When Grief and Trauma Collide

What happens when grief and trauma collide? What happens if the sudden death is the result of a traumatic event such as an auto accident, fire or flood? What if it was a murder?

Grief involves sadness as the result of a loss, with sadness acting as the primary/dominant emotion. Guilt may be related to unfinished business. The associated symptoms are usually relieved by speaking with others and the passage of time.

Trauma is a physical or emotional wound caused by an outside, violent source that has long-lasting effects. The traumatic event may feel unreal. You may experience feelings of helplessness, anxiety, fear/danger (that the same act may happen again either to you or someone you love), anger towards yourself or others for having survived, and feelings of guilt for having survived or for not being able to prevent the event from occurring (the "I should have, I could have" scenarios that run through your head.)

Whether the sudden death was witnessed or not, whether it was the result of a horrible accident or some other cause, the end result is a combination of grief and trauma but trauma is now the dominant emotion. Unlike grief, if allowed to go unchecked, these feelings can worsen and result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When grief and trauma collide, you must process through the trauma first before you can move on to processing through the grief.

You may have noticed that after a traumatic event has occurred at a school or workplace, trauma/grief counselors are on the site immediately. The hope is to help the individuals avoid experiencing PTSD by addressing their issues immediately. If you have experienced a traumatic event which resulted in a loss, it is important that you discuss it with a trained individual (such as someone trained in cognitive behavioral therapy) and with caring friends to help you process what happened, and the impact it had on you. Hopefully this will resolve the issues associated with the trauma and allow you to focus on dealing with the grief.

Return to Coping With Grief

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