Is it trauma?

Graphic of the word trauma.

Is your grief changing?

I’m NOT asking if it’s better.

I’m NOT asking if you’re over it.

I am asking, has your grief changed?

During the first few months of a normal grieving process, it’s likely you have gone through many cycles of feeling better and feeling worse and feeling better and feeling worse again.

Each time will probably feel somewhat different…all different shades of grief. Some days are worse than others. Some aren’t so bad. There may even be some days when you feel more or less okay.

It’s also not unusual for grief to start feeling worse around 3-6 months. All perfectly normal.

If that describes you, in all probability you are doing just fine. You don’t even need to finish reading this post.

For the vast majority of you, the grief you’re experiencing even when it’s really, really hard, is not trauma.

However, if you are feeling exactly the same things and thinking exactly the same things over and over and over again for months on end, you may be experiencing trauma. It’s like the experience of this death has imprinted itself on your psyche to the exclusion of anything else.

Grief and trauma often co-exist and the treatment for trauma isn’t terribly different, but trauma is something that doesn’t always heal without assistance. When what you’re experiencing is trauma, it is imperative that you get help. Talking about the experience sooner rather later can make all the difference in your long term recovery.

There are no hard and fast criteria to help you sort this out, but there are experiences that are more common for trauma.

1. You witnessed the death.
2. The death was violent.
3. The death was accidental.
4. You found the body.
5. Your own life was endangered.

That’s not a complete list but it’s a good start. And now months, and sometimes years, after the death, the images of the event are still running through your mind, over and over and over again. These images are so pervasive that they are the predominant thought, as opposed to thinking about the person who died or even thinking about how much you miss them.

With trauma, the images of the death, and the situation that caused it, are frozen in time, and they don’t change, modify or come and go…and they’re often terrifying.

If any of this is sounding familiar, it’s time to get some professional help. The most effective treatment for trauma is to talk about what happened, and it’s been rather well documented that the sooner that happens the better.

It is not unusual to have people showing up in grief groups who have been traumatized by a death or the circumstances surrounding it. They’re calling it grief when in fact it’s trauma, and they are still feeling the horrific impact years…10, 15, 20 years…later.

That is not normal grief. That’s trauma.



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3 thoughts on “Is it trauma?”

  1. Avatar

    Susan,
    I just recently found your blog and i wanted to reply to this entry. A lot of what you described as grief trama is what i am experiencing. I am nearly two years in my grief journey and i play the entire situation over & over in my mind. They smallest details are so clear its as though it all happened last week. There are only a few blocks of time that are foggy n I know that I was either in shock or on medication to keep me from feeling the horrible pain n not have a breakdown. My PCP calls it PTSD. And from how she explained it to me was its very tramatic n takes a long time to heal from it and could be lifelong. Not very encouraging.
    Your th ok ughts would be welcome.
    Lesa

    1. Susan

      Glad you found your way here Lesa. A consult with a well trained grief counselor would probably be appropriate. Many psychotherapists have a good understanding of grief but many do not. Make sure you talk to someone trained in grief. You can get referrals from your clergy, your local hospice or your funeral director. All generally know where the resources are in your community.

      Hope that helps,

      Susan

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