9 Traumatic Grief Symptoms and Counseling Approaches

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Introduction


Traumatic grief encompasses the profound and often debilitating emotional response that follows a loss perceived as shocking, sudden, or violent.

This type of grief transcends the bounds of typical mourning processes, embedding itself deeply within the psyche and manifesting through a spectrum of intense symptoms that can disrupt daily functioning and quality of life.

As individuals grapple with the aftermath of such losses, the role of specialized counseling approaches becomes paramount.

These therapeutic strategies aim to address the unique challenges presented by traumatic grief, offering a pathway for individuals to process their pain, mitigate the grip of overwhelming emotions, and gradually rebuild a sense of stability and hope in their lives. 


Grief & Loss Therapists in Colorado

Barbra Styles, LPC, LAC

Barbra Styles, LPC, LAC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Randal Thomas, SWC

Randal Thomas, SWC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Katie (Kate) Castillo, MS, LPCC

Katie (Kate) Castillo, MS, LPCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Laura Brinkman, MA, LPCC

Laura Brinkman, MA, LPCC

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Deja Howard, MSW, SWC

Deja Howard, MSW, SWC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Janelle Wagenknecht, MA, LPCC, ADDC

Janelle Wagenknecht, MA, LPCC, ADDC

Colorado
(720) 710-0919
Sarah Lawler, LPC

Sarah Lawler, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 203-7021
Sierra Brown, SWC

Sierra Brown, SWC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Joshua Goldberg, LPCC

Joshua Goldberg, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Julia Rosales, MA, LPCC

Julia Rosales, MA, LPCC

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121

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1. Shock and Disbelief


Shock and disbelief frequently serve as the initial reactions to traumatic loss, functioning as an emotional cushion that temporarily protects individuals from the full brunt of their grief.

This phase is characterized by a sense of numbness, where individuals may feel detached from their surroundings, almost as if they are experiencing everything from a distance.

This disbelief acts as a temporary defense mechanism, giving the person's emotional system time to slowly adapt to the painful truth of their situation.

During this delicate period, individuals often benefit from the support of friends, family, or professionals, even if they appear outwardly calm or indifferent due to their numbed state.

Encouraging them to express their feelings in their own time can be beneficial, as can providing a consistent presence that reassures them of their safety and the support network around them. 


2. Overwhelming Sadness


Overwhelming sadness is a core component of traumatic grief, characterized by profound sorrow and an intense longing for the deceased.

The depth of this sorrow can feel all-consuming, making everyday activities and responsibilities feel insurmountable.

It's not uncommon for people in the midst of such grief to experience moments where the pain feels so acute that it's hard to imagine ever finding joy or peace again.

Common physical symptoms include fatigue, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and a general sense of being unwell. 

Some may experience more pronounced reactions, such as shortness of breath, a tightness in the chest, or even physical pain that mirrors the emotional pain they're enduring. 


3. Guilt and Regret


This aspect of grief involves tormenting oneself with thoughts about actions not taken or words not said before the loss occurred.

These feelings of guilt and regret can be incredibly isolating, as individuals might believe others would judge them harshly if they knew the extent of their perceived failings.

Coping with self-blame requires a compassionate approach, both from within and from external support systems.

One effective strategy is the practice of self-compassion, which involves treating oneself with the same kindness and understanding one would offer a good friend in a similar situation.

Writing letters to oneself or to the deceased can also provide an outlet for expressing these feelings of guilt and regret, allowing for a form of release and a way to say the unsaid.

Additionally, seeking the support of a therapist or a support group can provide a safe space to voice these feelings and gain perspective. 


4. Anger and Bitterness


Anger and bitterness can emerge as potent emotions in the wake of traumatic grief, often catching individuals by surprise with their intensity.

These feelings can be directed at a wide range of targets - the circumstances leading to the loss, healthcare professionals, oneself, or even the person who died.

Expressing anger in healthy ways is vital to processing grief and moving toward healing.

Physical activity, such as running, yoga, or hitting a punching bag, can be an effective outlet for releasing pent-up anger, transforming it from a potentially harmful force into a source of personal strength and resilience.

Creative expression through art, music, or writing also offers a constructive means to articulate the complex emotions associated with anger and bitterness. 


5. Anxiety and Fear


The sudden or traumatic nature of a loved one's death can shatter the assumption that the world is a predictable and safe place, leaving survivors feeling vulnerable and anxious about the future.

This anxiety may manifest in constant worries over the well-being of other loved ones, fears about one's own mortality, or a pervasive sense of dread about facing life without the deceased.

To manage anxiety in the wake of traumatic grief, several strategies can be effective.

Regular physical activity is known to reduce stress and anxiety levels, helping to alleviate some of the physical symptoms associated with these emotions.

Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness can also play a crucial role in calming the mind and bringing one's focus back to the present moment, away from distressing thoughts about the past or future.

Additionally, establishing a routine can provide a sense of normalcy and control, creating a framework of stability in a time of chaos. 


6. Feeling Detached


Feeling detached, a common symptom in the aftermath of traumatic grief can leave individuals feeling as though they are merely going through the motions of life without truly being engaged.

This sense of disconnection isn't limited to their relationships with other people; it can extend to their work, hobbies, and even their sense of self.

The world may seem colorless and devoid of meaning, making it hard to find joy or interest in activities that once brought happiness.

Approaches to re-engaging with one's surroundings can vary widely, reflecting the personal nature of grief and recovery.

One strategy involves setting small, achievable goals for daily interaction or activity, such as taking a walk in a familiar park or meeting a friend for coffee.

These actions can gently encourage individuals to participate in the world around them, helping to reignite a sense of belonging and interest.

Another approach is to seek out new experiences or hobbies, which can provide a fresh stimulus for engagement and offer opportunities to form new connections. 


7. Difficulty Concentrating


The cognitive impacts of grief are profound and often manifest as difficulty concentrating, alongside challenges with memory and decision-making.

Grief consumes a significant amount of mental energy, leaving less available for other tasks that require focus and cognitive clarity.

The brain is preoccupied with processing the loss, which can lead to moments of forgetfulness or an inability to concentrate on tasks for extended periods.

One effective approach to Improving concentration and memory amidst grief involves breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, allowing for a sense of accomplishment without becoming overwhelmed.

Additionally, establishing a structured routine can help by reducing the number of decisions that need to be made throughout the day, conserving mental energy. 


8. Disrupted Sleep Patterns


Disrupted sleep patterns are a common aftermath of experiencing trauma, with many individuals finding it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night.

This can be due to a variety of factors, including intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and the general increase in anxiety levels that often accompany traumatic experiences.

The lack of quality sleep can exacerbate daytime fatigue, affect mood regulation, and impair cognitive function, creating a vicious cycle that can hinder the healing process.

Establishing a soothing bedtime ritual can communicate to your body that it's time to relax, facilitating a smoother transition into sleep.

This might include activities such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation.

Keeping a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends, helps regulate your body's internal clock and improves the quality of your nighttime rest.

Additionally, making your sleeping environment as comfortable and conducive to sleep as possible — think cool, dark, and quiet — can also help.

Limiting exposure to screens before bed, reducing caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening, and engaging in regular physical activity during the day are other practical steps that can support healthier sleep patterns. 


9. Loss of Appetite or Overeating


For some, the overwhelming nature of grief dampens the sense of taste and desire to eat, making meals seem unappealing or even burdensome.

This can result in a lack of energy and nutrients needed for the body to cope with the stress of loss.

On the other hand, some individuals may turn to food for comfort, using eating as a way to fill the emotional void left by a loved one's passing.

This can lead to overeating and reliance on unhealthy foods, which might provide temporary solace but can also contribute to long-term health problems.

Finding a path back to healthy eating amidst grief involves gentle steps towards re-establishing a balanced relationship with food.

One approach is to start with small, nutritious meals or snacks that are easy to prepare and eat, even when appetite is lacking.

Including a variety of foods rich in vitamins and minerals can help ensure the body receives the nutrients it needs to support healing.

For those struggling with overeating, identifying non-food methods to cope with emotional pain, such as talking with a friend, engaging in a hobby, or seeking professional support, can be beneficial. 


A List of Counseling Approaches for Traumatic Grief


  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - Focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with traumatic grief.

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) - Uses guided eye movements to help process and integrate traumatic memories.

  • Grief Counseling - Provides support and guidance through the grieving process, helping individuals understand and cope with their emotions.

  • Narrative Therapy - Encourages individuals to tell their story of loss and trauma, helping them reframe their experience in a more empowering way.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) - Teaches coping skills for managing intense emotions, improving relationships, and living more mindfully.

  • Psychodynamic Therapy - Explores underlying psychological conflicts and past experiences that may influence current reactions to loss.

  • Group Therapy - Offers a supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and learn from others going through similar situations.

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) - Incorporates mindfulness practices to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression related to grief.

  • Complicated Grief Therapy (CGT) - Specifically designed for those struggling with prolonged and intense grief, focusing on resolving complications and fostering adaptation to loss.

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) - Helps individuals accept their grief while committing to actions that enrich their life despite the presence of pain.

  • Art Therapy - Uses creative expression as a tool for processing grief and expressing emotions that might be difficult to articulate verbally.

  • Music Therapy - Engages individuals in music-related activities to facilitate emotional expression, relaxation, and healing.

  • Family Therapy - Addresses the impact of grief on family dynamics and helps family members support each other through the grieving process.

  • Animal-Assisted Therapy - Incorporates animals, such as dogs or horses, as part of the therapeutic process to provide comfort and support.

  • Virtual Reality Therapy - Utilizes virtual reality technology to expose individuals to stimuli related to their grief in a controlled, therapeutic setting.


Get Matched to the Right Provider

Complete this questionnaire to discover service providers that match your requirements! No need to provide contact information.


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Conclusion


Seeking help during times of grief and trauma is a vital step toward healing, offering a lifeline to those feeling overwhelmed by their emotions.

Professional support can provide the tools and guidance needed to process complex feelings, enabling individuals to move forward with resilience and strength.

Amidst the pain, there remains a promise of hope—a beacon that guides individuals through their darkest moments toward a future where they can find peace and renewed purpose.

This path may not be easy, but it is filled with potential for growth and transformation, reminding us that even in the depths of despair, healing is possible. 


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May 24th, 2024

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