The universal reactions to being abandoned were shock, devastation, and disbelief.
The following descriptions, which I call the Catalog of Heartbreak, are in answer to the question, “Do you remember what you thought and felt on hearing the news?”
Below are how abandoned wives responded.
- I felt intense physical pain. I remember my heart beating so hard I thought it was going to burst.
- I felt a real physical sense of being torn apart.
- Absolute shock and disbelief. In fact—I thought it was a movie rehearsal.
- I felt lost.
- It was like someone had stuck a knife into my stomach.
- I immediately got up and went into the bathroom and threw up.
- I felt as though a truck had hit me.
- My life was shattered.
- My eyes cried uncontrollably for a full day.
- I was in a pain fog for months. I hurt so much.
- HURT, HURT, HURT, anger, confusion, longing.
- I started feeling physical pain in my chest, which scared me, thinking that I might be having a heart attack (at 39).
- Heartache—I now know what that is and that heart pain really does exist.
- My heart dropped.
- If he had ripped my arm out, it wouldn’t have hurt as much.
- The very first thing I felt on hearing the news? My heartbreak.
- I felt like someone had hit me in the stomach. I was physically ill and I could not believe my ears! I was absolutely traumatized. My whole body had horrible hives.
- I felt like I was above watching myself receive this awful news; that’s how surreal it was.
- Despair firstly. Fear, doused with times of “out of body–like tolerance.”
- I wanted my life to end right there.
- Devastation like none I had experienced before.
- Devastated, confused and just not understanding.
- I was completely devastated, horrified, disbelieving, felt like I was having a horrible nightmare that couldn’t possibly be true, threw up, sobbed and had a surreal sensation the whole time—that it couldn’t possibly be happening.
- It felt as if he took a large stick and slammed it into my stomach.
- The bottom fell out of my being.
- I felt crushed, steamrollered, and then I felt as if I was falling off a cliff.
- I felt like someone punched me in the gut.
- I had the image of a tube in my chest and that all my energy and capacity for love was draining out of me.
- I had something I never had before, a panic attack, where I totally fell apart and couldn’t breathe.
- I felt like someone had stepped on my chest and emptied my lungs of air. It was horrible.
- I felt that I was watching my life being blown apart.
- My heart hurt, I thought I was going to throw up, I got nervous gut; I thought this couldn’t be happening.
- I was heartbroken. I just can’t describe the feeling. My heart broke.
- I felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach and in fact threw up several times that evening.
- I literally got dizzy and was STUNNED. Everything became foggy.
- I was shattered.
- I felt like he’d plunged a knife in my heart and every word he said turned it.
- I felt like going through the floor while a knife was in my heart; I felt paralyzed.
- Absolute shock and terror.
- I was stunned. I couldn’t think. I felt physically and emotionally paralyzed. I retreated inside myself.
- My heart was broken. I just wanted to die.
- Shock, despair and utter disbelief.
- Traumatized and just raw hurt.
- I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.
- I felt like I had stepped on a landmine. This was so out of the blue. I was in total shock.
- I felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks.
- I thought that I had lost all grip on reality. I felt as if I was thrashing around in a nightmare.
- I had a strange physical sensation—like my brain had been shot with a stun gun.
- I was very confused and numb. My whole world collapsed.
- Disbelief, shock, horror, sick, scared, disbelief!
The German word for dream is traum. A commonly accepted definition of psychological trauma is:
A type of damage to the psyche that occurs as a result of a traumatic event. A traumatic event involves a singular experience or enduring event or events that completely overwhelm the individual’s ability to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience. Trauma can be caused by a wide variety of events, but there are a few common aspects. It usually involves a complete feeling of helplessness in the face of a real or subjective threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity. There is frequently a violation of the person’s familiar ideas about the world, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion and insecurity. This is often seen when people or institutions depended on for survival violate or betray the person in some unforeseen way.
This definition talks about damage to the psyche caused when a person is unable to integrate a sudden change in his or her reality. It specifies that the person feels helpless in the face of a threat and that trauma often occurs as a result of betrayal by someone on whom the person has depended. What could be a better description of Wife Abandonment Syndrome?
It’s surprising to note that none of the women reported their first reaction to be anger. The universal reactions were shock, devastation, and disbelief. Not one said, “I’ll kill him!” which, with the gender reversed, was the first response of some of the handful of abandoned husbands I heard from. Among the women, that rage initially was nowhere to be found. One wrote, “I wish I’d reacted with anger instead of trauma.” The anger does come, but it comes later.
Whether you are healing from abandonment or long past the trauma, I urge you to read, Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal. Not only will you find excellent advice on how to move forward you’ll find a deeper understanding of the psychological process of being abandoned by a spouse.