Grief or Trauma?

person trapped in house, graphic illustrating trauma

Trauma can be defined as a frightening, sudden, unbalancing and violent act which destroys core beliefs and values. From the Greek word for ‘wound’, it is a term used for both physical and psychological injuries, the key point in both cases, is that it is an injury that is violent and overwhelming. In a narrower sense, trauma refers to extreme stress which may or may not develop into a pattern of symptoms which can be classified as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The degree of trauma that someone may experience is impacted by their relationship to the event or person, their religious/spiritual beliefs and other circumstances, such as their age and perceived control over the event (usually very little). Everyone responds differently in, during and after a traumatic situation. Some feel the brunt of the experience immediately whereas others appear to be remaining numb to the experience. People who are friends or co-workers of those directly affected can also be affected by what is known as secondary trauma.It is important for people who are affected to share what they think and feel as a critical window of opportunity exists. Debriefing and discussing the events within 72 hours of an incident can help insure that people recover and don’t end up with PTSD. Both children and adults need to be shown that their feelings are accepted and understood; no matter how overwhelming they may appear.

Many people have a tendency to rise to the occasion during a crisis and after a traumatic episode they will attempt to help others. This can be a tremendous help, but it can also serve as a means to deny their own personal trauma and pain.  Those who experience the greatest trauma, and are busy helping everyone else, may end up becoming the greatest casualty of all.

What events can cause trauma?

  • An accident
  • Terrorist acts
  • War
  • Rape
  • A loved one gone missing
  • Natural disasters e.g. tsunamis
  • Kidnapping
  • The suicide of a loved one
  • Sexual abuse
  • Miscarriage/abortion/stillbirth
  • Anything that can cause disenfranchised grief (where grief is not allowed to be recognised/expressed)
  • A life threatening disease


What are the differences between normal grief & trauma?

                                <a href="">Grief</a>
                                <a href="">Trauma</a>
                <ul><li>Yearning &amp; reminiscing</li><li>Grief dreams</li><li>Distress with thoughts of loss</li><li>Shock, disbelief, numbness</li><li>Sadness</li><li>Diminished pleasure</li><li>Anger, irritability</li><li>Impaired concentration</li></ul>
                <ul><li>Intrusive distressing memories</li><li>Traumatic dreams</li><li>Intense distress with thoughts, symbols and reminders of the event</li><li>Inability to recall aspects of the event</li><li>Detachment/estrangement from others Avoidance of thoughts &amp; feelings</li><li>Anger, irritability, guilt (especially survivor guilt)</li><li>Hypervigilance</li><li>Exaggerated startle response</li></ul>
    <h3>How do I deal with trauma?</h3><ul><li><strong>Recognise </strong>that you have been through a highly stressful experience and that it will affect you psychologically and physically.</li><li><strong>Talk </strong>about your feelings to others who have had a similar experience or are trained professionals. Don't bottle up your feelings but try to express them.</li><li>Following a trauma, you are more <strong>vulnerable </strong> to accidents and physical illness. It is important to look after yourself and be more careful than usual. <a id="physical" name="physical"></a></li><li>Get plenty of <strong>rest </strong>, even if you can't sleep and eat regular and well-balanced meals.</li><li>Take regular <strong>exercise </strong> as this is good for reducing the physical effects of stress and trauma.</li><li>Reduce your use of <strong>stimulants </strong> such as tea, coffee, chocolate, cola and cigarettes. Your body is already " hyped up" and these substances only increase your level of arousal.</li><li>Do not try to <strong>numb </strong> the pain with drugs or alcohol; this will lead to more problems.</li><li>Take up <strong>meditation </strong>, yoga or breathing exercises.</li><li>Accept that recurring thoughts, dreams and <strong>flashbacks </strong> are normal and that they will decrease in time.</li><li>Some people find that keeping a <strong>journal </strong> or diary is very helpful, especially if you have difficulty in talking to other people about the event.</li><li>Don't make any major life decision <strong>s </strong>in the period following the trauma, but do make as many smaller, daily decisions as possible. This will help to re-establish a feeling of <strong>control </strong> over your life, which is very important.</li><li>Don't be afraid to ask for <strong>help </strong>, whether it is practical e.g. legal advice or psychological.</li></ul><p>Everyone has their own time frame for recovery from a traumatic event and it is important to recognise this. However, professional help, even after the first 72 hours can assist the survivor to incorporate the event into their existing belief systems, which may have been severely shaken, as well as offering planning strategies to manage and reduce symptom intensity.</p>        
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