Many people know that grieving is a natural part of loss and bereavement. What isn't so well known is that sometimes the death of a loved one or suffering through another type of significant loss can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mourning the violent death of a loved one or a different kind of catastrophic life event can trigger PTSD in some people.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Can Grief Feel or Look Like When You Have PTSD?
- Tips for Dealing With Grief When You Have PTSD
- Tips for Supporting a Loved One Dealing With Grief and PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur as a result of experiencing, witnessing, or confronting a traumatic event. A sudden and unexpected death on its own is not usually a trigger for PTSD. However, when combined with tragic circumstances, the death of a loved one can cause the occurrence of PTSD.
Often, people who have PTSD can recover from the initial shock and grief following a significant loss, but there can be a lasting impact on a person's everyday life.
What Can Grief Feel or Look Like When You Have PTSD?
Coping with grief and mourning as it intensifies can lead to many challenges for most people. When you add post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, grief can become even more complicated and difficult to manage. The effects of grief can feel intense and debilitating when paired with PTSD.
Anyone suffering through grief can feel shock, denial, anger, and disbelief when learning of the death of their loved one or any other significant loss or tragedy.
These feelings and emotions are all expected natural and normal grief reactions. When you combine normal grief with the effects of PTSD, grief turns complex and more challenging to contend with.
Tips for Dealing With Grief When You Have PTSD
The types of grief associated with PTSD are affected by previous losses and experiences and the relationship to the deceased. Those who have PTSD may be facing acute, distressing thoughts and feelings directly linked to their experiences and loss. These types of ideations can last well beyond the time of the traumatic event.
Not everyone who has PTSD will have had a direct connection to the devastating event or condition. Some people will have PTSD due to second hand information or details of an event communicated to them. The following tips will help you in learning how to cope with grief when you have PTSD or when you're suffering from grief-related PTSD.
1. Recognize your triggers
One of the things to understand when trying to manage your grief when you have PTSD is knowing what may trigger an episode. It helps when you look out for known triggers that affect your emotional stability and try to steer clear from them or prepare yourself in the best way possible.
Events that cause grief are not only limited to the death of a loved one but can include:
- Divorce or breakup
- Job or income loss
- The death of a pet
- A major move or relocation
2. Express what you’re feeling
Whenever you're dealing with grief, you don't have to suffer alone. Let others in your support circle know what you're feeling and why. No one's in a better position to understand what you're going through other than you. Some people may sympathize with what you're going through but may have no idea the extent of your suffering unless you tell them.
If you're uncomfortable with sharing the details of your grief with the people you know, seek out others who can understand and relate to your current situation. Talking about your experiences is helpful in the road to healing from your grief.
3. Learn about your symptoms
Reading about grief and PTSD in books about grief and loss may help you in your grief recovery journey. The signs and symptoms of grief when you have PTSD may be different from the signs in normal grief.
Things to look out for that are related to PTSD, but not normal grief are:
- Intense flashbacks
- Sensory experiences that relive trauma
- Recurring nightmares
- Fear and paranoia
- Stress and anxiety
4. Let others help you
When dealing with grief and PTSD, the traumatic events that you've suffered through may elicit a fight-or-flight response within you. These feelings and sensations can throw you off-balance and create an unusual response or reaction from you. You can expect to be more prone to hypersensitivity as you're reminded of the events surrounding the tragedy you've experienced.
Complicated grief and PTSD can present complex challenges to your mental health and your overall well-being. It may be challenging for you to try and overcome these feelings on your own. Let your friends, family, and support group help you whenever things seem hopeless or impossible on your own.
5. Talk with your employer
There is help available for you in all areas of life. At work for example, you may be entitled to bereavement leave. Ask your employer if they offer grief counseling to help you deal with the traumatic events in your life that may be contributing to your grief and PTSD. Admitting that you need help is no longer anything to be afraid of at work.
In the past, most employees didn't generally want to raise awareness of mental health issues. They weren't confident in letting their employers know that they were suffering from grief, depression, or other types of bereavement.
Most of the time, employees swept these emotional and psychological issues under the rug or hid them from others in fear of being judged as not fit for their job or position. Nowadays, mental health awareness and treatment are encouraged at home, socially, and at work.
6. Get the help you need
A trained grief and bereavement counselor or therapist can help you identify past losses that were never dealt with or mourned. Every loss experienced but not fully mourned can lead to further complications in your future grief experiences.
A therapist or counselor can help you separate and categorize your losses and guide you through grieving each separately. They can also discuss with you the connection of the present loss to your past ones. They'll also help you figure out how you're feeling toward your loved one who's died or other tragedies suffered and enable you to come to terms with your loss.
Tips for Supporting a Loved One Dealing With Grief and PTSD
If you live with or know someone who suffers from grief and PTSD, it can feel difficult knowing how or what kind of help they need. The challenges you face can be overwhelming daily and can seem hopeless in the long term. The effects of both can take a toll on your relationships.
Know that with the proper support, attitude, and information, your relationships can not only survive but thrive despite the hardships resulting from the effects of living with someone who suffers from both.
7. Be patient
A person dealing with grief and PTSD may not be the easiest to live with from day-to-day. Their emotional stability can feel like you're on a never-ending roller coaster. Some days can seem normal, and things can go smoothly, while others can feel overwhelming and extremely difficult to get through.
Try to be patient whenever things seem overwhelming. Your loved one may not have control over how they're feeling or reacting to specific triggers or events. Try and work through each episode together until you can restore calm and order.
8. Don’t take things personally
It may seem impossible not to take things personally when dealing with the grief reactions from someone who has PTSD. A person who has PTSD does not always have control over their emotional state of being. Their personalities may be stuck in events that have occurred in the past. These past traumas may affect how they're reactions in the present.
They may feel vulnerable and unsafe in their environment regardless of how much effort you put into making them feel safe and secure. The way they process their emotions has nothing to do with you or with the actions that you're putting forth. These are simply a result of PTSD symptoms that your loved one has no control over at times.
9. Take a step back when needed
When things seem overwhelmingly difficult to manage, it is worth considering taking a step back from dealing with the effects of PTSD on grief. Work on setting boundaries for you and your loved one whenever these episodes strike.
It may be sometimes difficult to relate to how other people are feeling or what they're going through. Try to remind yourself that you don't have to completely relate to what your loved one is going through to help them and yourself. You deserve a break and time to yourself as much as your loved one deserves your love, patience, and understanding.
10. Provide social support
When your loved one suffers from PTSD and grief, it may feel like they're a burden to everyone around them. You may notice them withdrawing from you and others, mainly when their emotions are triggered.
One of the biggest reasons this may be happening is that your loved one may feel that no one understands what they're going through. They may think it's easier for them to hold things in rather than try and explain why their feelings.
You can help your loved one heal from their pain and suffering by giving them the needed time and space to process their emotions. Allow them to come to you when they're ready to talk or share with you their experiences.
11. Rebuild trust
A loved one who has suffered through trauma may find it very difficult to trust their world around them. Traumatic events tend to change forever the way a person perceives their surroundings and those around them. Most sufferers of PTSD have a difficult time coping with trusting others and themselves.
When they're grieving, that distrust can overlap into their grief. They may find it challenging to be vulnerable around you and may not openly share their pain and suffering. You can help rebuild that trust by expressing your love and commitment to them and your relationship, speaking the truth, and keeping your promises.
Coping With Grief and PTSD
Learning to cope with grief and PTSD is challenging but overwhelming for both you and your loved one who may be suffering from both. Take these challenges as they come and deal with them one at a time. Not every day will be a pleasant experience, but in time you'll learn to cope with and manage your losses.