I see you when you are grieving and anxious. You likely will not be able to hide it from me… even when you put on a brave face at the beginning of our therapy session – when your defenses from being out in the world are still strong. But I see you. I see your foot start to go up and down and your breathing get faster when you start to tell me about your sense of loss. I see the tears start to well up in your eyes before you push your emotions back down.
I ask the deeper questions and the defenses go down and you grab the tissues! I see you…
As humans, we all experience loss and we all need to be seen. Out in the world with schedules and jobs and bills and responsibilities, it is difficult to be able to fully explore grief and loss – for the deep pain to be seen by others so it can heal. However, inside the therapy room, people tell me about their loss everyday… Their sadness and fear.
Recently, I have had many clients who have sought treatment for the grief associated with the death of a beloved family member. Most people do not realize that they will experience trauma symptoms and anxiety as a part of grief. In fact, a client just forwarded me this article from 2018 about how anxiety should be added as a stage of grief.
I really do not see anxiety and trauma symptoms as a “stage” of grief – Trauma is just intertwined into the grief process. People have a fear of death and mortality, and we can live in a certain denial of death until someone close to us leaves this earth. For most people, underneath the denial is at least some fear and anxiety.
Trauma is defined as something that creates feelings of helplessness and is surprising. In many cases, death is a surprise. Watching a loved one die of cancer, or finding a partner on the floor after a heart attack, or washing a child’s body in the hospital after she has died are traumatic because they are unexpected and surprising.
People almost always say about their loved one, “I felt helpless. I wanted to help him or her (live longer)” or “I was helpless to make him or her more comfortable” or “I have been feeling helpless because I don’t know if my loved one is truly okay in the afterlife.”
The death of a loved one frequently creates acute trauma symptoms and those symptoms sometimes develop into long term chronic trauma symptoms (sleep disturbance, irritability, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, emotional reactivity to name a few).
EMDR therapy has worked very well recently for several clients. We have specifically targeted the memory of seeing their loved one die or the first memory of seeing the lifeless body. Upon desensitization of the traumatic memory, symptoms improved. The symptoms were different for each client, but the outcome of lowered anxiety symptoms was the same for all the clients whom I worked with.
If you are having anxiety or trauma symptoms due to the death of a loved one, please Contact one of Relationship Repair Associates today.