Necessary Losses

Kimberly Tyler Health Guide
  • When my psychiatrist recommended the book Necessary Losses by Judith Viorst, my heart sank. He told me it would be a good book to read as the discord and between me and my parents continues to expand.


    The full title of the book is Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow. First published in 1986, my psychiatrist told me this book is both widely known and respected. Indeed. It is endorsed by both Benjamin Spock, M.D. (the author of The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care [five editions with revisions beginning in 1946]) as well as Rabbi Harold S. Kushner (author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People).

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    The book discusses losses of many kinds: death, divorce and growing older as well as the formation of identity and the cutting of the apron strings by both parents and children alike. For me, the book is a tool meant for continued enlightenment about the loss of parental relationships while they are still living, and the importance of not letting this encumber my recovery.


    As I wrote in an earlier sharepost Stigma within the Family, I realized that in order for me to accept my parents' negative views about PTSD and who I really am, I would need to let go of the illusion that my parents' arms were a place of safety for me.


    At the age of 40, I find that I am taken aback at how deeply this illusion of safety matters to me. Aren't I technically an adult? If I am to truly ask myself why I struggle so with this sense of loss (something I never really had but wanted desperately to believe was true) I needed to start again at the beginning of what I know. From there, I could work to identify what I have yet to attend to and recognize emotionally within myself.


    Four Facts I Currently Know:

    1. I know that as a child, I needed to hold onto this illusion of safety as a survival mechanism. I told myself that the fear I had and the abuse that occurred was solely because I was the bad person. If I blamed myself, then I could continue to view my parents and family as my shelter of safety. This inversion of reality ensured my survival as a child.


    2. I know that the abuse occurred because the abuser was the one who was troubled and in the wrong. I was chosen by the pedophile due to availability and circumstance--not because I deserved it because I was an inherently bad person. I did not fully understand this concept until I was in my late twenties. I allowed myself to be re-victimized over and over because I carried deep within me the idea that I deserved to be abused and used by any one.


    3. I know that recovery from this type of early childhood trauma includes a healthy establishment of my true identity that does not include the false beliefs that I am an inherently bad and worthless person. Undoing the foundation of my sense of self has taken time in therapy. Learning how to love myself has taken years.


    4. My healthy sense of self is what ensures my survival now. Without it, I would still be caught in the victimization trap that only serves to reinforce my negative and unhealthy sense of self. Sustaining my healthy beliefs prevents old patterns of previously instinctive behavior.


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    Three New Facts to Integrate:

    1. Acknowledge that my sense of self is reliable and that my identity is strong, deep, and constant. My parents are my parents. If they are not a place of security or safety for me, I will be okay. My parents' provision of a safety net is no longer needed to ensure my survival.


    2. My parent's view of me and what they believe is my identity need not be mine. If I am unable to "convince them" of who I am today, that is not a failure I need to lay at my own feet.


    3. I created this illusion, and now I need to drop this illusion. My conceived illusion of safety is a delusion. Although this illusion ensured my survival as a child, my continued need for this as an adult undercuts my growth into full personhood.



    Yes, there is a sense of loss to be experienced, no matter what illusion we may hold and no matter whether or not such an illusion is true or was ever true. But if the illusion causes us more grief than the reality, then such illusions need to be investigated for their worth. I have finally understood that my release of this illusion/delusion will foster my continued well-being and recovery. As much as I would like the support of my parents and a genuine and loving relationship with them, this need not be associated with my success in recovery.


    What has weighed heavily on me is my desire to be a good daughter to my parents. I felt it was up to me to make this happen and this would happen only if we were all on the same page. This is not a fact and I need to recognize that. I am a good, kind and decent person who chooses health and recovery. I do not need my parent's stamp of approval for this to hold true.


    One of many important lessons learned from Judith Viorst's book regarding parental relationships with their children in certain circumstances (and on an unconscious level) includes: "The unspoken deal is this: If you will bury the parts I don't like, then I will love you. The unspoken choice is this: Lose yourself or lose me."


    When I first read these lines, I laughed and sobbed at the same time. These written words spoke volumes for me. I do believe that my parents love me and I do believe their regard or view of me to be unconscious (or based in fear or denial). I also believe that because I choose not to bury parts of myself and because I choose not to lose my own identity, the choice for a relationship with my parents is no longer in my domain. I need to let this be a "necessary loss," no matter how much I would prefer a different outcome.

Published On: February 15, 2008