The Trauma Dance: Grieving the Loss of a Harmful Parent

Sometimes, when you lose a parent, you lose a best friend.
Sometimes, you lose a stable force in your life, and it’s like losing the leg of a chair when they’re gone.
You have to figure out how to get through life a little wobbly without that support.

But, for others, you’ve spent a lifetime doing a dance of trauma.
Some days were calm and quiet, but they were never consistent.
You couldn’t allow yourself to get lulled by the peace of it because, at any time, rage could descend upon you.
And if it was just this dance of peace, rage, blame, and destruction, you could weather it, and grow accustomed to it, and put on a smile for everyone, and pretend it didn’t affect you.

But the dance was insidious and slowly and gently crept into your other relationships.
Because this parent who was supposed to encourage and support and love you had their own internal dance of horror from long ago trauma, and the only way they knew how to contain that horror was to set out and get allies.
The problem was you, the offspring, were no longer an ally because you dared to set a boundary.

This meant you endured years of a slow drip of destruction.
To your face, you were told you were loved, but behind your back, your parent slowly and methodically sowed seeds of doubt about you to those you care about.

You learn of lies and half-truths told about you and wonder why people now look at you askew.
You’ll doubt yourself at times and quietly wish someone would have defended you.
But your enigmatic parent was an expert at deceit.
It was once a coping mechanism for their own trauma and continued to work in their favor at your demise.

This dance has enemies hidden in plain sight.
You speak what you know and base your life on facts.
Those connected with both you and your parent often can’t make sense of that.
They’ve already been clouded and influenced and look confused when you speak.
Then you know the dance has caught them up, too.

Your world grew more quiet as your parent gained more allies.
You wonder how a parent could set out to destroy their own child.
To destroy their relationships.

When that parent leaves this earth, it’s bittersweet.
There was always a longing that the dance would stop and the parent would choose love over destruction.
That day never arrived and there is grief in that.

But there is also now peace.
Blessed peace.

No longer trying to decipher hidden messages.
No more pitting others against you.
No longer wondering who now believes lies about you.
No more trying to outdance the destroyer.
And no more secret rage reserved just for you.

A deep breath can be taken without looking over your shoulder.

Yes, the lies will linger.
Some people will return to you, and some will not.
The dance continues inside you, trying to decipher what is real after so many years of deception.
And others will be figuring out the same.
But the source is gone.
And peace creeps into your bones.

So, as others grieve a healthy loss, those in the dance understand their loss was never having experienced the true parent.
And are now learning to breathe in a space of peace.
Learning to be free to be who they are without punishment.
Learning to be.

There was always a longing that the dance would stop and
the parent would choose love over destruction.

If you’ve experienced the loss of a damaging parent, I hope this resonates with you and gives you a sense that you’re not alone in these feelings. Losing a parent is tough, period. Losing a damaging, destructive, or abusive parent adds a completely different dimension. There’s shame over feeling a sense of relief. There’s sadness over never experiencing the hoped-for parent, and there’s isolation because others don’t seem to understand the lifelong trauma. If you haven’t experienced it, I hope it gives you a sense of the unique pain someone experiences when they lose a damaging parent.


If you would like to learn about processing complex grief, there are many resources at grief.com. If you would like to learn about how to set boundaries with family members, you can learn more here.


Disclaimer: The posts on my page are for informational and educational purposes only. They are not a replacement for a mental health diagnosis or treatment. This is not medical advice. Accessing this content does not imply that a therapist-patient relationship has been formed.

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