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trauma

Grief And Trauma: Understanding The Stages Of Emotional Recovery

When you experience a traumatic event, the world around you may seem to crumble and fall apart. Are you left wondering how to put your world back together again? In this period of uncertainty, it is easy for feelings of sadness and anxiety to set in about what may happen next.

Learning how to process grief during Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) recovery is a crucial element in healing. Reducing the intense internal response to loss can begin with quelling anxiety about sadness and uncertainty. Symptoms of PTSD are a result of trauma or severe stress.

Working with a mental health professional can help you manage grief, trauma, and move through the stages of emotional recovery. Traumatic loss does not need to be overwhelming or debilitating, you can get help managing the symptoms. 

What Is A Traumatic Loss?

Traumatic loss is characterized as a traumatic reaction to an event such as an unexpected death, accident, or violence. A traumatic event may also include expected events such as the death of a loved one from a chronic illness. Emotions caused by traumatic loss may include separation anxiety, disbelief, or a sense of emptiness. 

Due to the nature of a traumatic event, it may be difficult for a person to move through the typical stages of emotional recovery. 

How Is Trauma-Related To Grief?

Traumatic grief is a combination of bereavement and PTSD symptoms that occur when an individual loses someone significant in their life. Symptoms of grief and trauma include: 

  • Preoccupation with the lost person
  • Hypervigilance for signs they are still around
  • Desire to be reunited with them despite knowing they’re gone
  • Difficulty moving on from this loss (future feeling hopeless)
  • Anger towards others or oneself 
  • Social difficulties due to extreme grief

Studies have reviewed traumatic loss among different groups and found symptoms generally fall into two categories. The first is separation distress, a preoccupation of thoughts and feelings associated with the deceased. The second is traumatic distress, which includes feelings of distrust and withdrawal from others. 

For example, young adults who lose a friend to suicide may experience separation distress symptoms such as preoccupation with thoughts of their lost loved one and longing for them. They might also feel traumatic distress including anger towards themselves or the deceased person’s family members as well as disbelief in God and trust issues.

What Are The Stages Of Emotional Recovery?

  1. Grief and denial 
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance 

The First Stage: Grief And Denial

Grief is an intense emotion that is caused by suffering a loss. Denial is a typical human reaction that occurs as a defense mechanism against experiences that are difficult to accept. Before learning to accept grief you will generally deny the loss. 

Thoughts like “This can’t be happening to me”, and “That couldn’t have happened”, are very common. However, denial will slowly give way to the realization of the situation. That’s when individuals move on to the second stage. 

The Second Stage: Anger

During the anger stage, people ask themselves “Why me?” They feel angry over their loss. This feeling exists for anyone close to the deceased. 

Anger is a common feeling during grief. You might feel anger at the person for causing pain, though you know they are not to blame. Anger is also connected with stages of isolation. Dealing with loss may cause an individual to disconnect from their support system. However,  expressing emotions such as anger allows one to reconnect and learn to cope with intense feelings.

The Third Stage: Bargaining

Bargaining is a way to try and hold on to hope in an intense situation of pain. You may be willing to do anything to return to your life before the loss. During this internal negotiation, guilt could be accompanying as there maybe thoughts like “if only”, or “what if.”

These thoughts and feelings are normal and expected during this stage. As difficult as these emotions may be, they will help you heal as you are confronting the reality of the loss. 

The Fourth Stage Of Emotional Recovery: Depression

The most obvious sign of grief and trauma is depression. Unlike other stages of emotional recovery, this stage comes with intense sadness and despair that can feel like a never-ending tunnel without the light at the end. It’s important to remember that this response is completely natural given the loss experienced. 

It’s understandable to question why you should continue when your world has been turned upside down. However, there will come a time where things get better. As intense as this feeling maybe it’s important to remember that it is part of your journey in healing. 

The Fifth Stage Of Emotional Recovery: Acceptance

Reaching acceptance does not mean you will forget about your loved one or no longer experience sadness over your loss. You’ve also learned when to reach out emotionally during difficult periods as needed.

When you are experiencing grief, it is normal to feel like there’s no end in sight. You might have times when you accept the loss and then later go back into a stage of denial or anger. This is a natural part of the process. 

Grief And Trauma: Recognizing The Symptoms Of Traumatic Loss

Severe symptoms related to loss are indications that the individual is suffering from something more than typical bereavement. It’s estimated that 10-15% of bereaved individuals are suffering from a traumatic loss. 

Traumatic loss symptoms can be extremely difficult to manage without professional help. Symptoms may last for several years and vary based on each individual. These symptoms can interfere with a person’s normal day-to-day functioning. That’s why it’s important to recognize symptoms and seek help immediately. 

Get Help Moving Through The Stages Of Emotional Recovery 

Lido Wellness Center offers therapeutic solutions that can help you or your loved one work through traumatic loss. To recover from loss, it’s important to be able to move through the stages of emotional recovery. Our mental health professionals understand how grief and trauma relate and can help overcome the challenges it prevents.

Contact us today to learn more about our mental health solutions. We can help you cope with pain or death, as well as teach you to reconnect with activities and relationships that are supportive and enjoyable.

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