Is it Grief or Trauma?
For the past few years, we have been challenged to become a “trauma informed society”. Why? Because trauma is so prevalent in the current climate of conflict, chaos and fear. I suggest that we go a step further and work toward becoming “a grief and trauma informed society”.
The very good news is that there is so much wonderful information out there! There’s no need to be unaware these days, when so much is available to us. I hope to bring some clarity to the question by offering some fabulous resources and a bit of personal experience, too.
Let’s begin with simple definitions: Grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss. There are all kinds of loss. If you’ve lost someone or something dear to you, then you are experiencing grief.
Trauma is more complex: it is an emotional response to a terrible event. There are 3 major types:
Shock trauma results from feeling overwhelmed by a single event, such as accident, rape, assault, etc.
Developmental trauma refers to events that are so overwhelming to a child that the nervous system cannot mature in an age-appropriate manner; attachment wounds fall into this category;
Intergenerational trauma is transmitted to families and survivors of the Holocaust, for example. Genocides, civil wars, and natural disasters can produce traumatic effects that reverberate for several generations.
Can you be experiencing both grief and trauma at the same time? Absolutely, yes. Take a look at this Venn diagram.
A wonderful trauma resource is the CDC-Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences quiz, known quite simply as the ACEs quiz. I encourage you to take this little quiz – you might be surprised at the result. I know that I was.
The “ACEs” quiz asks a series of 10 questions about common traumatic experiences that occur in early life. Since higher numbers of ACEs often correlate to challenges later in life, the quiz is intended as an indicator of how likely a person might be to face these challenges. This is a useful tool for raising awareness. You can learn more about it and actually take the quiz yourself at this site: https://americanspcc.org/take-the-aces-quiz/
We can safely say that most of us have experienced grief; it’s pretty hard to get through life without some kind of significant loss. On the other hand, it is estimated that seventy percent of us have had a traumatic experience in our life, and that twenty percent of those go on to experience post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). When triggered, the nervous system gets stuck, and we may regress into primal states of fear and not be able to correctly assess the level of threat.
There seems to be a surprising lack of awareness regarding grief and trauma. Most people, when they hear the word “grief”, automatically associate it with death. And further, many of us are unaware of early trauma that has been denied, suppressed and hidden. And I was one of those who was unaware of early childhood trauma. It was deeply hidden and totally unconscious until I was in my 50s. Then it began to unravel.
Years of unraveling, therapy, horrific PTSD episodes and frightening, disturbing dreams moved me stay with it and get to the root of the matter. What I share with you here today are the wondrous resources that are largely free online and have been a lifeline for me, as I hope they will be for you. I have enormous compassion for the human condition and the suffering we endure, and I assure you that there is help and support available to us. The rest of this article focuses on the amazing resources regarding trauma of all kinds.
I recently participated in the Global Summit on Resilience, and The Wisdom of Trauma and Spiritual Growth, both of which hosted all the great experts in the field, and I can tell you for sure that I have been enlightened on the subject of trauma! It’s a joy for me to revisit those events and share some of my notes and their quotes. I encourage you to research this vast ocean of knowledge if you are experiencing trauma or PTSD, and if you are curious to bring understanding and compassion to yourself and those you love.
Let’s begin with Dr. Peter Levine, Founder of Somatic Experience: https://traumahealing.org/ Trauma is a disorder of being able to be fully here now because of a frozen past. “Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathic witness.” A key word here is “disconnection” and it’s all about survival. Trauma informs our lives; it’s almost like an alternative universe. And to make the point about how important this work is, he says, “We must find the peace within before we find peace anywhere.”
Thomas Huebl, Teacher, Author, International Facilitator: https://thomashuebl.com/ Trauma is fixed; it’s frozen – it overshadows life. It goes uncared for and can’t be informed. Unconscious energy is destiny – there’s no free choice. The heaviness of denial is rising – there’s numbness and dissociation, but there’s every possibility to feel it and wake up. Freedom is consciousness! The injury of one is the injury of all; don’t bypass your individual work. Spiritual awakening opens us to readiness to deal with trauma.
Trauma has a signature: ABSENCE
Reveal the absence of light – this is shadow work
Wake up, grow up, clean up, show up
Integrate past experience with the present
Restoration: what caused the trauma?
Truth lights up the rooms in the house
Trauma creates two
Wholeness, light, coherence
No longer separate, but unified!
Dr. Gabor Mate, Addiction and Trauma Expert: https://drgabormate.com/ “Trauma is a psychic wound that hardens you psychologically and then interferes with your ability to grow and develop. It pains you and now you’re acting out of pain. It induces fear and now you’re acting out of fear. Trauma is not what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you as a result of what happened. Trauma is that scarring that makes you less flexible, more rigid, less feeling and more defended.” Trauma is the template for all issues; we have to suffer into truth. These issues are the “hungry ghosts”. Trauma is an epidemic today – maybe a pandemic. We withdraw and isolate because we don’t know what to do with the feelings. And worst of all, we tend to re-enact our worst fear. If the trauma wound is touched, there will most likely be a body memory and possibly a huge reaction.
Dr. Stephen Porges, Founder of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium: https://www.stephenporges.com/ Trauma is the body’s response to chronic threat – you’re not safe. “We don’t want to train to resilience; we want to train to be safe, to acknowledge feelings and the gut.” The nervous system must be re-tuned. Safety is the presence of connection and co-regulation. Self-compassion must be honored in order to optimize who we are. We are not broken! Nothing is wrong! We simply want to have a successful journey in our body.”
Dr. Diane Poole Heller, Somatic Attachment and Trauma Expert: https://dianepooleheller.com/ Trauma is not damaged goods – it’s neglect. Biologically, we have secure attachment as infants – we’re born with it, but for many of us, something went wrong. A baby may learn to expect nothing. Disconnection, isolation and insecure attachment makes us vulnerable to abuse. We can always be moving toward secure attachment. Go to the inner child. What does he/she need? Tolerate the pain – it takes great courage. Own your challenge – challenge it.
Dr. Bessel Vander Kolk, Founder of the Trauma Center: https://www.besselvanderkolk.com/ Resilience is how to face reality and cope without getting high-jacked by emotions. We must learn how to move beyond our early conditioning; otherwise, we fall through the trap door. “Trauma is an inability to inhabit one’s body without being possessed by its defenses and the emotional numbing that shuts down all experience, including pleasure and satisfaction.” To heal trauma, we have to expand our tolerance and awareness, and re-learn how to trust. We have the human capacity to heal, to “become the center of our own stable universe.”
What did I learn from all of these amazing experts?
I’m not alone
Healing is possible
This is a spiritual journey for the brave
Purging, healing, forgiving, and releasing are steep mountains to climb
I can meet trauma with a welcoming embrace and total forgiveness
I can be the center of my own stable universe…..aaaahhhhh!
Dear Reader, take heart. There are many trauma-healing modalities available to us, and body-based approaches are considered more effective than cognitive approaches. They don’t focus on the past, but on present experience. They tap into the trapped trauma energy and help process and integrate it. Our nervous system becomes better regulated and we are no longer at the mercy of old reactive patterns.
Three cheers for being a grief and trauma informed individual! Our first step in creating a better, safer world and a “grief and trauma informed society” begins right where we are. The cure is within. We can do it together.
And, finally, Dear Friends, I understand – grief and trauma are hell to live with. If you are struggling, please do reach out and ask for what you need. Don’t abandon yourself. Claim your power to heal. With my blessings.
I highly recommend these resources re trauma:
The Body Keeps Score, Dr. Bessel Vander Kolk
The Power of Attachment, Diane Poole Heller, PhD.
Somatic Experience, Dr. Peter Levine
*Certified Practitioner of Somatic Experience, Edward Ferrigan , Trauma Release Specialist, https://heal.me/ed-ferrigan-developmental-trauma-release-specialist
May you be at peace,