Grief and Trauma

This pamphlet explains some of the more important interactive methods frequently used during the TRT process. The intent of the material is to help you understand their purposes. In addition, there are times when your TRT Counselor will utilize approaches other than those described here. All interaction occurs under the supervision and facilitation of the counselor and will depend on group and / or individual needs as determined by the counselor.

Group TRT

The pamphlets so far have addressed TRT from the perspective of one’s own trauma resolution experience. Of considerable importance to that process is the way in which different group members (and/or your individual TRT Counselor) respond to what you have shared or may share.

By the same token, if you are participating in a group TRT experience, you will be requested to offer others who are endeavoring to resolve trauma caring similar to what you have received. This pamphlet is about that process of response.

A Model of Loss and Grief: Death of a Loved One

When someone we care about is lost to us through death, we usually rely on the funeral process to help us with the initial stages of grief. In addition, because of the natural relationship existing between trauma and grief, the funeral process provides an example for the interactive aspects of TRT.

When a family loses a loved one, its members enter the shock and denial stage of grief. Immediately, the social system (neighbors, friends, church members, business associates and relatives) comes together and formalizes the process that eventually will ameliorate the pain. At first come expressions of love, sympathy and caring. The incapacitation of the family is not just allowed but expected. Next, in some religious traditions, comes the wake, where public, perhaps vociferous, expression of mourning and grief help lift the individual temporarily from the state of shock.

As a portion of the grief is expended, another period of shock and disorientation follows. The social system and tradition that is wise and time tested knows that crucial period is the time to provide the nurturing that is so clearly needed. In some formal settings, everyone stands by the casket and tells what he or she remembers of the deceased. People share their own pain and are sure to talk to the bereaved. Each person calls the spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters by name. Everyone goes to great lengths to ensure, through remembrances and their presence, that those going through the initial shock of the loss are integrated with others.

We formalize this process of acknowledging loss because of the way that we are built. We need to form close relationships. The more merger that exists between different persons, the greater the fusion of those individuals into a single identity. Consequently, the death of a dearly loved one means the death of what has become a substantial portion of our own psychological selves. As the psyche experiences the loss of this part of its self, shock immediately compensates for the loss, while strength of will calls forth the remaining self and begins the survival process. When the loss is incalculable, as it is, for example, for parents at the death of a child, the resulting imbalance of great emotional pain and increased survival intensity will be overwhelming. Consequently, the large number of people reaching in to share the pain through the mourning process are merging their identities temporarily with those now-diminished individuals suffering the loss. This lending of selves reduces the demand for individual strength of character from the bereaved and allows the grief cycle to follow its natural course.

Other Losses, Other Griefs

Regrettably, a battered or sexually abused child or spouse, a person exposed to frequent destruction and death through war, an alcoholic, or a mother who has lost her son or daughter to drugs normally is not privileged to receive the same lending of selves even though each of these people has sustained catastrophic loss of part of his or her identity. These people, too, have entered the grieving experience that necessitates outside support. Their problem is that when the process started long ago, they were unaware that it had begun. There were no formal, or for that matter informal, eulogies, prayers or expressions of condolence to mark the unplanned changes. It was not appropriate for them to wear sack cloth, ashes or black to symbolize the morning that was in progress. Consequently, it would have been impossible for them to understand that they had become involved in a completely different stream of life and consciousness hallmarked by unreconciled grief and held together by the instinctual need to survive.

When TRT takes the individual back to that past, and the attacks, assaults and intrusions are relived, that earlier period is clearly emphasized as the beginning of a major loss experience deserving of special attention and extraordinary care. This time, however, someone is there to share of themselves in the same way those involved in the funeral help heal the bereaved. In TRT, when you are in the role of the reader, you are being treated as the bereaved. When you are in the role of giving feedback to another person attempting to resolve trauma, you become the “someone” who is supporting the mourner.

In TRT, the structure of the funeral and mourning experience is emulated through the several elements of the feedback process. The first element emphasizes what not to do. It is critically important to the success of the TRT experience that the anathemas of grief – judgement, philosophy, psychological interpretation and action-oriented thought – be put aside during the feedback process. Such abstractions and emphasis on future behavior will divert the individual’s attention from the grieving experience and interrupt the trauma resolution process. (See Choice, Grief, Trauma and Control: an explanation of why and how TRT was developed.)

The period immediately following a person’s reading is the most vulnerable time for that individual while he or she is in TRT. It also is the time when the individual is moving most rapidly to resolve the retained hurt that has been the unrecognized cornerstone of the trauma’s continued physical abuse and then responded with “I feel like people who do these things should be put in jail,” you are expressing an opinion about your perceptions of appropriate punishment. Your view might be well taken in certain settings, but right now, the person needs to hear that you are feeling, thus experiencing, the grieving process with them. The reflection called for, then, would probably be “I felt anger and hurt when you described what happened to you.”

The third element of the feedback process is that people who are grieving periodically benefit from knowing that they are truly not alone. The sharing of feelings helps with this important aspect of the trauma resolution process. However, an even more pronounced connection can be made when the group participant can tell the reader how he or she is seen. For example, a reader who describes being raped will probably be in shock during and immediately after reading the description. In addition, as a result of the shock, the trauma victim will naturally be out of touch with other feeling states resulting from the intrusion. In such a case, the TRT Counselor may ask you and others to describe how the person looks to you after the reading is complete. An example of a group member’s reflective response would be “You look shocked and hurt.” Or “You seem dazed right now. When you were reading, you wrapped your arms around yourself. You looked like you were protecting yourself.” When the reader hears the description, the most important experience is that this time he or she is not alone.

At times, profound catharsis may occur for you or someone else within the TRT program (if you are in TRT Group Therapy). At other times, the trauma resolution process will be facilitated to less depth. The entire feedback process depends on the TRT Counselor’s judgment as to what level of group interaction is appropriate for each group and each individual member.

The agreements of the group members to primarily orient their responses toward providing reflections have the same positive effect on the trauma victim that the symbols of ashes or black have on the bereaved. Just as those historical methods prevent the loss of the loved one from being denied or covered over, the new interactive agreements help keep trauma’s losses visible until they, too, can be reconciled. In addition, the sympathy and caring that is offered through the simple touch of a hand on a shoulder lets the grieving person know that his strength of character or will power is not needed now. He knows, through that touch, that others are there with him, providing what is necessary.

A critical component completing the merger between the bereaved and the supporting mourners is the bereaved’s direct acknowledgment that those sharing in the funeral are present. Thus, as the reflections of feeling, perception and care have been provided through the feedback process, the TRT facilitator will ensure that the reader will in some way respond to each group member with a recognition of that person’s participation. The words “Thank you” are the simplest and most direct acknowledgment. Above all, the most important human connection occurs visually when those sharing their pain are able to make eye contact with others engaged in the process. The overriding importance of patience and interpersonal connection, as represented in simple reflection and refrain from the interruption of grief, is that as the person moves from shock through the other emotional components that result from the loss, those aspects of himself or herself that have provided protections that once were necessary become needed less often. This gradual passage away from the enigma of survival becomes a safer and more secure experience through the knowledge that the journey is being made with others. The more integrated, both experientially and cognitively, the individual becomes during the process of reading, the more whole he or she will be upon completion. The integration with others as he expresses his pain adds certainty and strength to an inner existence that was often characterized (before the loss resolution process started) as unapproachable fragility. The trauma victims who are providing feedback are similarly helped through their caring for others as they need to be cared for. Our work has shown us that grief does not become resolved just from spontaneous emotional outpouring. It does become resolved completely if there is integration with others, coupled with the eventual understanding of the effects of the loss.

Therefore, as TRT allows the story to be told, it is imperative that it be told with an awareness of its meaning to others. The resulting experientially meaningful connection at the severest levels of pain provides the conduit through which, like the reinforced tunnel reaching to the entrapped child (Grief, Structure and TRT), human caring can pass to the parts of us that are in most need of it. As healing begins, the feeling of fragmentation and fragility can be replaced with the re-emerging sustenance of the original person.

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