“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” C.S Lewis
Children need security of consistency, affection, love and care to thrive and become self sufficient, adequately attached adults. No matter what your inclination is theory wise, an overwhelming majority of professionals do believe in importance of the early year bonds we as humans need. When these bonds are dysfunctional or absent, a perfect storm simmers. How unfortunate it would be to come to this world and question the reason for being here not because of pure existential concerns but because no one ever made a big deal about you being here?
What happens when some one grows up with feeling unwanted, unloved, uncared for or all of the above? How does it shape them and their relationships? What is it like to live in a perpetual state of being irrelevant? It makes people angry, sad, enraged, anxious, worried, and unsure. But above all it creates deep chasms of grief.
Grief for not having what seems so natural and right to have when we are born. It’s the sort of grief that lies so deep and is so intense that it almost demands to be acknowledged, yet is so intolerable that it’s almost always ignored because how can you grieve something you never had?
But can you grieve not having something at all? Wouldn’t deprivation lead to indulgence but without gratification? Adults with early attachment challenges keep looking for what they never received. Sometimes in form of many dysfunctional relationships, sometimes in substance use and at times in both ways. The early age deprivations drive people to indulge in relationships with people and/or drugs in self destructive ways, yet seldom result in gratification of the lingering need. In clinical practice, emotions like sadness, anxiety or anger are commonly described but hardly anyone ever mentions grief, unless one is dealing with sickness or death. Many people with early attachment trauma remain unaware of their grief and the fear that comes with it.
The grief of early childhood deprivation is immense and scary. It must be very scary to never know what is it like to trust someone fully and feel safe. May be it’s the fear that realizing one’s grief would mean staring the deepest darkest moments of despair in the face, while at the same time acknowledging the hard work that it will take to own it and learn to live with it. Grief isn’t like sadness because sadness fades away but grief never leaves. It etches permanently and it always have fear close by. To live with unprocessed grief is to live with fear that is consuming and unpredictable because the more it is denied, the stronger and scarier it becomes.
Therapy helps grief become relevant to one’s life and be integrated rather than lurking in darkness and creating chaos. Grief is a process, not a state. People in therapy learn to grow with and around their grief, rather than growing in it’s shadows. A good therapist makes the process tolerable and bears witness to their patient’s growth. The process of mourning of what was lost and what it could have been, eventually leads to facing the sun rather than staring at it and getting blinded by it. It’s okay to let the process take the time it demands, even if it means being a little more vulnerable. Because no one becomes stronger, without being a little vulnerable.