A traumatic event often causes deep-rooted, profound feelings. Depending on the nature of the event, those feelings may be fear, confusion, grief or a combination of emotions.
"Feelings of traumatic grief are complex and encompass many challenges and reactions — both emotional and physical. In order to effectively support someone who is grieving, you must first understand grief’s nuances," says Jessie Wolf, licensed independent clinical social worker at Mayo Clinic Health System.
Wolf addresses a few common questions about traumatic grief and how to handle it.
What is traumatic grief?
Traumatic grief is a period of experiencing sorrow, numbness, guilt and anger and can be the result of a loved one’s death. This can be through illness, accident or violent act, such as domestic abuse or murder. Experiencing numerous deaths of close family or friends or the death of a child — no matter the age or cause — leads many people into a state of traumatic grief.
How is traumatic grief felt?
Traumatic grief can be felt in the body, such as an increase in sensitivity to sight, sound and touch, as well as a decrease in appetite and sleep changes — inability to sleep and nightmares. Emotionally, those grieving may experience an increase in aggression or irritation in addition to deep feelings of sadness, guilt or self-blame. Their memory may not be working well, so they forget things, are late for appointments or don’t remember details for weeks or months after their loved one’s death. People frequently describe their grieving period as a blur or being in a fog. Often, people experiencing traumatic grief feel time moving very slowly or stopping altogether.
What should I say?
An individual experiencing traumatic grief may become isolated because talking to people is too difficult. Many people offer condolences by saying, “They are in a better place” or “Everything happens for a reason” or “Don’t feel guilty” or “It’s not your fault.” The sentiments are intended to help the bereaved person feel better. However, these statements minimize the person’s feelings and don’t allow for further conversation. Alternatively, ask questions and create an environment that fosters dialogue.
How can I support a grieving person?
Goals for support:
Click here for additional Mayo Clinic coping and support information.