Throughout history, humans have experienced traumatic events such as natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks, illness, abuse, car accidents, and a multitude of other events. 2020 ushered in a string of such events that changed the world we live in and shook many to their core as an unknown illness spread rapidly killing many in the early months and the world shut down. No one has been left untouched by the economic, social, emotional, and chaotic crescendo as the pandemic, riots, and lockdowns became the focus of many. With trauma comes grief, with grief comes healing.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes a sense of self and the ability to feel a range of emotions. It does not discriminate and is pervasive throughout the world.
Collective trauma is when a group of people experience a traumatic event Hirschberger (2018) describes the collective traumatic event as “a cataclysmic event that shatters the basic fabric of society”. In the event of collective trauma, each person’s experience may be slightly different and therefore reactions to the trauma will vary, but everyone will be changed by it in some way.
Grief is a strong and sometimes overwhelming emotion. The sadness that is experienced with grief stems from the loss of something that was known whether that is a loved one, mobility, a relationship, a job, etc. Grief is a natural reaction to loss, it is both a universal and personal experience.
Even with the most significant loss, life does go on. Even in times of transition due to loss, good things happen. Sometimes we are aware of these things and experience the positive emotions that come with the birth of a child, a new job, time to slow down and be with those we love, etc. Other times our grief is so strong that these moments are experienced, but then forgotten.
How to Process Grief after Trauma
If you are still working through grief whether it is related to a collective trauma or one that is more personal, take a minute to identify all the positive moments big or little that have happened in your life. Take note of those that have occurred since experiencing the traumatic event.
Now, take a minute to reflect on the things you have accomplished before during, and since experiencing the deep emotions that come with grief and trauma.
It is not unusual for a traumatic event or loss to change the course of the life we had planned. Take a few minutes to write down the hopes and dreams you had for your life before your experience.
Now, look at that list. Are there things on that list that you could still accomplish but in a different way than you had thought? Are there new things that could be added to the list? Are there things that don’t seem as important as they once did?
Experiences change people and change is ok. It is up to each one of us to decide what we will take from our experiences. The good news is that as people move into acceptance of their loss and a chapter is completed, it does not mean that they can’t go back and re-read that chapter on occasion. It does not mean that the good and bad experiences that made a person who they are will be forgotten.
Hopes and Dreams
- What are your hopes and dreams for the next chapter of your life?
- What is one step you can take towards achieving even one of the items on your list?
Today is the day to start writing the next chapter. If it feels too hard to do it yourself, talk to a friend or loved one.
Find a counselor or support group.