Divorce is a crisis and crisis causes trauma. But what exactly is "trauma"? The Webster dictionary defines trauma as: "a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time."
Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.
The breakup of a significant relationship is included with the following as commonly overlooked causes of emotional and psychological trauma:
- Falls or sports injuries.
- Surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life.)
- The sudden death of someone close.
- A car accident.
- A humiliating or deeply disappointing experience.
- The discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition.
Psychological symptoms of emotional and psychological trauma can include, shock, denial, or disbelief, anger, irritability, mood swings, guilt, shame, self-blame, feeling sad or hopeless, confusion, difficulty concentrating, anxiety and fear, withdrawing from others, feeling disconnected or numb. Physical symptoms of trauma include insomnia or nightmares, being startled easily, racing heartbeat, aches and pains, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, edginess and agitation and muscle tension.
Trauma disrupts the body’s natural equilibrium, freezing you in a state of hyper-arousal and fear. In essence, your nervous system gets stuck in overdrive. Successful trauma treatment must address this imbalance and reestablish your physical sense of safety.
Working Out the Grief
Grieving is normal following trauma. Whether or not a traumatic event involves death, survivors must cope with the loss, at least temporarily, of their sense of safety and security. The natural reaction to this loss is grief. Like people who have lost a loved one, trauma survivors go through a grieving process. This process, while inherently painful, is easier if you turn to others for support, take care of yourself, and talk about how you feel.
Myths and Facts About Grief
MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.
FACT: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.
MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.
FACT: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.
MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.
FACT: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.
MYTH: Grief should last about a year.
FACT: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.
The 5 Stages of GriefIn 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.
The five stages of grief are:
- Denial- “This can’t be happening to me."
- Anger- "Why is this happening? Who is to blame?"
- Bargaining- “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
- Depression -“I’m too sad to do anything."
- Acceptance- “I’m at peace with what happened."
Trauma and grief can occur due to any number of life situations, including divorce. If the trauma turns to depression with changes in sleep and eating habits, pervasive feelings of sadness, helplessness and hopelessness, it's time to seek help. Clinical depression is very treatable, usually with combination of medication and therapy.