Grieving: The Key to Healing Trauma

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From Daniel Mackler: “One of the main goals in healing from trauma is grieving: to grieve our losses, [the] things that we have been through, [the] parts of us that are broken, that were hurt, that were split off. To bring back into consciousness our feelings, our pain, our anger, our frustration and our sense of betrayal and abandonment. But how do we do that? How do we go through that process?

[In] my experience, the first part is setting the stage for grieving to happen. And that is doing the exploratory work to make sense of what our story is. And part of that is an intellectual process, and part of that is an emotional process. I think part of that can also be a social process . . . It’s really, exploring our own biography, our history, the history of our childhood, especially — the time in our life that really formed us into who we are.

. . . [Pre-kindergarten teachers used to tell me] ‘By the time someone is four or five years old, you can already see by that point what kind of person they’re going to become.’ Because a lot of their traumas have already fixed in their personality; their personalities have already crystallized around their strengths and their weaknesses: the strengths being the true Self, who they really are, and a lot of their weaknesses being their traumas that have gotten locked in place.

Well, the process of grieving is the process of unlocking those frozen traumas. And they are what really give us a chance to change.

But how do we do it? How do we dig into that stuff?

I think part of the reason why it’s so hard to dig into that stuff is because it’s so incredibly painful. Really early childhood traumas are devastatingly painful. And I think the reason that a lot of people don’t realize this in our modern world, in our modern societies, is that they’ve never done it. They don’t really believe that it’s even possible. It’s too hard for most people, I think, to really get into that stuff . . .

One of the easiest ways to avoid getting into it at all, is to not even be aware that it ever happened. And I think that’s one of the basic coping strategies that people use to not deal with their traumas, is to dissociate from them, to split off from them, to not even emotionally relate to the child that they were; basically, to disconnect from their history and forget that it even happened — to block it out. And by extension, to also block out the experience of other children — to not relate to children, to not emotionally, intuitively take the side of children in their conflicts in the world, their conflicts in their relationship to their parents; instead, to more intuitively side with the parents, to emotionally take the side of the parents. I think that’s very common in society, to the point that it’s even ubiquitous . . .

But because of this, it’s very, very hard for people to heal their own traumas, to get into their own grief process. And I think it’s another thing that makes it very hard for people to get into their own grief process is that on a very deep level, almost nobody’s doing it. So that if people really do begin to get into their grief process, often they can look around and all the people in their life don’t relate to it, because they’ve never done it. So what ends up happening to many people who go into a deep grieving place, is they actually have nobody to support them, they really don’t have any allies. And often, if they go into the mental health system, if they go to a therapist, especially a therapist who hasn’t really done their own deep grieving process, that therapist might not relate to them. All they’ll see is ‘Oh my god, here we’ve got a depressed, miserable person who’s crying a lot, who’s feeling anger, who’s feeling sadness. This person — give them a diagnosis, of major depression or some other depressive diagnosis.’ Or maybe even, if they’re behaving a little strangely . . . maybe you could even give them a psychotic diagnosis.

And, also what goes along with a lot of these diagnoses is sending them to a psychiatrist, who then looks at all their expressions of grief, [of] pain, anger and sadness as just ‘symptoms’ of a diagnostic category, which then translates to requiring certain degrees of intervention from psychiatry, like for instance medication, or hospitalization, or in [more] extreme cases, ECT, things like this. So a lot of times it can be very, very dangerous for people to go to the mental health field when they are going through deep grieving.

Now that’s not to say that all therapists are like this, because I think there are some therapists who can relate to grieving. And I think there’s some therapists who can be very useful. But I think primarily for a therapist to be really useful, to be really empathic, to be able to be supportive of someone who’s going through a grief process, to be an ally — they have to have done it themselves.”

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4 COMMENTS

  1. As one who comes from a good family, who did not deal with a lot of child abuse as a child. But did deal with a lot of child abuse covering by the ELCA religion, and their “mental health professional” child abuse denying DSM “bible” billers, by people who never bothered to look at my child’s medical records, which thankfully were eventually handed over to me.

    I will agree, once the medical evidence of the abuse of my child was finally handed over. In as much as I was heartbroken for my child, I also then saw how appallingly paternalistic our current “mental health industry” and society still is.

    And I agree, grieving injustices is important … to truly heal. Including the understanding that the “mental health professionals” have entered into a faustian deal with the mainstream religions and big Pharma, which the real Bible forwarded us against.

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