Traumatic Grief: 4 Tips Towards Healing
Updated: Feb 20, 2019
Traumatic grief is more than just mourning a loss. Traumatic grief is developed when Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) originates through grief. PTSD symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, inability to sleep, inability to function at home, school, work, and/or socially. PTSD may cause an individual to avoid certain people, places, or thoughts. You may experience intense physical reactions or be startled easily. Generally, an individual who is experiencing traumatic grief may have difficulty trusting others and may rarely feel a sense of safety.
Traumatic grief is not only associated with the death of a loved one. Traumatic grief may develop with any sudden, unexpected loss, death, divorce, incarceration, or any form of disconnection, or may have developed based on the closeness or complexity of the lost or disconnected relationship.
Traumatic grief impacts an individual on a deep emotional level and can leave the individual feeling paralyzed with either an inability or extreme difficulty engaging with the real world. The individual with traumatic grief may experience the same stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; however the traumatized individual may have difficulty moving on from a particular stage or avoids facing any feelings associated with grief due to prolonged avoidance and/or emotional numbing.
Often an individual experiencing traumatic grief feels a sense of personal responsibility for the loss with high levels of guilt and shame. The individual may not see themselves as worthy of getting better, living a normal life, or moving on.
Nothing will automatically take away your pain. There is no quick fix. Healing from traumatic grief is a journey.
Here are 4 Tips towards healing, if you feel you may be experiencing traumatic grief.
#1) Don’t isolate. Push yourself to be around others, especially people who care about you. It’s ok to lean on someone else. It’s ok to feel weak and to need help. Isolation can also perpetuate depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and many other unhealthy symptoms. It’s typical to feel an urge to escape or to hide from the world; however just because you have that inclination does not mean it is the best choice for you.
#2) Talk about it. It may be extremely painful to talk about your grief. Sometimes feeling pain is the beginning of healing. Talk about it with safe people who will listen to you and not judge you. Find a grief group to confide. A popular grief group is GriefShare. Social support is key to navigating through all forms of grief. Talk about the good memories you had with the deceased. Talk about your feelings of guilt, shame, resentment, anger, etc. It’s ok to feel. Feeling is part of the human experience. It’s not abnormal to feel. It’s actually probably very normal to feel the intensity of negative emotions you may feel given the circumstances that you have gone through.
#3) Feel your feelings. Do not be afraid of your negative feelings or internal pain. Identify what you are feeling and where in your body you are feeling it. Identify as many sensations or symptoms as you can. Your body is designed to feel these deep feelings as a way of processing the traumatic event. Let yourself feel. Some people have told me that they are scared of feeling deep negativity because they aren’t sure they will ever be able to get out of it, are afraid of how they might act, or may even feel like they will die. I want to encourage you that although these thoughts can be normal, they are not factual. In fact, repressing your negative emotions may prolong the pain and could cause behavioral reactions that are out of your control such as irritability, anger, rage, crying, worrying uncontrollably, and more. One thing I know to be true. No one has ever died from feeling too much. It’s ok to give these feelings the time and space they need to help you process the traumatic event that you have experienced.
#4) Get professional help. Traumatic grief is extremely complex and individuals who feel they may be experiencing this type of grief should seek out a mental health professional. Again, it’s ok to need help. In fact, most mental health professionals say the reason they started in the field was “to help people.” Although that answer may be considered cliché, the answer is generally true. There are many professionals that have honed their skill for people just like you. You’re the reason they do what they do. Let them.