Healing from Trauma and Grief

Have you experienced an extremely stressful or disturbing event that’s left you feeling helpless and emotionally out of control? Do you feel overwhelmed with upsetting emotions, memories, and a sense of being disconnected to your loved ones and your life? Maybe you had an overall good experience growing up yet you never felt truly recognized, seen, or appreciated just the way you are. If so, you may be experiencing a form of trauma and/or grief. 

What is shock trauma?
Though we tend to think of catastrophic events, criminal acts, and combat when we hear the word “trauma”, it is important to consider that what is traumatic for one person may have a different effect on another. Trauma can be the result of a large single event (such as a car accident or natural disaster), an ongoing experience of stress (such as living with a volatile person or experiencing repeated abuse), something unexpected (such as a breakup), or something foreseen yet difficult (such as surgery). Because people respond differently to stress and trauma, a traumatic reaction has less to do with the event(s) experienced than each person’s subjective emotional feelings about those experiences. Put simply, the more frightened and helpless you feel in a situation, the more likely you are to be traumatized.

What are symptoms of shock trauma?
Trauma will manifest differently for each person, but some commonly described psychological and physical symptoms are:
  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Feeling disconnected or numb
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Fatigue
  • Being startled easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Edginess and agitation
  • Aches and pains
  • Muscle tension

What is developmental or complex trauma?
As young people, we rely solely on our caretakers to meet our basic human life needs (food, safety, shelter, cleanliness) as well as our emotional needs (being soothed, being seen accurately, being allowed to experiment with autonomy/exploration, etc.). Ideally, our caregivers meet these needs in ways that instill a sense of trust in others, that it is safe to explore, an identity of being worthy of love, and a learned ability to soothe ourselves. Though parents undoubtedly try their best with the tools they have, sometimes one or more of these needs is not able to be met. Perhaps a parent never had their own needs met in this way and may lack the ability to soothe their child effectively or to have the strong sense of self necessary to allow their child to experiment with autonomy and independence without being threatened. As small humans internalizing these early life dynamics, we may come to see ourselves as unlovable, to struggle to be able to calm ourselves, to over or under-rely on others, and to form beliefs about life and the world that limit our capacities for connection to others and to our own body. This form of trauma can go undetected because often these attachment injuries occurred before we could speak, let alone be remembered or discussed. Often, this form of trauma places individuals in the strange bind of longing to connect while at the same time being terrified of being truly close to or seen by others. Complex trauma results in shame or pride based identifications that result from compromising our authentic selves in order to maintain proximity to our caretakers. Consider this chart describing core developmental needs and the corresponding survival strategies that develop when those needs are not consistently met or respected by the environment. Some of the resulting identifications include:

"I don't have the right to be here".
"I don't know what I need".
"Having needs is bad".
"It's not safe to trust other people".
"If they really know me, they won't like/love me".
"My being here isn't good enough without looks or performance".

What is grief?
Grief is a natural reaction to the loss of something important to us. This can be a concrete loss, such as the loss of a family member, a pet, or finances; or it could be an abstract loss such as the loss of a dream, a sense of safety/security, or loss of self-esteem. Grief and trauma tend to overlap one another because of the way that each effect a person’s worldview and the accompanying meaning-making or central beliefs about life. Both are a shock to the equilibrium and sense of predictability of life and involve mourning and honoring what we hold dear. Though previous psychologists viewed grief as occurring in linear stages (from denial, anger, bargaining, depression, to acceptance), leading experts now believe that grief is experienced in cycles of phases. Meaning, one moment we may feel acceptance and the next we may feel in disbelief, be angry, or feel a sense of bargaining all over again. Everyone grieves differently and it is important to honor ourselves (asking “what do I need right now, what feels right?”) as we honor our losses.

Because of the overwhelming nature of trauma and grief, it is as though we have a metaphorical stack of papers on a desk that cannot yet be filed…as though our brains are attempting to process something too large to resolve. We feel as if we are stuck on the sidelines of life while others are getting to participate and "play". In some cases, we can get caught in a cycle of avoidance -- attempting to distance ourselves from the distressing content of our own thoughts and memories. This avoidance can become a pattern in itself, leading to isolation, addictions, rupture from our support systems, and/or impairment of functioning at work. It is easy to understand how grief and trauma can cause our lives to feel completely unwound and out of control.

How do we heal?
In a nutshell, “the only way out is through” -- but you don't have to travel alone. Healing begins with being safe and experiencing that safety with someone else. As someone with extensive training in trauma work, I tend to tailor a therapeutic approach to each individual’s needs, pace, experiences, cultural background, and preferences. I am skilled and practiced in several different therapeutic approaches specific to healing and have had the honor of witnessing several individual’s journeys through the darkest depths of trauma and grief to a restored sense of connection in their lives. It is my mission to be a vessel of safety for you to heal in the way that honors you and your needs. I am passionate about assisting you through the process of living your life as a participant rather than spectator. As we explore the underlying ways that you have learned to survive, space opens up for you to reclaim your agency- your right and power to make choices that feel in alignment with your deepest hopes and desires.