STAGES OF GRIEF

Stages of Grief and Their Resolve Following Abortion
If you have read the previous articles under this topic of Healing After Abortion, you have some beginning understanding of why these problems, behaviors, and anxieties are happening to you.

Following any trauma, or emotional upheavals, we all engage in what is known as defense mechanisms.

When we use defense mechanisms, and we all do, we use them to keep us safe from further hurt. We also use them to avoid dealing with the event. Defense mechanisms help us to survive the initial emotional trauma. But eventually, and the sooner the better, we need to deal with our hurts so that we can heal from them. Remember, any feelings we bury, we bury alive, so our hurts begin to surface in many areas of our lives. If we do not deal with the pain in our lives, the pain will deal with us!

Grief and its Resolve:

Stage 1: Denial

The first stage of grief, and the first defense mechanism we all employ after an abortion, is denial. Denial has many faces and can take many forms.

Simple denial says “I don’t know why I feel this way; I know I did the best thing for me.” This is really a rationalization, not a truth. We need to see the difference. We don’t normally choose evil/bad/wrong things for ourselves. We must rationalize things that are against our nature and conscious, so we can support our actions as being good even if it was not good.

Denial that sticks around with us for a time takes on even more defense mechanisms.

  • Suppression: We erase any negative thoughts that come to our minds.
  • Minimization: We acknowledge the problem, but not the severity or intensity of it.
  • The Blame Game: Blaming others takes the focus off our responsibility and ourselves.
  • Excusing: We excuse our own behavior to justify our actions.
  • Generalization: We avoid depth of feeling by dealing with pain at a distance, not personally.
  • Attacking: Criticizing others, anger at others involved, but not ourselves.
  • Dodge ball: Changing the subject if someone brings it up!

Denial Resolved

To make your way out of denial, begin to get in touch with how you feel. This can be very difficult as you likely have pushed many feelings down deep. The problem with stuffing one feeling is that you stuff them all.

  • If you have stuffed anger, you also stuff your capacity to love.
  • If you have stuffed shame, you stuffed your hope of being loved by others.
  • If you stuff guilt, you never seem to be able to live above it anyway.

No matter what you have stuffed, you have stuffed it alive, and it lives in spite of all your efforts to make the feelings go away. The best thing you can do to help yourself is to get in touch with how you really feel. Being honest with yourself is the first step toward healing. Get yourself a notebook….start listing what you are feeling each day. Start journaling your responses to events and people. Take a look at all the feelings that are surfacing. You will begin to deal with how you feel about yourself as well as other emotional upheavals. But remember, it is only when you begin to acknowledge your own responsibility in the matter that healing can come and along with healing will come wholeness and peace.

Stage 2: Anger

When denial breaks open, anger is what comes out! And anger can be very overwhelming!

Let’s look deeper into anger for a moment. Let’s define it. We know how it feels, but it will help you to understand what anger is.

Anger is always a demand. Really. Anger is a demand that says, “I need you to hear me; I need to know I am important to you. I have a need that needs to be met; listen to me!” All our anger stems from the fact that somewhere along the line, we have perceived that we were not important to those who we loved the most and whom we thought loved us. At present, if you are dealing with anger, think about where all your anger lies. With whom are you angry? Why? What was the demand that wasn’t met?

Examples: You may feel angry at the doctors and nurses at the abortion clinic who helped you to do this, and who may have acted very coldly toward you. You may feel angry with the father of your child for not protecting you and for not being there for you. You may feel angry with your parents for even suggesting that this would be a good solution. You may feel angry at your friends for talking about abortion as a simple solution, and now they are not around to talk to. You may feel angry with God for allowing you to even get pregnant in the first place. You may feel angry with yourself for listening to others and for going through with the abortion.

In all your anger, remember this:

Do not be afraid of the feelings that are surfacing. One thing needs to be understood about feelings.

FEELINGS ARE NEITHER GOOD OR BAD. THEY JUST ARE. Feelings do not make you a good person or a bad person. Feelings just are. Feelings do exist to tell you where you are in the healing process. Feelings tell you what you need to resolve. Feelings are not there to harm you. Feelings are there to lead you through the healing process.

Anger Resolved

Get out your notebook again and begin to list all the people you are angry with. You may discover that you are angry at other things in your life as well. Was your family life chaotic? Was there abuse? Did you experience a lot of rejection in relationships before you became pregnant? One thing you need to know…..you did not get to abortion overnight. There were other circumstances that led up to that decision. Make a list of everyone with whom you are angry. Then you have a further assignment. Write a letter to the people you are the most angry. Please DO NOT send these letters!!!! These letters are for you to get your anger out and to discover what needs were not met for you.

Remember, anger is a demand…..a demand that requires people to see you as a person of worth. How did these people fail you? Where did they not listen to you? Why are you angry with yourself?

Let me tell you one thing in advance. All the strained relationships involved with your abortion experience will not necessarily be able to be resolved at this time. It would be nice if everyone recognized your pain and apologized to you for his or her part in your abortion. But as we all know, “life happens”, and this is not always the case. You will have to think realistically now. Think about what is a reasonable outcome for each relationship that was damaged. Remember, in the future there may be other opportunities for reconciliation. Everything will come in its time.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Bargaining is an attempt to bypass depression, which is the next phase in grief after bargaining. No one wants to live with depression, so we bargain, each in our own ways. It is an attempt to defend our own ego. We want to preserve a measure of self worth and dignity. We do not want to feel so badly about ourselves, so we naturally attempt to bypass the low points in our healing process.

Examples of bargaining:

  • A "replacement" pregnancy. It is very common for a post-abortive woman to get pregnant within a year of her abortion to compensate for aborting the life of another.
  • Some women and men throw themselves into other good works or become workaholics to “work out” their pain or guilt in a positive manner.
  • Some work excessively hard to become more perfectionistic at their jobs or in their family responsibilities.
  • Some work in the church nursery, or with the Girl Scouts, or with cosmetic companies, or service organizations to feel good about themselves and to help others.
  • Some may have tried to let go of the pain by prematurely giving their baby to God, only to keep “taking it back.” They try to let go but haven’t worked through their pain yet….still trying to avoid it by giving it away to God along with the baby.
    Why do we bargain? Remember, bargaining is all about avoiding depression while at the same time, trying to feel good about ourselves. To avoid all the pain, guilt, shame and sorrow that comes naturally in our grief, we use bargaining to keep our pain at a superficial level.

Bargaining Resolved:

Bargaining for the post-abortive woman can be very intense. Activities, works of helpful service to others, and compensatory pregnancies can be very therapeutic, but they do not make up for the abortion. All activity in the bargaining phase of grief is for the (unconscious) purpose of paying a debt for the sin of abortion, so you can feel better about yourself and avoid the depths of despair you find yourself in because of a choice you now wish you could reverse.

By this point in the grieving process, the full force of the abortion has hit. You feel angry, betrayed, full of sorrow, and depressed. Thoughts of suicide may cross your mind. Life can seem overwhelming, and you think of your baby a lot. But don’t despair and don’t be afraid! This is happening because you have not allowed yourself to feel much of anything before this. It seems like all these feeling rush to the surface all at once. You are a person of worth, no matter what you have done! If you were really the “awful person” you may be telling yourself you are, you wouldn’t be feeling so badly! Think about it. The only reason all this grief is surfacing is because all the integrity within you is also surfacing! That’s why you are suffering from this trauma! When your good values rise to the surface, the bad choices we have made are now seen for what they were-bad choices! So it is time now to admit to yourself what you have done and allow yourself to throughly grieve.

Remember, in grieving it through, the real you will emerge.

  •  A person with value and values.
  • A person who wants to base her life on integrity.
  • A person who wants to break free of anger and unforgiveness.
  • A person who can freely love again and be loved.

So, let all the grief, all the anger, all the unforgiveness, and all the pain and hurt come out because then the real you will begin to emerge and live again!

Stage 4: Depression

Depression is a normal part of the grieving process. It is a time of sorrow over what has occurred and the choices you have made. It is perhaps the hardest part of the grieving cycle following abortion because you have to come to grips with your own actions and behaviors and acknowledge your own responsibility in these matters. The pain in your heart can be overwhelming. You may find yourself with very low self-esteem and with much negative thinking toward yourself. Depression is anger turned inward at yourself-it always results from thoughts that are distorted in some way.

Depression Resolved:

It is wise to continue journaling throughout this time. Each day write down what you are feeling. Notice the triggers that bring out anger, sadness, regret, etc. Really notice how you are feeling toward yourself. Remember, your conscience is awakening to the morals you always knew were true; that is why you are feeling so badly about yourself. What seems so depressing now is actually a blessing in disguise. God is working out all the sin so you can be healed. Trust God and let Him clean you up. You’ll never be sorry. God does love you. You need to believe that because it is true.

As you journal, learn to recognize faulty thinking patterns. Faulty thinking tells you that you are worthless, useless, a failure, unlovable, no good to anyone, stupid, etc. None of these things are true. You feel this way because of the heavy burden of the abortion(s) in your life. But all the mistakes we make all the sins we commit, show us where we are in life, not who we are. They show us where we are can change….we just need to take stock of our lives and decide to make healthy changes. Who you are is wrapped up in all the values that are coming to the surface. It is wrapped up in the fact that God has made you, and He has a plan and purpose for your life. Who you are is not related to what you have done; it is related to who you are in Christ, in God’s sight.

Depression is a healthy part of grief if you recognize it for what it is. It is telling you to grieve and work the issues through completely. Just around the corner is the light at the end of the tunnel, for after depression comes healing of the heart and forgiveness from God if you will turn to Him.

Recognize faulty thinking and challenge your self-critical thoughts. Change falsehoods to truth. Examples:

What are you telling yourself?

  • I am a failure.
  • I can’t do anything right.
  • If people knew I had an abortion, they wouldn’t like me.

What is the truth of the matter?

  • I made a wrong choice, and I own up to that. I desire to change.
  • I am not my past. I will no longer shame myself. I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me. From here on I will trust God.
  • My worth is not dependent upon what I have or have not done. I will not live my life according to what I think people think about me.

Stage 5: Guilt And Shame

Guilt and shame is not a part of every grieving cycle you go through in life, but it is definitely part of the post-abortion experience along with depression.

Guilt is a God-given emotion that lets you know when you have transgressed a value that God has set in his Word. At its worst, unresolved guilt surfaces in such ways as denial and rationalization; it turns people in to a bundle of nerves; it awakens people in the middle of the night; it causes digestive problems, and it causes people to numb themselves emotionally or to take pills, alcohol, or drugs to numb the pain. Guilt also causes spiritual separation with God; it causes problems in relationships; it creates suicidal ideation, and the list goes on.

Shame is not the same thing as guilt. While guilt is God-given and lets you know when you have sinned, shame is an emotion you bring upon yourself that tells you that you are a defective person. Shame usually begins in childhood with perceived messages such as, “You are so stupid,” “You should be ashamed of yourself,” and “You never do anything right.” A woman who has been shamed in childhood, and who now has had an abortion, continues in faulty thinking about herself and sees herself as defective. She now thinks, “No one could love me now. I am so ashamed, I am not worthy of God’s love or of anyone’s love.”

Guilt And Shame Resolved:

Once again, you need to correct faulty thinking patterns, so continue to journal and continue to recognize your patterns of thinking that are not true. This is very important. You were able to have an abortion because of the lies you believed about it. You will continue to believe untruths about yourself if you do not correct these thoughts with truth! Remember that where you are and who you are are two different things. Where you are is changing as your values come to the surface. You can always have a new beginning if you acknowledge sin and accept God’s redemptive work on the cross for you personally. He died for you. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new.”

Guilt is a God-thing. It is God given, and it is God-resolved. At its best, guilt will move you to change your behavior and seek forgiveness from God and others. Guilt has a higher purpose than what you might think. It’s really a tremendous gift. It was given so that we would turn to God when we sin. God is the only one with a remedy for guilt and shame. Counseling helps patch up an old life….but Jesus said, ‘I’ll give you a new one!’ You have not committed the unpardonable sin. Jesus has already paid the price for all your sin. This is something none of us can do on our own. God has provided the remedy for sin. Our job is to acknowledge our sins and to accept the work He has already done on the Cross.

Stages of Healing