Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thursday's Therapy - The Importance of Recognizing the TRAUMA in Our Child-Loss Grief

Thursday's Therapy

The Importance of Recognizing the


in Our Child-Loss Grief

A friend and fellow child-loss grieving mother directed me to this website this week to assess what another psychological practitioner had to say about PTSD and trauma. This practitioner's perspective toward trauma was invaluable. In her article, Barbara Steffens, PhD, LPCC, CCSAS was specifically addressing the trauma that a spouse experiences whose partner struggles with sexual addiction, but I immediately saw parallels to what we as child-loss grievers experience in our own grief and child-loss trauma. So I have revised the wording to assess the similar dilemma of us child-loss grievers in walking through the devastating trauma of losing our child in death. My revisions of Dr. Steffens' words with my own words are in parentheses. Highlights are also mine. Dr. Steffens' full article is listed at the bottom of the post.

...(A child-loss griever should be treated as)...someone who has encountered a threatening and traumatic life event that results in emotional and behavioral responses common to those who have survived traumatic events.

(A) trauma survivor (will make) attempts to re-establish safety following experiencing something that was very unsafe or life threatening.

A traumatized person will go to great lengths to attempt to find safety and security again...

(These reactions simply mean the grievers have been traumatized and are trying to regain enough of a safety-net of reduced toxicity so that they are safe enough to begin to heal. Grievers may need to set boundaries, for instance, with "toxic" people, but this does not mean the griever is trying to "control" people; s/he is merely trying to create a safe environment for healing to take place, for

Child-Loss Grievers) often feel as if their lives have been turned upside down and shattered.

What does PTSD feel like?

...Most (people) with trauma symptoms feel as if they are going “crazy”- like they’re on a roller coaster that has no end.

(Child-Loss Grievers may have symptoms) much like those who have experienced other life-altering or threatening events, such as accidents, assault, disaster, abuse, or even combat. Those with post traumatic stress experience helplessness and horror as an immediate response to the traumatic event. The resulting symptoms fall into three major categories:

  • First, they have intrusive thoughts/remembrances of the event. This can take the form of flashbacks, recurring dreams, intense reactions to reminders or “triggers” that may symbolize something about the trauma or feeling as if the traumatic event is happening currently.

  • Second, they attempt to avoid memories or reminders of the traumatic event. They may go out of their way to avoid places or people associated with the trauma, avoid talking about the event, or even forget some details of the event(s).

  • Third, they experience increased arousal. That means they are highly anxious, startle easily, are troubled with nightmares, etc. They are on high alert, hyper vigilant and aware of potential “threats.” They can become highly irritable and have extreme anger.

All of these symptoms are in response to the trauma. For a PTSD diagnosis, these symptoms must be in place for a month or more. For some trauma survivors, the symptoms come on later, while for others they start immediately after the disclosure (of the trauma)....

(Most people relating to you as a griever) miss the trauma. They acknowledge the pain and devastation but jump immediately to identifying the behaviors and emotions (you have as a griever) as signs of (poor grief resolution) rather than those symptoms that are typical in those who have had horrible things happen to them.

While (folks may acknowledge you will never completely get over your child-loss grief this side of Heaven, they may still give) a double message that somehow due to your own dysfunction, there is something you did or something about you that led to (your "unresolved grief" dilemma). (Grievers) often feel confused.

They say,

“If I didn’t cause it and can’t cure it, then why am I told I am 'sick' just because I am (not 'cured' or fully 'resolved' in my grief)?"

(Misunderstanding the true nature of traumatic and or complicated grief, and calling a child-loss griever "sick" or "stuck in his/her grief) is not unlike blaming a rape victim for her assault or a battered woman for her beating.

It is blaming the victim, rather than looking for ways to support someone who has experienced the unthinkable.

(T)he issue of empowerment (is also an important one). The first step in recovery is to admit powerlessness…. (Grievers) cannot control (the fact that they have been thrown into severe grief). And this is absolutely true!

However, (grievers) are not powerless to act on their own behalf to protect themselves or to have a say in their environment. Trauma survivors need to exercise choice to help to regain a sense of safety to fight the helplessness and fear.

Stability for the trauma survivor involves making decisions, taking action, and finding some level of safety again.

Why do you believe it is important for (grievers) to see their reactions as stemming from trauma versus (being "stuck in prolonged grief" as it it were a dysfunction the grievers have brought upon themselves)?

As I’ve stated earlier, the trauma model of treatment seeks to understand and treat (one's) symptoms as predictable responses to a painful and threatening life event.

It is something that happened and then something from which s/he can (begin to) recover and (begin to) heal.

A trauma perspective validates the extreme devastation experienced by most (child-loss grievers). A trauma model makes sense of the kinds of debilitating symptoms that (grievers) experience and opens up appropriate treatment options for these symptoms.

Unfortunately, many (grievers) have not sought treatment or help (for the trauma aspects of their grief) due to the (potentiality of the complicated griever) feeling blamed for their situation, (or simply that their child-loss grief will not be understood).

I hope that by recognizing the effects of trauma, (grievers) will be more open to seeking out the support and help they need and deserve. Untreated trauma can lead to increased vulnerability to mental health problems including addiction and depression.


Please let me know what you think of this article and how it relates to you. The more I hear from you, the better my blog will be as I believe I then can better address (or find others who can address) the issues of grief with which you are most concerned.

You can comment via the "comment" button below, or tweet me (or privately direct message me) on Twitter, or comment (or privately send me a message) on Facebook, or write me an email to MotherGrieving @ ~Just remove the spaces in the email address... (This is to disguise my address from the internet scam-artist robots!) Just look in the left column of my blog to find the links to Facebook or will need to join to comment there, but don't worry, it is absolutely free! :)

However you comment, feel free to stipulate if you want your comment to be kept private; otherwise, I may post parts (or all) of it later to share with other readers. Thank you so much!

And a special 'Thank you' goes out to Dr. Barbara Steffens for her keen insights into the trauma of Post-Traumatic Stress!


Steffens' full article:


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