Like the changing seasons, loss comes to all, whether through death, illness, children leaving home, loss of career or money, divorce, miscarriage, infertility, trauma, or even the symbolic losses of identity, innocence, or security. Each primary loss carries secondary losses, such as the loss of relationships, roles, responsibilities, and can leave families struggling under the weight of multiple afflictions.
Trauma refers to any deeply disturbing experience, and automatically includes loss in some form. It doesn’t have to involve immediate threat or physical harm to be traumatic, and it doesn’t even have to happen directly to you or your family. Sudden or unexpected death or divorce can be traumatic. Losing a pregnancy can too. Seeing something horrible happen to someone you care about, or even to a complete stranger, can cause trauma. So can watching devastating events on the news. The same event that causes softer feelings of loss and sadness in one person can be traumatic for someone else; it all depends on the person experiencing it. Trauma creates emotional shock and distress which can be hard to understand and deal with, especially since trauma comes with so many unanswered questions, especially, “Why? Why?”
As mentioned, trauma includes loss, yet not all losses are experienced as traumatic. Traumatic or not, however, every loss carries an emotional burden that must be attended to. The seemingly “bigger” losses, like death and divorce, may be easier to recognize, but all forms of loss take an emotional toll. We may think, “It’s just my job, I can get another one,” or “It’s just an illness and I’ll get better.” While these may be true, it’s also true that we feel something about that loss. Loss can be scary, and we may not always want to know what emotions are lurking inside. We fear pain, knowing that where loss is found grief is not far behind. But stuffing our feelings inside or telling ourselves why we should not feel bad, sad, or mad doesn’t help.
How to Cope With Loss & Trauma
1) Taking a sincere look at life’s losses is an important first step in untangling the complex web that loss can leave behind. Instead of ignoring loss and trauma, or moving quickly past them, we can choose to slow down, sit with each loss, examine it, and grieve it. This allows us to avoid the snare of feeling overburdened by an indistinguishable pile of loss. Examining personal losses can also help us appreciate how one loss can send ripples not only through all areas of our life, but also through all areas of our family.
2) Families who acknowledge and work through trauma and losses together will find healing not only for individual members but for relationships and the family as a whole. Parents can help children identify losses and begin to grieve. Partners can support one another in examining loss and trying to make sense of it. Families can complete a timeline of loss throughout the individual’s or family’s life. This is a powerful way to see the impact loss has had over time.
3) For those who’ve experienced trauma, it’s especially important to have a safe place in which to process the events and grieve them. A close friend, partner, or family member may be able to help. But you will probably find that professional help, like a counselor or therapist, will be very important in having someone who can be with you through the painful emotions of trauma and loss and help you navigate the grief process. (See the “Dealing with Grief” series for more on how to grieve).
4) Examining loss is hard, and we may yearn to take “a vacation from our problems,” as Bob would say (“What About Bob?”). Taking a break can be helpful, especially with multiple losses, but be careful your “break” doesn’t become a lifelong retirement. The emotions of loss don’t just go away. It is better to sink in and examine them now than to find yourself drowning years later in past losses that had no voice.
Break Yourself Open & Heal
As poet Kalil Gibran wrote, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding” (The Prophet). Take a breath and break yourself open, for it is only in examining loss that individuals and families can begin to understand it. And it is only in understanding loss that individuals and families can begin to heal.
Excerpt from Dr. Hibbert’s Upcoming book, This Is How We Grow
For more resources on how to cope with trauma and loss, see my “Dealing with Grief” series.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/square-head-shot1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. Learn and Grow with Dr. Hibbert and her community of really great people![/author_info] [/author]
How has loss affected you or your family? What has helped you better understand and grieve your losses? Leave a comment below.
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