is a time when friends, family, and sponsors are needed most –to provide direct emotional support. When someone experiences the loss of a love, they are in a serious emotional crisis. Your willingness to reach out, listen to your friends’ pain, and validate their shattered reality can make a critical difference. (A sponsor is a member of a self-help recovery group who is chosen by a newer member to provide the ‘power of example,’ support, and guidance through the program. Sponsors save lives and promote peace on earth for many.)
Abandonment has a grief cycle all of its own. Left unresolved, it can damage self esteem and interfere in future relationships. Yet society does not recognize abandonment as grief. Unlike when death is involved, abandonment survivors must go through the devastation with their grief shrouded in secrecy and silence. Their loss is consummate, their pain as great as those grieving over a death. But the person they love is not lost to the rest of the world, only to them. They are isolated in their despair. Rather than feel entitled to a period of morning, they feel victimized by having ‘been left.’
Abandonment survivors don’t receive hundreds of bereavement cards or bouquets of flowers. The world looks the other way, not wanting to intrude, not wanting to be reminded of everyone’s worst nightmare. As a friend, you provide a life-line, rescuing them from the full weight of total isolation, loneliness, and panic. As helpless as you may feel watching them suffer, you are helping them just by spending time with them, letting them know they are not alone. Depending on the services available in your community, you might encourage your friend to join an Abandonment support group, or if need be, get to a therapist for professional support. And, of course, guide them to the tools and support of abandonment recovery through the HELP center.
One of the greatest pitfalls for friends and family is the tendency to want to ‘fix it.’ They can’t stand to see their friend in so much pain. They try to make the pain go away. They give advice, trying to put the gravity of their friend’s heartbreak into a positive perspective.
As many sponsors have known, trying to ‘fix it’ or telling your friend ‘not to worry; things will be okay’ can make abandonees feel emotionally dismissed –abandoned all over again. It breaks the line of empathy between you and them. You need to be willing to understand the depth of the hopelessness they are feeling. It’s okay to remind them that hopelessness is a normal part of what they are going through, that it is a feeling, NOT A FACT. But there are no easy answers for such intense pain, and abandonment survivors know it. They face a difficult path and face it alone. Let them know you are with them, and when it comes to advice, let them ask for it. They know when they’re ready for it, and in what area they need it.
Abandonees may blow up at you, no matter how understanding you are. But don’t take it personally and don’t stop giving support. The displaced anger is because they unconsciously want you to substitute for the nurturance they are so desperately missing, and, of course, you can’t. Just pull back from giving advice, and keep laying on empathy and understanding. Intently listening to them and attempting to understand their feelings helps more than the world’s best advice.
There is no time frame for your friend’s grief. Be prepared, for it can go on for a long time. The deep personal injury of abandonment can be a particularly difficult wound to heal. If the grief is truly enduring, guide your friend toward experiences and people who can distract them and help them form new connections to replace some of what is missing, and if need be guide them to professional help.
As friends, family, and sponsors, your role is to bear witness to their pain, validate their experience, support them through the grief process, and guide them to the tools of abandonment recovery. Hope, awareness, and direction are the antidotes to despair. BLACK SWAN’S Twelve Lessons of Abandonment Recovery, the S.W.I.R.L. program, and the AKeRU exercise program are available through the HELP center.