Traumatic Grief: Definition, Symptoms And How To Overcome It

Death and grief are events from which we cannot escape Although painful, the cycle of life requires us to live through these stages, overcome them and adapt to life again as best we can.

The problem is that, contrary to popular belief, time does not heal everything nor are all deaths equal. The closeness of the bond with the deceased, the situation in which the death occurs, external support and the personality traits of the mourner (one who loses a close being) are some of the variables that influence resolution or stagnation. of the duel.

    What is traumatic grief?

    Traumatic duels are those that occur with the death of one or more people in a surprising situation, unexpected and unjust, such as attacks, terrorism, murders, natural disasters or accidents, among others, are possibly those with the worst prognosis, along with the death of a child, which has been considered one of the worst losses that a human being can experience. That is why I want to talk not only about death and grief, but especially about this type of trauma that is so unfair and difficult to overcome.

    Not only does death hurt, we must pay special attention to post-traumatic stress:

    When we talk about traumas of any type, psychologists turn on the Post-Traumatic Stress alert in our brain that the sufferer may be suffering from: re-experiencing what happened, nightmares, avoidance of stimuli that remind us of the event, dissociative states, anxiety attacks, insomnia, hypervigilance… When there is this type of symptomatology, the grief becomes complicated and can stagnate in one of its phases.

    Painful emotions: shame and guilt

    In grief it is normal to feel anger and sadness, is totally adaptive and necessary to get used to a new reality without the deceased person. But feeling guilt and shame can be the beginning of unresolved grief. Guilt is usually felt for not being the ones who died, along with repetitive and obsessive thoughts about “what if…” or “I would have to…” (what if I had not gotten on the train / and if I had not insisted on come / I shouldn’t have told him this or that, I should have helped him take care of himself, I should have paid more attention to him…).

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    Shame arises before the society that continues its life, for being “different” or for not wanting to show our feelings in public. Both emotions can block the resolution of the loss, not only on a mental level, but also on a sensorimotor (body) level, leaving non-conscious memories in the body that block the grieving process.


    Another emotion that can make it difficult to resolve grief is hatred, especially if it is due to an accident, a terrorist act or a murder. Hatred towards those who commit injustice blocks progress in the phases of grief, leaving the person anchored in the past and, along with it, in pain.

    What can be done to overcome death?

    To say that a person has overcome the death of a loved one, they must come to accept the loss Griefs usually have a series of non-linear phases (although they normally occur sequentially), but it is common for there to be setbacks or a mixture of emotions. For didactic reasons, I will present them in series: denial, anger, sadness, negotiation and acceptance.

      1. Denial of reality

      The first of them is, as the name itself indicates, denying reality, not believing what happened. This occurs because the high emotional impact of the loss would be unbearable on a conscious level, so our mind uses this defense to cushion the blow of the news, at least momentarily.

      2. Anger, sadness and negotiation

      Then it would lead to anger, followed by sadness and negotiation (negotiating the new present reality with life, beginning to assume the person in the past, seeing the new way of living, etc.) to finally end up accepting that already nothing is like before.

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      As I said, the phases can mix with each other, this is normal, what is pathological or worrying is staying stuck in one of the phases, such as the person who years later continues preparing the table for the deceased as if he were still among them. us (this would be a denial of reality).

      3. Acceptance and hope to continue living

      In order to overcome a loss we have to take an active role as agents of our own mental change to be able to go from pain to hope for life.

      Therapy: processes that help us overcome severe grief

      This is why psychologists like to talk more about “activities” of grief instead of phases or stages. If you feel the pain of a loss, follow the following tips:

      1. Express pain

      Being positive is good and can help you grieve, but death, at least in our culture, hurts It is essential to express the emotions that do not give us pleasure, these are anger, pain, guilt, sadness, loneliness… So that we free the mind and body from containing them without expressing them. To overcome an emotion, we must give ourselves the right to recognize it, name it, feel it and live it. Only in this way will it pass. Find a place and a time to remember the deceased, to feel the lack of him, to mourn his absence. It hurts, but it heals.

      2. The pendulum

      It is true that negative emotions must be expressed, but we must continue living life. That is why we must do the pendulum exercise, where we go from a state of sadness to another of vitality. We should neither stay at one extreme nor the opposite. You have to mourn death but also continue enjoying (as best you can in the first moments) the good things. Many people feel that they do not have the right to feel emotions such as joy or relief, but if they arise, they must be experienced.

      Death brings us ambivalence and mental conflicts, accept them and experience them, as in the previous point, is the first step to overcome them. Don’t judge yourself, just feel.

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      3. The tribute and support

      Paying homage to the deceased helps to realize that what happened is a fact That is why, in major catastrophes or murders, we see how tributes are made at a social level. The same thing happens at funerals or wakes, they are places that help us come to terms with what happened. You can also make a more private tribute, in solitude, but let’s remember that, although we feel like being alone, trusted people are a help to move forward.

      4. Make a coherent narrative of what happened

      The human brain needs to understand and it does so through stories, metaphors and tales That is why in order to overcome what happened we must give it meaning and create a coherent story. Talking about it, looking for explanations, putting the facts together, formulating a narrative that brings together the past, traumatic events, happy events and the future, helps to overcome what happened. It can even be written in the form of a short novel.

      The key is not only to remember the negative, but also the entire story, with the good memories and the bad, so as not to idealize the deceased or dwell on the moment of their death (or burial, wake, etc.).

      5. Adapt to the new life

      Assuming that the other person is gone includes assuming that there are roles that no one will do anymore or that must be assumed by other people, that our lives are going to change because someone has to do what the deceased did. You also have to assume internal changes, growth and losses duels of future expectations and past memories.

      6. Goodbye is not oblivion

      We must say goodbye to the deceased, but not by forgetting him, but by putting him back in our lives in some way We must find ways to carry the person who is gone within us while continuing to live and move forward. Memory can produce nostalgia, but each person who passes through our lives leaves us a sign, a lesson. Realizing this helps to respect his life, his death and the memory of him.

      7. EMDR therapy, sensorimotor therapy and hypnosis

      Especially in traumatic grief it is important to go to therapy If you see that even if you do all of the above, you are not able to overcome the loss of your loved one, it may be time to ask a professional for help. EMDR, sensorimotor therapy and hypnosis are proven techniques that will help you overcome your pain. Ask your trusted psychologist.