What I missed

Since I’ve been on the topic of how we work through our grief for that which we did not have, I thought I would share some particulars losses I ran into and what was underneath them. As I’ve worked my way through therapy and uncovered the feelings I had buried so long, I also uncovered losses I had not been able to admit, let alone grieve. This is a very personal list. I expect that some of this will resonate with other people and some of it will be not true for them or seem like a significant loss. These are mine, what I needed to mourn, and I again offer the disclaimer that not everyone will need to do this the way I did. But I am hoping by being more specific about some of the issues I faced, that the process might be more understandable, even if my reasons to mourn do not resonate with you.

Loss of Safe Nurturing Touch

Before I begin in this one, I want to state again that I do not think there is ANYTHING wrong with using touch in therapy, such as holding, hugging, holding a hand, etc. as long as it is appropriate and not sexual in nature. Many therapists incorporate touch into their practice; some, like somatic therapists, focus on it. Touch is a very powerful part of being human and as such can be very comforting and healing. My first therapist would hold my hand when processing really difficult traumatic memories, especially when I was deeply struggling not to dissociate. She would also hug me at the end of sessions if I asked. So I want to be completely clear that when I speak of how important it was for BN to withhold touch, I believe it was true for me, but would not be for everyone. Because I was sexually abused by my father, and was sexually attracted to BN (go figure! ha! :D), I think it was very important for me that VERY clear boundaries were maintained. Please do not read this as a blanket condemnation of touch in therapy. OK, now that we have that out of the way… 🙂

I’m going to start with one that I have often spoke of here; the issue of touch in therapy. This was a very difficult issue for me because it hinged on BN having to hold a boundary he strongly believed in, in order for me to face my loss, that of safe, nurturing touch.

One of the things with which I had to really grapple was my sense of responsibility for the sexual abuse. I would move closer to my father because of the healthy desire for physical closeness and wanting to be held and be safe. And it would start that way, at least for me, but would lead to my boundaries being overrun and my being used to meet my father’s needs, not have mine met. This manifested in my relationship with BN by my wanting a hug. That is such a bland description; what I wanted was for him to cross that unfathomable divide between our two chairs and hold me tightly while I cried my heart out. I wrestled with asking him about a hug for a long time (around a year and a half). We shake hands at the end of every session so there is physical contact. That contact was very important because on some level I used to believe I was so repulsive (more on that later) that no one would want to touch me. But there had never been anything beyond that. I finally got up the nerve to ask BN about getting a hug.

I made sure to ask at the beginning of the session, because I was pretty sure the answer would be no. And it was. A very gentle, caring no. BN felt that there was too much potential harm versus not enough potential benefit in a hug to risk it. He has an across the board policy about hugs with his patients, one of his few. I agreed with his explanations when we discussed it. Wasn’t happy about it mind you, but his reasoning made sense to me. And as difficult as it was, not getting a hug from him turned out to be a good thing for me. Because NOT getting a hug from him left me to face the pain of not getting a safe hug from my father.

It was incredibly painful to let myself realize that I kept seeking out a safe embrace that was about my good, only to be betrayed again and again. When I was a child, I couldn’t let myself remember that, because there was nowhere else to go. I had needs that had to be met and so I had to keep my father “good” so I couldn’t admit his embrace was never safe. If you can’t admit a loss, you can’t grieve it. I can have safe embraces now from many people in my life (not BN unfortunately :D) but I will never have had that safe place in childhood which I deserved. A loss necessary to mourn.

We returned to this issue a number of times, the most passionate being a session where I was railing at BN (translation: bordering on screaming) about his damn detachment and his boundaries, that I was in pain and I just didn’t care and I didn’t want to hear it was for my good. He asked me what I did want. For once, I was angry enough to be honest as well as having learned that it really was safe to express how I actually felt. So I told him that I wanted him to get out of his f***ing chair and come over and hold me and tell me everything would be alright. And he gently told me that it wouldn’t help; the pain would still be there. To which I responded that sometimes I really wished he would just f***ing lie to me (have I mentioned my language gets REALLY bad when I’m upset. :D) It felt really good to just let that burst out; I had been wanting to say it for so long. He was incredibly understanding about it and why I would feel that way and how I had every right to be that angry about it. His meeting me with understanding created a safe place to mourn it.

Loss of feeling special and cherished

Another loss was the right to feel special and cherished. The truth is that every child has a right when very young to feel like they are incredibly important and special and cherished. That the universe DOES revolve around them. That someone is totally focused on us and our needs and meeting them. I hated BN’s boundaries and struggled with him having other clients because I wanted him to myself. If I couldn’t have him to myself, I at least wanted to be special and more important to him than his other clients. But the hard truth is that I’m not (or if I am, I’ll never know that from him). I told him that I had to face that while our relationship is very deep and very real (both of which I wholeheartedly believe) he did not offer me anything different from what he would offer to anyone who came through his door. Not being able to be special to him made me realize the loss of not having that as a child. Being the center of the universe without having to attend to the other’s needs is the behavior of a child and not appropriate for an adult relationship. Therapy is as close as we can come in that the relationship is focused solely on our needs BUT the specialness and importance isn’t there. We don’t get them 24/7. So I can’t have that. Another loss I mourned. Again BN was able to hear my feelings and confirm how appropriate they were. (Funny aside: when we discussed this he talked about the fact that everyone had to eventually face moving away from their family and the fact that they’re not quite as special to other people. So I very ruefully asked him if I had busted my butt just so I could have NORMAL problems? We both got a good laugh out of that one.)

Loss of Protection

Another loss I grappled with was the longing for someone to come and stop the abuse. I got so angry at BN at times, and even hated him, for not making it not have happened. If he really cared, he would be able to reach back through time and make the abuse disappear, right? Realizing I felt that way made me remember how badly I wanted my mother to see what was going on and make it stop. That never happened. Basically the abuse stopped because my parents divorced and my dad disappeared out of my life. The cessation was a side affect, albeit a good one, of my abandonment by my father. No one can go back in time and change the fact that no one ever saved me from the abuse. Another loss to mourn.

This loss was added to by the my aunt’s revelation to my mother that my father had been found in a compromising position with a child but no one told my mother. It was bad enough to know that my mother had stayed oblivious, but to know that another adult had reason to be at least concerned, but didn’t do anything was just devastating (not to mention enraging). It was like ripping off the lid and reliving the loss all over again. I was very grateful for how steady and affirming BN was while I dealt with learning about that.

Loss of Peace

Living in fear, that was a biggie. I experienced so much fear with BN. Fear he would abandon me, fear he wouldn’t like me, fear he would realize how terrible I really was, fear I was too needy, fear I said too much, fear I didn’t say enough, fear that my feelings for him would overwhelm him or be highly unwelcome. In trying to understand these fears, I finally came to realize that I had ALWAYS lived in fear. Fear of hurt, fear of abandonment, fear of closeness, you name it. No matter what I was doing, or feeling, or experiencing, it happened in an atmosphere of fear. I told BN that it felt like fear was in the air I breathed and the food I ate, that it was somehow embedded in my DNA, When I realized that, I looked at BN and said, “it’s sounds crazy but I think I’m scared not to be scared. I’m not sure who I’ll be without the fear.” He told me I deserved to find out. As I thought back through my life, I realized that so many major decisions had been based on the fear of being injured or hurt or moving too close. If I had not experienced that level of fear, what would those decisions had been? How differently would my life have turned out if I had NOT been scared? When BN and I talked about it, I told him that this was a really difficult loss, because there was no way to know WHAT I had lost. Maybe my life would have turned out the same way, but I couldn’t know that. He told me I couldn’t but at the least, I wouldn’t have had to have been so scared all the time. So I grieved for what might have been and even the knowledge that I could not know that for which I was mourning.

Loss of Confidence

Another huge issue was my sense of attractiveness (still working through this one when it comes to physical attractiveness, honestly). One of the worst memories I dug up was finally remembering that I had NEVER felt attractive because my father told me I wasn’t, that there was never any hope of my being attractive. He used this to convince me I had nowhere else to go, ever, to get even the poor semblance of love and care and affection he gave me. I have healed enough that I can now see myself as attractive in some ways, but I lost so many years of not believing it or even believing it was OK to want to be attractive or take pride in my good qualities. And it was incredibly painful to realize that it was something my father took away from me instead of affirming it the way a father should.

There is more, but I think that’s enough of a sampling to show you what I mean. I am so very, very grateful that BN stayed with me through all of this and could hear how I was feeling about him in such a way that I could follow the trail of my feelings back to these losses. As I have allowed myself to realize and admit and mourn these losses, I have been able to heal from them. There are scars and I will always carry these losses, but they have lost their power over me. I am no longer trying to get these things which are now impossible to get. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced and I would blame absolutely NO ONE for not wanting to go through it. And honestly, I don’t believe I could have faced it without my highly skilled therapist and the support of both some cherished friends and my loving family, as well as the wonderfully supportive folks at Psychcafe forum. The pain got so bad at times I didn’t think I could bear it (pain doesn’t kill us, we just wish it would :D), but I did and found out there was far side to despair and that the grief and loss wouldn’t destroy me. And it was worth it. I would do it over again (although I am infinitely grateful I don’t have to.)

One last thing. There is a very important distinction to remember as we work through our losses, which is to recognize that there is NOTHING wrong with having these longings. Just because the answer has to be no for some of what we want, does not mean there is anything wrong with asking. These are legitimate needs that should have been met and our wanting to have those needs met does not make us needy, demanding, pathetic or damaged. All healthy, normal children long for these things.

I know this will sound strange, but there was also a relief in mourning. I could finally stop trying to convince myself that it was my needs which were the problem. There were MY losses and MY feelings of grief and it was a release to be able to finally express and own them.

  1. Gel
    February 1, 2013 at 1:03 am

    This is a great post and well written! I am also feeling grief over losses in my life. And it seems like some of the most important work for healing at a deep level.

    You wrote:

    “I know this will sound strange, but there was also a relief in mourning.”

    It is not at all strange to me, to feel relief in mourning. To me it is actually very painful to not mourn when there is something really painful. The physical embodied part of mourning is very healing and a relief. But sometimes it’s the beliefs – the mistaken beliefs – that are more painful….like believing that I was the problem, or that I am ‘bad’ for actions others did.

    Thanks for sharing this, for sharing stuff that is deeply personal. It is really helpful to me – the way you can articulate your process.


    • February 1, 2013 at 1:32 am

      Gel, while I learning to grieve I can see how the wrong belief systems can have a greater impact. Mine run into every facet of who I am.


    • February 1, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      Thanks Gel, I am glad the post helped. I am also glad you understood what I meant about feeling relieved. I agree that the mistaken beliefs are very painful, they are what we have to fight through in order to see clearly and heal. I found that using my feelings about BN to better understand my behavioral patterns and thinking also served to bring the most erroneous and deep seated of my beliefs out into the open. I often did not realize that they were beliefs I held until I said them out loud. But it was when I heard them, when they were spoken, that they lost their power, because they were so obviously wrong, a fact often reinforced by BN. ~ AG


  2. February 1, 2013 at 1:28 am

    Just reading through these gives me that ache right down in the pit of my stomach. I think it is grief. I am unable to cry and struggle a lot with these feelings rising up without being able to express them. I can understand all of these areas of loss. I can also understand the constant fear, although I went through a stage where I had developed facade that looked a bit like arrogance/over confidence. It was just another barrier due to fear of people seeing me and rejecting me. It had me fooled that I was okay for a few years and couldn’t figure out why my inside and outside didn’t match. I am struggling with allowing the grief to come forward and I think it may be due to me not being ‘allowed’ to access my anger. One step at a time though.


    • February 1, 2013 at 10:47 pm

      I often experience grief as an ache, although it tends to settle in my chest. It is difficult to learn to express it, especially if expressing our feelings got us into trouble or if becoming aware of the feelings was too threatening. There were times with BN when I was learning to allow myself to have my feelings that I would literally describe what was happening physically and BN would say to me “that feeling is anger” or “that is sadness.” He helped me through that developmental step of learning ot identify and express my feelings that I had never been able to do.

      Your description of the inside and outside not matching is a very powerful one. Because we had to split off the parts of our experience which were too overwhelming, we can end up with a sense of their being this facade of adult behavior covering over our “real” self which feels very lost and overwhelmed. One of the most surprising things I found out was that the adult exterior was NOT a facade, it was the part of me that had grown up. But trauma had arrested other parts of me. That was the split. The cure was to go back and hear those parts of myself, and learn from them and integrate them, as well as own the competent parts of myself and realize that actually it was all me, one coherent consistent self, who was capable of all different emotions which come and go, including feeling little and overwhelmed OR competent and confident. Wholeness does come in time. ~ AG


      • February 2, 2013 at 12:30 am

        That is really interesting, AG. I had never looked at the differences in that way. It makes a lot of sense. I am very capable to do a task when required and the vulnerability is usually pushed away when in the company of acquaintances. There is no conscious thought or decision to do this, it just happens. There are very few times where these lines are crossed because of my inherent (and possibly ‘trained’) natured to be the strong dependable one. My sister is the exact opposite of me and it has been interesting to talk about these things.


  3. anonymously
    February 2, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I could relate to very many of the losses you wrote about: safety, protection, and yes, living, breathing, and eating fear. It sometimes seems as if I have lived most of my life in a fear laybrynth or minefield, where every step had to be carefully chosen…or sometimes if I found a spot I knew wouldn’t explode, I’d just sit there, no matter how bad or inadequate it was otherwise. I’m sorry you had to live that way, but glad you’ve had the courage to face it and the combination of BN’s carefully considered boundaries (a way he expresses his love for you) and presentness in your confronting those things has helped you to stay with the process, throughout what I know was unimaginable pain and terror.

    One need I have just recently been confronted with (held inside a CP) was a very strong need to GIVE love and affection. My parents were unaffectionate and unsafe (albeit in different ways than you describe, there was real terror from younger than I realized). But, for at least one part, the worst of it wasn’t not having loving touch or having their love communicated, but we realized very young that all the affection and care we felt for others had nowhere to go, because the people we were born to were not capable of receiving it without confusing reactions which made it seem that being cared about by us was quite possibly the most painful, shameful, loathesome experience ever, like it was a curse.

    So, when this CP (well, she used to be the outside me, I guess, from a time I barely remember outside of stories I’ve heard) finally found someone who seemed to be able to receive and appreciate her gift, it turned out that he (mother’s boyfriend) had other things in mind. So, our love of others became something that hurts/scares people, pushes them away into abandoning us, or turns them into monsters, makes them do painful, shameful things. Unfortunately, I had enough experiences as an adult to reaffirm this idea that it is basically a rule.

    So, although this CP has bravely told T about her feelings of care for him, expressed them in many ways, no matter what, she thinks they will either feel bad to him or turn him bad (like his honestly caring back is some sort of rule we made him break). And while growth will allow us to learn that a very many people will celebrate and be blessed by the gift of being loved by (an integrated) me in the future, nothing can change decades of living in a false reality where my love was a curse, remove the rules that kept me so isolated. I can practice it in therapy, seeing it doesn’t kill my wonderful T to be loved, but…I can’t keep it there forever. That’s not something I get to have. That love has a place in the larger world, in the context of many relationships that I’ll have to risk, to conquer fear, to break out of my maze.


    • February 4, 2013 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Non,
      Good to hear from you! Wow, I so understand that need to be able to safely love, we actually did a lot of work around that. One of the first gifts I ever gave BN (and definitely the most major) was a counted cross stitch of my own design. I gave it to him with a card listing all the things I needed to thank him for. I really appreciated both how moved he was and how gracious he was about accepting it. One of the things I said to him when we (inevitably :)) discussed what it meant to me to do this for him was that learning to regulate my emotions, meant the “good” ones as well as the difficult ones. That expressing joy, happiness and gratitude had to be learned as well as learning to speak of my anger and hurt. I have also on a rare handful of occasions actually told BN that I love him, sometimes spoken, once written and its always scary. I have again been grateful for his very graceful acceptance of my feelings. I was actually kind of shocked to find that there was a part of me, very young, that was SO eager to express love and have it be accepted. I am much better now at expressing it to other people in my life because it doesn’t feel so scary or threatening to express those feelings anymore. ~ AG


  4. February 4, 2013 at 5:23 am

    I’m a college student who has been in counseling since December 2010. I get overly attached to people (I call it “suckerfish”). My first counselor graduated in may 2011. My second counselor graduated in May 2012. Luke graduating is a loss to me. I have to block him on Facebook, otherwise my inner five year old gets her hopes up and thinks Luke is coming back.

    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months and I really appreciate it.


    • February 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      Hi Elizabeth,
      Welcome to my blog and thank you for commenting! I appreciate the kind words. I have no idea of your background or financial situation, but if you are struggling with attachment injuries, I think it would be really helpful to find a therapist to work with who will NOT be moving on in the short term. Moving closer to someone and then having them leave BEFORE you are done working through this issues may just be adding to and reinforcing the belief that moving closer to someone is dangerous and only gets you hurt. I know all relationships eventually end and therapy under more artificial circumstances than most, but when trying to “earn” a secure attachment (earn in the sense of having to work to trust it, not to have to deserve it, deserving it is a given) I think it is important to be able to depend on the person staying through the process. ~ AG

      PS If you haven’t read it yet, you might find Disorganized Attachment or Why You Think You’re Crazy But Really Aren’t helpful.


  5. liz
    February 4, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    It’s good to see you write in the past tense 🙂


  6. February 8, 2013 at 3:23 am

    I love this list, and this idea. I think my list would be very similar, but I probably should write one. Thanks for sharing and encouraging me. Christine


    • February 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      I would really like to see your list Christine, I know I found writing this out really helpful. I am very glad that you found encouragement in it, thanks for taking the time to say so. ~ AG


  7. GreenEyes
    March 6, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Hey AG, hope you’re not working too hard! I am very much struggling with the idea of never having a family of older and wiser beings around me. This is something that I had hoped for growing up and it actually helped me to push through times when I simply wanted to give up. But now I can see that beyond the family i’m creating with my husband, i’m never going to have warm, stable and supportive family and I feel like i’ve been tossed back into childhood and adolescence again having to be so self sufficient and feeling alone, unwanted and like I don’t belong to a greater group and i’m not valued in a family circle. At the moment I’m raging at my T because I want to be part of his family and I get so angry when he tries to get me to focus on my feelings because he’s not the one living with a crap family. I’m so frustrated, I don’t know what to do because I’m so damn sick of grieving and having to accept I can’t have things most normal people have and then have it rubbed in my face. 😦


    • March 7, 2013 at 9:05 pm

      Hi Greeneyes,
      You’d have to define “too hard” 🙂 Its been a tough week, 10-12 hour days and of course, I came down with a head cold on Monday, so a few of the days were accompanied with sneezing, sniffing and aches. BUT, I am feeling like I am on the other side of it and the work is starting to feel like I have some faint hope of making my deadline. We’re also going to visit our daughter at college this weekend (trip’s been planned for a long time and I didn’t want to cancel) so I get my first full weekend off in a month!! Yea!!!!

      GE, there is a solution of sorts but you’re not ready for it. Not having that greater group as a child is very real and painful loss, one which deserves grieving and being able to rage about. You are in the midst of recognizing that loss and being angry about it. So much so that knowing someone else might have that (and not let you into it, to boot, is infuriating). You need to express all of this feelings, as much and as long as you need to. You’ve been carrying these feelings for a long time and they deserve to be expressed and heard.

      That said, I guarantee that you are idealizing your T’s family (BN told me I was doing that to his family once, when I was struggling with the same feelings). Everyone is human, no one is perfect and all families have their problems. I do not say that to minimize what you’ve been through. There are better families out there and you are reasonable to be angry and sad you didn’t have one. Just highlighting that there isn’t some perfect, problem free ideal existance out there for ANYONE.

      Once you have worked through the anger and grief, its possible to look up and understand that though you did not have the family circle in the past, does not mean going forward you have to remain without that kind of support. Part of learning to move closer to our Ts is about learning to move closer to everyone. So you can go out and look for warm, stable, supportive people and form bonds with them. We have a family that was our next door neighbors for 20 years (we moved but only four blocks away). Their kids babysit ours and our families have become so close that we spend every Thanksgiving together (“all of the warmth of family and none of the dysfunction” is our motto :D). I also know that I can depend on them if we need help. The husband was a used car dealer for a time and helps us shop whenever we need a new “used” car. I do all their computer stuff. We’ve borrowed tomato sauce, picnic tables and a shoulder to cry on through the years. They’re family, even if there are no blood ties.

      One of the most difficult things about facing childhood loss, when we run up against the fact that we can NOT go back and get what we missed, is that the loss is so overwhelming that we stand there, totally lost, unable to see that there is any way to move beyond this. If we can’t fix it, if we can’t have it, how do we move beyond this pain? BN talked to me about this more times than I can count, and recently I finally had the visceral experience in the moment of realizing that I may not have had something but that doesn’t mean I cannot go out and find what I need NOW as an adult and that part of that is finding people who are willing to meet my needs as I will be willing to meet theirs. So what you have won’t look exactly like what SOME other people have, but it will be yours and something that you can love and cherish.



  8. GreenEyes
    March 7, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    Wishing you better very soon AG

    I have no doubt I’m idealising my T’s family. There’s been some huge dramas in my husbands family this week that has thrown this issue to the centre of my attention. I agree there are no perfect and problem free families but there’s certainly a spectrum and both my and my husbands family seem to be down the really dysfunctional, abusive, narcissistic end.

    I’m tired of grieving, feeling sad, angry, rageful and that there is so much unfairness, much of which is not my doing. It seems endless and I am missing out on living and enjoying my life. I have enough past losses to contend with, so when losses anchored to the present emerge, throw my hands up and think what’s the point?? Your comment about being in the midst of overwhelm and not seeing a way through resonated very strongly with me.

    And I suppose I’m scared I will never find people who can and want to meet my needs.m

    Thanks for your reply in the middle of a busy and sniffly time for you xxx


  9. Ms. Sharkey
    March 12, 2013 at 6:14 pm


    I’ve had this post sitting open in a browser window for weeks now, waiting until I felt ready to respond. It took me a long time to be able to respond this post because it brought up such strong feelings in me. My heart aches for everything you lost, because I lost many of the same things. On one hand, I already knew, and know, what my losses are, but to see it spelled out so clearly is both painful and affirming. I’m working through all of this with my therapist, and I know that the only way out is through. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.


  10. March 13, 2013 at 10:07 am

    (((Ms. Sharkey)))
    I am sorry that this was so painful that it took weeks to even be able to respond. Thank you for your grief on my behalf, I am sorry that you understand it so well. I am glad to hear that along with the pain. there was also affirmation. This is a difficult, demanding, painful road to walk, I wish it didn’t hurt so much as well. Just know that this grief will heal you in the long run; I do not believe that what you are going through is in vain. I hope you find peace soon. ~AG


    • Ms. Sharkey
      March 24, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      Thanks. 🙂 In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, my parents landed in my basement for a week’s stay just a few days after you left this comment. There was a fire in the building where they rent an apartment. Luckily, they weren’t there when it happened, but they had no place to stay, so my husband and I put them up in our basement until their insurance company found them a hotel to stay in. It was a whirlwind week of massive amounts of laundry and cooking and cleaning and helping them look up insurance info and feeling sorry for them and being immensely triggered by having them in my personal space. I think my therapist and I are going to spend weeks unpacking this.


  11. Justina
    March 9, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Hi, I found this article really validating on the losses that survivors of child abuse and/or child neglect face.

    Click to access Bloom%20The%20grief%20that%20dare%20not%20speak%20its%20name.pdf


  12. March 9, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Welcome to my blog and thank you so much for that link! I also found it extremely validating (as well as a difficult read as I am deeply into very early grief work right now.) I think it’s an important article for anyone healing from trauma to read, so I will probably talk about in one of my posts. I’m also planning on sending it to BN, I hope you’ll be sticking around! ~ AG


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