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  • Writer's pictureColorado Coherence Collective

Conceptualizing Trauma as Unresolved Grief

Many people associate trauma with a specific traumatic event and associate grief with bereavement, or the process of mourning the death of a loved one. While traumatic events can result in trauma and bereavement is one form of grief, Colorado Coherence Collective relies on more inclusive definitions of trauma and grief:

  1. Trauma is a physiological manifestation of unprocessed grief.

  2. Grief is an emotional response to a loss of any kind.

  3. Loss is a cognitive perception of the discrepancy between our expectations and our reality.

Our brains are constantly making predictions about the world, both conscious and unconscious, about what we anticipate, hope, or fear will happen in the future. These predictions are based on our past experiences, personal beliefs and values, and schema or worldview. When the reality of our lived experiences don’t align with our conscious or unconscious expectations, it can feel surprising, discombobulating, or even distressing. Sometimes the difference between expectations and reality is humorous (see below).

At other times, the difference between expectations and reality is significant or unexpected, which can result in feelings of anguish, an “unbearable and traumatic swirl of shock, incredulity, grief, and powerlessness” (Brown, 2021). Complex losses of intangible resources can be challenging to grieve, especially in isolation, such as:

  • Loss of trust in self, others, or the world

  • Loss of self-identity, freedom, and independence

  • Loss of control and autonomy

  • Loss of a sense of safety and security

  • Loss of positive self-concept or self-esteem

  • Loss of relationships, such as family, friends, or intimate partnerships

  • Loss of functional ability or capacity (Bordere, 2017)

Brené Brown's research has identified three foundational elements of grief: loss, longing, and feeling lost:

  1. Loss: a tangible or intangible loss, such as a death or separation, a loss of normalcy, a loss of what could be, or a loss of what we thought we knew about a person or the world.

  2. Longing: an unconscious or involuntary yearning for wholeness, understanding, meaning, or the opportunity to regain what we have lost.

  3. Feeling Lost: a sense of bewilderment or confusion that requires us to reorient every part of our physical, emotional, and social worlds. (Brown, 2021)

Many forms of grief exist. One common form of grief is Delayed Grief, or grief that is not noticed or fully experienced immediately after the loss, only becoming apparent after a period of time after the loss. Anticipatory grief is an experience of grief in response to a loss that is expected to occur in the future, such as the death of a loved one, ending of a relationship, or physical relocation to a new place or part of the world.

Our grief journey is impacted by our social context or environment: urgency, scarcity, unpredictability, and societal expectations often impact the progression of an individual or communal grief journey. These limitations are imposed and perpetuated by individuals, communities, and systems, which often leads to the disenfranchisement and suffocation of grief.

  • Grief is disenfranchised when it is “...not openly acknowledged or publicly supported through mourning practices or rituals because the experience is not valued or counted as a loss” by normative society. (Boudere, 2017)

    • Example: when loved ones ask survivors of violence “why aren’t you over that by now?” or our employers don’t offer personal leave for the specific type of event we are grieving.

  • Grief is suffocated when it is penalized, punished, devalued, misinterpreted, or misdiagnosed. (Boudere, 2017)

    • Example: when an adult is imprisoned or a child is expelled for behavioral manifestations of grief, or a person is labeled with a DSM “disorder” characterizing their adaptive grief response as dysfunctional.

Over time, unprocessed grief can compound and evolve into a trauma response due to entropy, or a lack of order and predictability within the social context that gradually leads to dis-stress and dis-ease (Antonovsky, 1979). These symptoms and behaviors are often labeled by the medical model as maladaptive mental health “dis-orders'' or medical anomalies, rather than natural adaptive responses to entropy or suffocated and disenfranchised grief. To process unresolved grief, we must “reaffirm or reconstruct a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss” (Neimeyer, 2019), a process that is most effective when it occurs within a safe and supportive community.

Colorado Coherence Collective offers Radically Open Support Groups specifically designed to serve members of communities that often experience disenfranchised or suffocated grief:

  • Neurodivergent activists or those with learning differences, as well as their caregivers and families.

  • Members of the chronically ill, disabled, and immunocompromised community.

  • Survivors of interpersonal, intimate partner, domestic, or community violence.

In our groups, we will support one another as we progress along our healing and grieving journeys by challenging disempowering beliefs, adopting new paradigms and perspectives, and developing values-aligned habits and lifestyles that allow us to access an embodied sense of safety, compassion, competence, authentic social connection, and belonging.

Contact us today to schedule a Free Initial Consultation to chat about your needs.



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