Depression | Anger | Grief | Guilt | Shame | Spiritual Injury
If you are depressed, you may not be suicidal, but your life may be full of suffering. You may feel worthless and hopeless, and you may get no pleasure from the activities you used to enjoy.
However, if you are having suicidal thoughts or have a plan to kill yourself, you must get help right now. If there is a 24 hour crisis hotline in your community, call it right now. And link to this excellent page about suicide and read it. You should also find a counselor who can see you immediately or go to a hospital emergency room and tell them you are suicidal.
Depression is an illness of the body. It changes the biochemistry of your brain. If you are depressed, your judgment, thinking, memory, concentration, and insight can all be badly disrupted.
I stress the point about depression being an illness because there is still a powerful myth in our culture that people who are depressed are just being lazy, or feeling sorry for themselves, or trying to get attention. None of these is true. There are many ways psychotherapists treat depression. The important thing to know is that depression is treatable, and you can feel better.
There is much more information about depression in "Peace After Abortion".
Anger and depression are often related. Some theories say that depression is anger turned inward. Anger is unacceptable in some families. If this was the case in your family, you may have learned to submerge your anger and you may be more susceptible to depression now.
Leah suffered from depression which was at least partly related to submerged anger. Another woman might find herself lashing out angrily at those close to her. If she is not usually like this it may be confusing and frightening, but she may have no idea that these angry feelings are associated with her abortion.
You may find that when you are aware of feeling angry, you don't feel depressed. Practice getting angry at someone or something that isn't close at hand, and see if you feel more energized and less depressed. Of course, you can't stomp around all day in a rage, but it helps to really have the physical experience of feeling the depression vanish as you get angry.
Deep sadness, intense longing for the one you have lost, confusion, emptiness, anxiety, anger, sleeplessness, and poor concentration all are common symptoms of grief. Rebecca's story illustrates the varied and complex feelings and meanings which may be involved in grief.
Grief is a complex and often confusing set of emotions frequently misunderstood and disallowed in our culture. We expect people who are grief-stricken to keep it to themselves and "get over it." We don't want to hear or see that they are still sad or angry or anxious, six months or a year or two years after the death of a loved one.
Grief comes and goes in waves. At first the waves are very close together and intense. As you work through the process of your grief, the waves become less intense and get further apart. Each time you become acutely aware of having had the abortion, you may have a renewed sense of anxiety, sadness, rage, or longing for whatever you are grieving. Experiencing these feelings over and over gives you repeated opportunities to mourn. Only through allowing yourself to mourn will you heal the grief you feel.
There are exercises you can do to work through your grief in "Peace After Abortion".
Guilt is the most common negative emotional response to abortion. Guilt is the deep-in-your-gut feeling of having done something wrong. It is an emotion, a feeling in your body. You are especially likely to feel guilty when you have done something that harms someone else. This harm might be physical, emotional, or spiritual.
You might believe you have harmed yourself, the baby, your partner, your parents. Manuela believed she had harmed her husband because she had difficulty conceiving a child and she had lied to him.
You don't need to be punished for whatever aspect of the abortion has made you feel guilty--guilt is its own punishment. Some people believe that their religious tradition demands that they be punished for harming another or themselves. Most religious traditions actually stay away from punishment and only require a sincere request for forgiveness and some reasonable act of atonement. Atonement is an action you can take to put yourself right with your own moral code, or to put you in harmony with God, or the natural order of things.
There is a chapter on "Self-Forgiveness, Ritual, and Atonement" in "Peace After Abortion" to help you resolve guilt feelings.
Shame feels close to, but is different from guilt. While guilt is about feeling that you have hurt someone, or have broken a rule, shame is about feeling inferior. Guilt involves some action that you took. Shame involves feelings about yourself. Shame has many faces. Embarrassment, humiliation, self-consciousness, self-disgust, stigma, and mortification are the most common.
For those women who have shame after an abortion, humiliation is often the form of shame they experience. Stigma is the other common shame experience for women who have had an abortion. Althea experienced acute, overwhelming feelings of stigmatization after her abortion.
Even though abortion has been legal in the United States for almost thirty years, the stigma attached to it has not decreased. Some women who have had an abortion feel secretly marked or tainted, as thought they had a blemish of character that others would be repelled by if they knew about it.
Spiritual injury is not about religion. It is about the spiritual conflict abortion can throw you into even if you hadn't thought of yourself as a spiritual person. In my clients' experience, spiritual injury is the seemingly unfixable separation of themselves from what is "most essential to their sense of self." This can be God, or it can be a less defined sense of their own goodness.
Some women feel this separation as an inability to participate in the life of their church. Many Catholic women I have seen have felt unable to go to confession or receive communion after an abortion. For years, Manuela felt that God was punishing her for having had an abortion.
Non-religious women suffering spiritual injury may feel they can't connect in a meaningful way with the most important people in their lives, or with essential and valued aspects of themselves. June became disconnected from her sense of herself as a caring, nurturing woman.
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