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Embracing Grief: Supporting Black Survivors of Domestic Violence

"Grief is a natural response to loss." These words resonate with most of us, as we have all experienced loss in one form or another. But what happens when we're confronted with a Black woman's natural response to the loss of an abusive relationship? Too often, society responds with impatience, judgment, and shame. Join me as I dive into the importance of acknowledging and supporting the grief experienced by Black survivors of domestic violence. We will explore why we should resist the urge to shame them for their natural response and instead offer compassion and resources to help them heal and remain safe.

The Fear of Returning to Abusive Relationships

One of the primary reasons people may be quick to judge or shame Black survivors of domestic violence for their grief is the fear that they will return to their abusive partners. We've seen the danger they were in, many of us have supported them through it, and we worry that if we let them grieve, they may choose to go back. This fear, while well-intentioned, often leads to verbal shaming, isolation, and the withholding of support from survivors.

Understanding the Nature of Loss and Grief

Loss, as a concept, isn't limited to significant events like the death of a loved one. We experience smaller losses daily, from misplacing a favorite item to losing time due to unexpected delays. All these losses trigger physical and emotional responses, including grief. Grief is not just sadness; it can encompass self-blame, loneliness, anger, and desperation.

The Dangerous Consequences of Hidden Grief

Shaming survivors into hiding their grief can have detrimental effects, particularly in the context of domestic violence. When survivors cannot share their emotions with a supportive community, they become vulnerable to abusers who may exploit their emotional turmoil. Abusers often use manipulation tactics, like hoovering (rekindling a relationship), to regain control.

Normalizing Grief and Compassion

In most situations, people understand and sympathize with others' grief. Whether it's losing a cherished possession, a job, or a close friend, we tend to show compassion and support because we can relate to the feelings of loss. However, when it comes to the grief of Black survivors of domestic violence, society takes a different stance. We all know it is natural to miss someone you love, and that is no different for a survivor of domestic violence. The only thing she can’t do that other grieving people can do is act on her feelings. She cannot act on her feelings of missing her abuser because he’s dangerous.

A Call to Action

Statistics are alarming: between 2016 and 2020, 36% of all homicides in Iowa involved Black individuals, with 38% of these being Black women who lost their lives due to domestic violence. Countless others from our community indirectly lost their lives due to factors like suicide, sexually-transmitted illnesses, chronic illnesses, and other deadly conditions.

To address this issue and create a safer community for Black survivors of domestic violence, we must:

  1. Show compassion and support for survivors' natural responses to loss, without judgment or shame. Encourage them to express their true feelings and seek healthy outlets for their grief.

  2. Provide resources to help survivors navigate their grief. The Black therapists in Iowa Directory, available on #BacktheBlack website, is an excellent resource for survivors to find professionals who can assist them in their healing journey.

  3. Acknowledge our own grief and loss if we are supporting survivors. Understand that the image of a "perfect couple" was often an illusion, and it's natural to feel a sense of loss ourselves. Seek support and resources to cope with these feelings.

  4. Provide helpful distractions for grieving survivors. If she reaches out telling you she’s having a difficult time, or you notice a survivor’s grief, invite her to go do something to help provide distraction. Whether it be a trip to the movies, going to get her nails done, or just to come over and spend time together, give her an opportunity to be distracted from her feelings of grief.

Grief is a universal response to loss, and it's time we recognize and honor the grief experienced by Black survivors of domestic violence. By offering compassion, support, and access to resources, we can help #ChangeTheNarrative as we give survivors space to heal and reduce the risk of them returning to abusive relationships. Let's embrace grief as a natural and necessary part of the healing process, not something to be shamed or silenced. Together, we can create a safer and more supportive community for all survivors.

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