Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday's Therapy - Ways We Grieve, Part Eight - Traumatic Grieving and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Thursday's Therapy

Ways We Grieve

Part Eight

Traumatic Grieving and

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

What people do not seem to understand about us child-loss grievers...

As devastating as losing our child is to us parents, grief over our child is not JUST about missing them, as difficult as missing them is.

A trauma as great as losing one's literally traumatizing to the brain.

Bessel A. van der Kolk, M.D., the premier expert in the trauma field told us at the recent Trauma seminar that

When a parent loses a child, as indicated from P.E.T. scans, physiologically, the parent's cerebellum is traumatized.

When one's cerebellum is traumatized, much of the trauma gets stuck in that one part of the brain, not able to pass through to be processed in the other parts of the brain. When the trauma cannot be processed through to resolution, it takes on a life of its own and therefore destructively impacts not only the cerebellum, but all of the brain, negatively impacting the grieving parent's life and daily capacity to function.

For instance, memory is affected - things my sons tell me, I may too easily forget... I have attempted to explain that 90% of me is grieving and only 10% is left to take in all the information I heretofore processed with no trouble. Little did I know just how accurate that statement was, as documented by science's recent brain-scan studies!

Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD)

Six Critical issues Affect how people with PTSD Process Information:

  • Experiencing persistent intrusion of memories related to the trauma which interferes with attending to other incoming information

  • Sometimes compulsively exposing oneself to situations reminiscent of the trauma (leading to) repetitive re-enactment of the trauma

  • Actively attempting to avoid specific triggers of trauma-related emotions which leads to experiencing a generalized numbing of responsiveness (the responsiveness that needs to be alert, not numbed, in that it is needed to properly cope)

  • Losing the ability to modulate one's physiological responses to stress in general which leads to a decreased capacity to utilize bodily signals as guides for actions

  • Suffering from generalized problems w/ attention, distractibility & stimulus discrimination

  • Having alterations in one's psychological defense mechanisms and alterations in personal identity

Despite efforts to capture the essence of people's response to trauma,

the PTSD diagnosis does not begin to describe the complexity of how people react to overwhelming experiences.

According to Dr. van der Kolk,

...Trauma can affect victims on every level of functioning:

  • Biological,
  • Psychological,
  • Social, and
  • Spiritual

The effects of child-loss grief on a parent is pervasive, affecting every aspect of life, rendering much dysfunction and massive traumatization besides the devastation of missing one's child.

P.E.T. scans =Positron Emission Tomography scans. See "Ways We Grieve, Part Six" (2/11/10) for further explanation of the nature of these scans.


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