Coping with Feelings & Trauma when an Abuser Dies

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The death of an abuser can cause numerous emotions, feelings, and memories will emerge, which may be difficult to manage and comprehend.

Should I feel happy?

Often victims of abuse experience happiness in relation to the death of an abuser. This can be the result of feeling relieved that the perpetrator is now unable to cause any further pain or upset. The effects of abuse are deep-rooted, long lasting, and often traumatic; therefore the death of an abuser can be comforting and peaceful. Happiness can come from knowing that you will never come into contact with your abuser again and that they are unable to harm anyone else. When victims of abuse feel happy in relation to the death of an abuser, this emotion can often come hand in hand with feelings of guilt. Society conditions us to feel sadness when an individual dies, however it is completely normal and rational to feel a sense of relief when an abuser dies. This may be a complex emotion to process, especially when you have an emotional or biological relationship with your abuser.

Should I feel sad?

Abusers and victims often have very complex relationships and may be family members, work colleagues, partners, or strangers.

When an abusive spouse dies the complex relationships impact the emotions a victim may experience. For example, when an abusive spouse or family member dies the victim may grieve for the good aspects/personality traits of that individual or for the happy memories they experienced together.

Individuals may also feel sad as they are struggling to comprehend why the abuse ever occurred. Sadness and grief may also be influenced by other family members or mutual friends.

In the situation of child abuse at the hand of a parent or family member the victim can have very strong emotional ties and attachment to their abuser which makes their death extremely difficult to deal with.

Feeling sad following the death of an abuser is normal and there is no shame in experiencing sadness.

Should I feel anything?

Victims of abuse commonly experience feelings of ‘flight or flight’ due to the threat and risk of being abused again. When this threat is suddenly removed, victims are often unable to process their emotions and may feel numb or detached from the death of an abuser.

There is no right or wrong way to feel and everyone will feel different. Abuse carries lots of difficult emotions therefore some victims may feel over-whelmed and not be able to process any emotions.

Victims of abuse may have also found closure and not attach any significant emotions towards their abuse. In this situation a victim may not feel any emotion when an abuser dies as they have already mentally closed this chapter in their life. Emotional numbness often occurs as the victim has not considered the emotions they may experience following the death of an abuser.

Therefore, sometimes emotions that surface after an abuser dies can come as a shock and may take a while to process, accept and deal with.

How should I feel?

The death of an abuser can often be shocking and emotional reactions can be delayed; it is important to process the emotions you are feeling no matter what emotions you experience. You may not feel happy or sad and could experience anger or a numbness towards the situation.

It is important to not compare your emotions and grief to other victims of abuse or any other individual. Any feeling following the death of an abuser is reasonable even if it may feel as though you are being un-reasonable or irrational.

These feelings may include shock, sadness, happiness, anger, anxiety, guilt, or relief. You may also experience a combination of these feelings.

Feelings take time and your emotions could take days, months or even years to surface. There is no pressure to feel any specific emotion, or to feel any emotion at all in relation to the death of an abuser.

How do I grieve?

Grief is very complex, and people do not share a universal experience, everyone has different coping mechanisms.

As previously outlined relationships between victims of abuse and the abuser can be complex which creates complicated grief. Instead of ignoring any feelings which emerge as part of the grieving process, express these feelings to others or write them down.

Speaking to trusted people such as family, friends, therapists, or counsellors about how you feel following the death of an abuser may help when processing over-whelming emotions.

Although you may feel guilty when speaking about the abuse after the death of the perpetrator, it can be very beneficial and bring out calm feelings. External support from trained professionals such as doctors, counsellors or psychiatrists can also guide you through the grieving process along with any unresolved feelings towards the abuse.

Outlets such as exercise and hobbies are also great to temporarily distract the mind and encourages increased motivation and positive thoughts.

My abuser was never brought to justice, can I do anything?

Once an abuser dies the police most commonly do not investigate these allegations of abuse, however they will save them on police databases. In some cases allegations of abuse will be investigated. For example if the police believe that they will uncover other cases of abuse.

It is not always possible to get legal justice once an abuser has died but it may be possible to claim compensation which can provide a sense of justice to a victim of abuse.

The death of an abuser has no influence in relation to claiming compensation for criminal injury and domestic violence.

If a victim of abuse meets all the criteria to gain compensation it can provide recognition and validation which may have never been obtained within the criminal justice system.

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