There are several dimensions to why grief and trauma exist. Dr. Gabor Maté was interviewed in 2020 to talk about grief being an “antidote to trauma.” How do we know if we are experiencing trauma or grief? Is there a difference in how we approach trauma & grief? How can find the contrast?
Dr. Maté responded that indeed there is a noticeable difference in the way we respond to grief and trauma. He says, “Genuine grief is the very opposite of Trauma…If we had consciously grieved, we would not have developed the coping mechanisms that would keep us out of trouble… First of all, let’s not assume we are traumatized. Trauma is not the same as suffering, trauma is not the same as pain, and trauma is not the same as fear, those are natural responses to events. Trauma is when we get stuck somehow around those events and their impact on us. So trauma is our resistance to grief.” (Maté 2020).
Watch the full interview here.
“If you respond actively and with a sense of agency, this would have not been Traumatic” —Dr. Gabor Maté
What types of grief can we experience throughout our life?
Remember that grief has no timeline or date when it ends, and experiences vary from person to person. Reactions to loss can make us feel out of sorts with the movement of life. Time and patience can test grievers. Intervention from professionals in the mental health field may be needed at times. There may be some types of grief that do not have a common label yet and keep in mind that people may have two or more types of grief experiences happening simultaneously. (Haley, 2013).
Collective grief… The year 2020 is a great example of this type of grief. This reaction is felt by a community, nation, or village due to a natural disaster, terrorist attack, public figure, or massive genocide.
Secondary loss is oftentimes not obvious. This type of grief is a reaction toward a loss of a person, place, or thing that is no longer with you. The experience can be just as intense as a “primary loss,” like when someone dies.
Ambiguous loss is overlooked by the social relationships who know the griever or even by the actual individual impacted. Therefore, the grieving person lacks clarity of who or what has been lost, and their current social relationships also question if they have experienced a loss. An example of this is often referred to when a family member removes themselves from the family structure. There is no clarity because the person is still alive but remains unemotionally unavailable. This can also be a reaction when we lose friendships and other relationships that exist in our life.
Disenfranchised grief This type of grief is when the society or culture makes the grieving person feel invalidated for their response to the loss. Minority groups may oftentimes feel this grief due to their cultural, social, economic, demographic, or disability status. Oftentimes, the death is stigmatized because it was related to mental health, or the individual was in a same-sex relationship/s, etc.
Inhibited grief manifests itself in somatic symptoms because the person affected will not show any signs of their pain for an extended period.
Abbreviated grief shows up when someone experiences loss, and the role of the dead person is replaced by something or someone. This can be a pet or a person. Sometimes because there was little attachment or they were able to get over the loss through anticipatory grief. The grief may still show up in waves, and the replacement of the role does not necessarily end their grieving process.
Absent grief typically occurs when someone dies and the person who experienced the loss shows no sign of reaction to the death. There is oftentimes shock or denial, especially in sudden losses. A word of caution: just because someone doe not express their grief outwardly, that does not mean they are not grieving.
Normal grief is defined as when we accept the conditions that exist and move towards getting better from our loss. People are typically able to return to the basic functions of life.
Anticipatory grief sounds the way it is phrased. Someone may be grieving about an individual who is dealing with a long-term illness. Sometimes they may grieve over things other than the person such as their inability to one day achieve their dreams, goals, roles, and more. Then, once their loved one passes, this does not necessarily mean it gets better from here. However, at times it can help some people move forward by accepting reality beforehand.
Complicated Grief is when the person is reacting to their loss in a long-term manner. Oftentimes it may be called, “Chronic grief, delayed grief, or distorted grief.” They may see impairment in their functioning and would benefit from seeing a Licensed Mental Health Therapist. Depression and Anxiety may be some underlying factors for the longevity of these reactions.
Chronic grief is long-term and there is no ability to progress toward better functioning in several areas of life. There is extreme distress for the griever.
Delayed grief is seen when the reactions happen only after the death has passed. The reality of the loss is dismissed and suppression follows the pain.
Cumulative grief is a rare instance in my opinion, but it can happen. This is when someone experiences a second loss after their first one. It is also known as an “overload” of bereavement.
Exaggerated grief is intense and oftentimes there are psychiatric disorders that develop in the individual after the loss. Self-destructive behaviors and the loss of functioning are common.
Masked grief can be seen as when the person has an impairment in functioning and they do not recognize it. Malfunctioning typically occurs in their behavior or their physical health.
Traumatic grief is a grief response to a combination of highly distressful events or people. The death was horrifying and extremely violent. This death may have happened in front of the individual.
Dr. Maté continues by saying, “Grief is coming to terms with reality, but trauma is going against the terms with reality” (Maté, 2020). I found this quote to be insightful in the work that I do. Having a sense of agency and taking action can help people move and redesign their life. If you need support in challenging times, feel free to contact me by clicking here
E. Haley, (July 2013). “Types of Grief: Yes, There’s More Than One,” What’s Your Grief. Website: https://whatsyourgrief.com/types-of-grief/
G. Maté, (August, 2020). “On Understanding Grief as the Antidote to Trauma.” Psychotherapy Networker. Website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_oo8yFj9h0