When you are caught in the throes of tragedy, your emotions feel out-of-control. But there is an order to how we process the chaos that accompanies traumatic loss, whether it is the death of a loved one, a failed romantic relationship, job loss, a difficult medical diagnosis or any of the challenges we face as we move through life. Understanding the process we go through as we work through a traumatic experience can help us cope. There is comfort in understanding that our feelings and responses are normal.
When we suffer a tragedy, we grieve for what is lost. Death, divorce, job loss, relocation, illness — all involve significant change and loss. In order to accept the change and move forward, it is necessary to recognize and mourn what is lost, whether it is friendship, love, familiarity, ability, status, financial stability, etc. Psychiatrists have identified distinct five stages of grief that accompany loss. While these are most often applied to mourning the death of a loved one, we go through the same stages as we learn to accept and heal from any tragic loss.
- Denial and isolation. At first, we may deny feelings of loss or try to minimize the importance of the event. People may withdraw from family and friends through emotional discomfort or embarrassment.
- Anger. Anger can be directed outward or inward if the person feels her actions contributed to the tragedy. Feelings of “why me” are also common.
- Bargaining. No one wants to accept traumatic loss. We may try to bargain with God, promising “I will do this if you remove this burden from my life.” Or be tempted to plead with an employer if we are laid off. Bargaining attempts to stave off the inevitable.
- Depression. As anger fades, numbness may overwhelm us. Pervasive sadness blocks feeling. We may feel hopeless. You may need the guidance of an experienced psychiatrist to help you move forward.
- Acceptance. As we work through loss, we learn to accept the new reality.
For more information on How to Recover from Tragedy, listen to Dr. Marks’ October 14 podcast.