In great measure, the words we use dictate the feelings we have. The more accurate and honest our language, the clearer our awareness of what affects us, and what we can do about it. Read on to find out how to overcome PTSD, trauma or stress using the tools of The Grief Recovery Method.
For example, over the past 35 years, we’ve fought what seems like a never-ending battle to distinguish the naturally occurring lowered state of emotional and physical energy caused by grief, which can be called depression, from the clinical depression diagnosed by psychiatrists when someone has a mental disorder. There’s a world of difference between a lowered state of energy and a clinical depression.
At the same time, we’ve been fighting another endless battle to use correct language to define grief, as opposed to the seemingly infinite number of euphemisms that crop up every few years in our pop-psych culture, and serve only to push people further away from the truth.
Here’s a basic truth: “Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.”
We’d all do well to just live from that truth. But just going back the last 150 years, there’s been a constant attempt to avoid the word grief, and to use any number of inaccurate substitutes in its place. Most of the substituted words shift grief from the normal emotional reaction to loss, to either the intellect or the physical-medical realm, where the underlying grief gets lost or hidden.
Phrases that mask the truthful underlying grief
Here’s a short list of some of those words and phrases that mask the truthful underlying grief, along with brief explanations about how and when they were used:
Melancholia - A word with a long and checkered history of meaning and usage. In one of its incarnations it was used to describe grief during and after the Civil War. At that time, melancholia was defined as a mental disorder or mental illness.
Shell Shock - Used during and after WW I. While there is undoubtedly a physical aspect to being subjected to daily bombings, when any of your breaths could be your last, the grief caused by the losses of safety and other elements is rarely mentioned.
Combat Fatigue - Used during and after WW II. Being in a real war zone where survival requires moment-to-moment vigilance and consumes an inordinate amount of energy is unquestionably a cause of fatigue. But again, the grief of the loss of safety and well-being are removed from the discussion by the diagnostic language, combat fatigue.
Burnout – Popular in the 70s, this catchy phrase seemed to say something, but all it did was cover up the underlying grief issues that made people feel that way. By using an inaccurate label as a shield, people didn’t have to talk about the grief and loss issues that were causing them to feel that way.
Pressure and Stress – This pair, although usually not used together, followed Burnout in the pop-psych vernacular. Some people define stress as something internal that we generate and feel within ourselves, while pressure is external and comes from outside of us. No matter how it’s defined, we believe that what causes those feelings are grief or loss events of many different kinds, which again get overlooked by the jargon.
PTSD – While there are references throughout history to what is now called PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the phrase itself wasn’t coined until 1980—long after the Vietnam War. As with the other words and phrases above, the cause of PTSD is grief, pure and simple. It is the losses of safety, of trust, of physical and emotional well-being that are lumped under an academic, diagnostic heading, but shift attention away from the grief.
Trauma – The latest. This simplistic, “one-word fits all” jargon is creating yet another wall between grieving people and their normal emotional reaction to the life events that affect them.
Diagnostic Language Leads to Drug Therapies and Leaves the Broken Heart Unattended
The language we’ve highlighted here is often used by medical and mental health professionals to define and diagnose the people who come to them for help. They pass that language onto their clients-patients who adopt it as truth because it came from on high. They accept what they’re told without further investigation. And as we said in our opening, “the words we use dictate the feelings we have.”
The tragedy of diagnostic language is that it leads primarily to psycho-pharmaceutical intervention, especially when grief is involved. Here’s how: The professional substitutes the word depression in its clinical sense—rather than its normal reaction to loss sense—and attaches it to the grieving person. With that subtle shift, it then makes sense to prescribe anti-depressant drugs.
Once the grief is falsely pathologized and covered up with medications, the unsuspecting griever gets caught up in an endless cycle of medications covering up the pain. If and when the griever tries to get off the medications, the pain of the original unresolved grief comes back in full force. Scared by the resurgent grief, the griever goes back on the medications and the next cycle begins.
It Doesn’t Have to Be that Way!
For 35 years we’ve been helping grieving people discover and complete what was left emotionally incomplete for them by the death of someone meaningful in their life, or by a divorce or other losses. There’s no need for fancy jargon, for diagnoses, and in most situations, pharmacological intervention.
How to overcome PTSD: Back to basics
Calling grief what it is, grief.
Recognizing that grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss
Learning the series of actions that lead to recovery from or completion of loss.
Find a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist in your community and work 1-1 or enroll in their next group program!