February 2014 Newsletter – The Price of Minimizing Grief and Trauma-Part 1

In Please Dance at My Funeral: A Celebration of Life I wrote, “The grieving one might experience in an abrupt job layoff, a sudden heart attack, or startling diagnosis is well-founded. It is not to say that the grief related to any of these examples compares to the grief over the loss of a loved one. It is, however, not uncommon to find that one situation of grieving brings to mind other times when we might have mourned, and didn’t. When we don’t acknowledge our feelings, or deny ourselves the expression of anger or depression, we inhibit the process that ultimately gets us to the place of understanding, and accepting the loss at the core of our deepest emotions.”

Deeply considering the research and examples given in The Grief Recovery Handbook, and Healing Trauma, I might now re-phrase the last line in the above paragraph. Accepting the loss might be what most of us do, but appropriately grieving and processing the trauma so we come out on the other side, healing the body/mind so we can genuinely go on with our lives, is too frequently overlooked.

“Grief is, by definition, the emotional response to loss. The cause of the loss itself is intellectual, but the reaction to it is emotional.” writes John James and Russell Friedman in The Grief Recovery Handbook.  I have survived several auto accidents, an accidental poisoning of my body during a medical procedure, and the loss of both parents, but I hadn’t considered these traumatic in the sense that most of us consider catastrophic, shocking or overwhelming events.  Yet Dr. Peter Levine, author of Healing Trauma, includes these examples when he proceeds to define trauma. “We become traumatized when our ability to respond to a perceived threat is in some way overwhelmed (whether in obvious or subtle ways).”

More significantly, he gets my attention with this remark: “Trauma can, in fact, impact us in ways that don’t show up for years.” How many of us could draw a time line of our lives, indicating traumatic events, and follow up the events line with periods of time that particular symptoms began to appear?

 “Trauma is about loss of connection—to ourselves, to our bodies, to our families, to others, and to the world around us. “ Levine says that this loss is often hard to recognize because it can happen slowly and over time. We are encouraged to move on, and so we adapt, and although there may be some awareness that things are not right, we keep things to ourselves and seldom become aware of the gradual decline in our self-esteem, self-confidence, our well-being and connections to life as it once was.

Dr. Levine has researched the differences between the brains of humans and animals that have been traumatized and notes that animals are capable of trembling and shaking until the reaction passes–and then the animal goes on its way. Humans, on the other hand, will seldom discharge the excess energy experienced, and keep responding on some level to the trauma long after the event.

Dr. Levine stresses the relevance of traumas which have happened to us at no fault of our own; especially when the trauma involved betrayal by those whom we had imparted great trust. “Although humans rarely die from trauma, if we do not resolve it, our lives can be severely diminished by its effects. Some people have even described this situation as a ‘living death.’”

Gregg Braden, author of The Spontaneous Healing of Belief, also emphasizes evidence that having been deeply hurt (including fear, frustration, anxiety and disappointment) can literally cause failure to our heart’s functioning. He suggests that a period of significant loss, disappointment and betrayal can, indeed, cause conditions of suffering and eventual destruction to our “most durable organ—the heart.”

Braden quotes a study at Duke University, by James Blumenthal, that supports the psycho-neuro-immunological response that “can lead to problems that include high blood pressure, headaches, lowered immunity, stomach problems; and then finally, heart attacks.” You can go on to read, Molecules of Emotion by Dr. Candace Pert, or dozens of other books today citing evidence of the body somatizing (taking on the physical experience) the feelings and emotions which result from trauma and tremendous chronic and unresolved guilt or “hurt.”  Braden writes, “The power of our beliefs can work in either direction to become life affirming or life denying.” That’s important!

Our beliefs are that powerful. The false beliefs we contrive from formulated thoughts developed at our youngest age are the base for accumulated events and experiences, traumatic or otherwise, which can repeatedly sabotage our self-worth, self-confidence, our health and well-being.  When we more closely examine our stories, our symptoms, our grief and trauma time-lines, we can more honestly zero in on what processing needs to take place so we can resume our lives as we were meant to live them—in good health, with vitality, with healthy relationships, with solid lines of support, and a solid connection to our soul-self.