The Grief Process in Trauma Healing

One crucial topic that often goes unspoken in trauma healing is the complex emotion of grief. It can come in various forms and responses to an unexpected, chronic, or acute event.

As a life and business coach, I am committed to supporting you through your journey towards healing.

In this article, we will delve into the topics of trauma, grief, and the various ways in which you can heal and move forward from a past traumatic event. Finally, we will explore helpful techniques and strategies that can assist you in finding a path towards recovery and a brighter future. 

First, let’s define trauma. This is important because we need to use accurate language so we can resolve our complex feelings around grief.

What is trauma?

“Trauma” is defined as a set of acute or chronic events where a person may be able to discuss their feelings but not the events themselves. Alternatively, they may be able to discuss the events but not their emotions without experiencing intense discomfort or distress.

Moreover, trauma is not just limited to abuse, it includes indirect violence (e.x. watching acts of violence), chronic stress, enmeshment or neglect.

Trauma impacts everyone differently, in different ways. For some people it could be as mind as a brief flashback. For others, it could launch into a full-scale panic attack.

Finding a new normal after trauma 

As a specialist in traumas and addictions who has also been diagnosed and treated for complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I know that trauma-related healing is not easy. 

You may be having a great day at work when an unexpected word, comment, or phrase can ruin your day. However, discussing this issue will help to release its tortuous grip on your body, mind, and soul.

Connecting trauma to grief 

Trauma can lead to grief, and the experience of intense grief can cause various symptoms that resemble those associated with trauma. 

By recognizing this connection, we can work to understand and work through our complex emotions associated with our healing process. Next, we will talk more about grief in greater detail.

What is grief?

Grief is a natural and complex emotional response to the traumatic loss of someone or something significant in a person’s life. It is not just limited to the death of a loved one. Grief can also be triggered by other types of losses, such as the loss of safety and security.

Many of us are grieving the sense of stability and normalcy in our lives that our parents or caregivers should provide. We want them to give us a sense of safety and security. However, because our parents were emotionally disabled, they were unable and unwilling to recognize their failure to provide us with emotional or physical safety.

The universal emotion few discuss 

Grief is an emotion that is often avoided because it can be overwhelming and difficult to manage. 

Unfortunately, neglecting to process and navigate through grief can cause a ripple effect of negative consequences. It can manifest into other emotional and physical health issues, making it essential to acknowledge and address the pain associated with the event. 

Physical symptoms of grief

Below are some physical symptoms related to grief:

  • fatigue or lack or energy 
  • insomnia 
  • body aches and pains (ex – stomach pain and headaches)
  • shallow breath
  • tightness, or heaviness, in your chest or throat
  • oversensitivity to noise
  • an increase or decrease in appetite

 Next, we will discuss the grieving process.

The grieving process

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a distinguished physician and researcher. Her contribution to the scientific understanding of the human experience of grief, particularly in relation to terminally ill patients, has left a lasting impact on the field.

One of her most notable achievements is the creation of the Kubler-Ross model, which outlines the five stages of emotional and psychological response to grief, tragedy, and catastrophic loss.

The stages, as detailed in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying,” are as follows: Shock, Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression, Resignation, and Acceptance. Each of these stages provides insights into the ways in which individuals process and grapple with grief. The image below summarizes the seven stages of grief.

A yellow background with different stages of grief.

The grief process is not static 

Dealing with grief is a challenging experience. Also, it is an ever-evolving process, with no definitive timeline or set of rules that apply to everyone. 

Since the grieving process can be complex, it is essential to understand that there is no fixed timeline or sequence of emotions involved. While the above image may suggest a straightforward flow from one stage to the next, it is essential to acknowledge that grief doesn’t operate in such a simplistic manner. 

Grief comes in different ways 

As mentioned earlier, the grieving process can take on a variety of dimensions, and you may find yourself moving through different emotions in a non-linear fashion. For example, you might experience sadness one day, anger the next, and perhaps revert back to a state of denial. 

Furthermore, some individuals may need to work through their emotions over an extended period, often spanning months or even years. People may also dissociate from themselves or struggle with other symptoms that arise due to past traumatic incidents.

To illustrate how complex the grieving process can be, I would like to share with you a story about how a couple reacted during a moment of shared loss.

Trauma Case #24: An unexpected pregnancy 

Trauma is a widespread issue that affects so many people, and it’s interesting that there’s a common factor that’s often overlooked – unexplored grief. This is what I’ve realized after talking to various survivors. I’d like to illustrate this point further by sharing the story of Jay and Emily (not their real names).

They had a tumultuous relationship for some time, and eventually, Emily fell pregnant.

However, Emily kept her pregnancy a secret from Jay, and later decided to terminate it, which was an extremely traumatic experience for her.

It was only months later that she let Jay know.

Both of them went through an immense amount of heartache and sadness in their own individual ways but weren’t able to grieve properly.

Unfortunately, this kind of disconnection from their feelings often leads to both Emily and Jay feeling shame, isolation, and engaging in self-destructive behavior. In response, Jay turned to substance abuse and isolation, while Emily had sex with strangers in unsafe situations.

Time does not heal all wounds, and it’s important to address the loss that comes with any kind of traumatic experience fully.

This includes loss of a sense of self, of ideals, and of innocence. The journey of healing from trauma requires work on grief, and it’s an essential part of the process. That being said, let’s discuss how you can work through the grieving process.

How to work through the grieving process as a trauma survivor 

Grieving after trauma is complicated, here are some ways to support yourself during the grieving process.

  1. Recognize and acknowledge your grief and trauma.
  2. Seek professional medical help from a trauma informed therapist and/or psychiatrist.
  3. Join survivor support groups. 
  4. Set boundaries with those who are emotionally disabled.
  5. Express your emotions through art, music, talking to a friend, or journaling.
  6. Practice mindfulness and spirituality, grounding techniques, and celebrate even the smallest wins.

Remember that healing is a gradual process, so be patient and gentle with yourself. 

Only do what you’re comfortable with and set boundaries to avoid further emotional distress. Also, healing is an individual journey and finding what works for you is essential.

Final Thoughts

If you have been through a traumatic experience, it is completely normal to feel a sense of grief and sadness that can become overwhelming and cause anxiety in your life.

It is important to know that you do not have to face this difficult time alone, and there are professionals out there who can help you overcome your grief and regain a sense of control in your life. 

Find the support your deserve

Whether you are experiencing grief from a recent event or past trauma, a trauma specialist can provide the expertise and support you need to heal and move forward.

On the other hand, if you have already taken the first step towards healing and need further assistance, I am here to help. Working together, we can create a life structure that works for you. 

If you are interested in learning more about overcoming trauma and creating a better life for yourself, I encourage you to listen to this podcast episode by clicking here or pressing the play button below.