Death and mourning are events from which we cannot escape . Although painful, the cycle of life forces us to live these stages, to overcome them and to adapt to life again as best we can.

The problem is that, contrary to popular belief, time does not cure everything, nor are all deaths the same. The closeness of the bond with the deceased, the situation in which the death occurs, the external support and the personality traits of the mourner (the one who loses a close one) are some of the variables that influence the resolution or the stagnation of the mourning.

What is traumatic grief?

Traumatic mourning is that which occurs with the death of one or several people in a surprising , unexpected and unjust situation, such as attacks, terrorism, murders, natural disasters or accidents, among others, are possibly the worst prognosis, along with the death of a child, which has been considered one of the worst losses that a human being can experience. That is why I want to talk not only about death and grief, but especially about this kind of trauma, which is so unfair and difficult to overcome.

Not only does death hurt, but post-traumatic stress must be given special attention:

When we talk about trauma of any kind, psychologists turn on the alert in our brain of the Post-Traumatic Stress that the sufferer may be suffering: re-experimentation of what has happened, nightmares, avoidance of stimuli that remind us of the event, dissociative states, anxiety attacks, insomnia, hypervigilance… When there are these kinds of symptoms, grief becomes complicated and may stagnate in one of its phases.

Painful Emotions: Shame and Guilt

In a grief it is normal to feel anger and sadness , it is totally adaptive and necessary to get used to a new reality without the deceased. But feeling guilt and shame can be the beginning of an unresolved grief. Guilt is usually felt because we are not the ones who die, along with repetitive and obsessive thoughts about “what if” or “I should…” (and if I hadn’t got on the train / and if I hadn’t insisted on coming / I shouldn’t have told him this or that, I should have helped him take care of himself, I should have paid more attention…).

Shame arises before the society that follows their life, for being “different” or for not wanting to show our feelings in public. Both emotions can block the resolution of the loss, not only on a mental level, but also on a sensorimotor (body) level, leaving in the body unconscious memories that block the grieving process.


Another emotion that can make it difficult to resolve the grief is hatred, especially if it is due to an accident, an act of terrorism or a murder. Hatred of the perpetrator of the injustice blocks progress in the stages of grief, leaving the person anchored in the past and, along with it, in pain.

What can be done to overcome death?

To say that a person has overcome the death of a loved one, he or she must come to terms with the loss . Griefs usually have a series of non-linear phases (although they usually occur sequentially), but it is common for there to be setbacks or a mixture of emotions. For didactic reasons, I will present them in series: denial, anger, sadness, negotiation and acceptance.

  • In this article you have extended information: “The 5 stages of grief (when a family member dies)”

1. Denial of reality

The first of these is, as the name itself indicates, denying reality , not believing what happened. This occurs because the high emotional impact of the loss would be unbearable at a conscious level, so our mind uses this defense to cushion the blow of the news, at least momentarily.

2. Anger, sadness and negotiation

After that, there would be anger, followed by sadness and negotiation (negotiating with life the new present reality, starting to assume the person in the past, seeing the new way of living, etc.) to finally accept that nothing is like before.

As I have said, the phases can be mixed up, this is normal, what is pathological or worrying is to remain anchored in one of the phases, as can be the person who years later continues to prepare the table for the deceased as if he were still among us (this would be a denial of reality).

3. Acceptance and hope for continuing to live

In order to overcome a loss we have to take an active role as agents of our own mental change to be able to move from pain to hope for life.

Therapy: processes that help us overcome severe grief

This is why we psychologists like to talk about grief “activities” rather than phases or stages. If you are feeling the pain of a loss, follow these tips:

1.Expressing pain

Being positive is good and can help you to get through grief, but death, at least in our culture, hurts . It is fundamental to express the emotions that do not give us pleasure, these are anger, pain, guilt, sadness, loneliness… So that we free the mind and body from containing them without expressing them. To overcome an emotion, we must give ourselves the right to recognize it, name it, feel it and live it. Only in this way will it pass. Find a place and a time to remember the deceased, to feel his lack, to mourn his absence. It hurts, but it heals.

2. The pendulum

It is true that we must express negative emotions, but we must continue to live life. That is why we must do the pendulum exercise, where we pass from a state of sadness to one of vitality. We must neither stay at one end nor the other. We must mourn death but also continue to enjoy (as best we can in the first moments) the good things. Many people feel that they do not have the right to feel emotions such as joy or relief, but if they do arise, they must experience them.

Death brings us ambivalence and mental conflicts, accepting and experiencing them , as in the previous point, is the first step to overcome them. Do not judge yourself, just feel.

3. Homage and support

Worshipping the dead helps to make people aware that what happened is a fact . This is why, in major catastrophes or murders, we see how tributes are made at a social level. The same happens at funerals or wakes; these are places that help us to come to terms with what happened. A more private tribute can also be made, in solitude, but let us remember that, although we feel like being alone, people we trust are a help to us to move forward.

4. Make a coherent narrative of what happened

The human brain needs to understand and does so through stories, metaphors and tales . That is why in order to overcome what happened we must give it a meaning and create a coherent story. Talking about it, seeking explanations, putting the facts together, formulating a narrative that brings together the past, traumatic events, happy events and the future, helps to overcome what has happened. It can even be written in the form of a small novel.

The key is not only to remember the negative, but the whole story, with the good memories and the bad ones, so as not to idealize the deceased or keep the moment of his death (or of the burial, wake, etc.).

5. Adapting to new life

Assuming that the other person is gone includes assuming that there are roles that no one will do anymore or that must be assumed by others, that our lives will change because someone has to do what the deceased did. We also have to assume internal changes, growth and loss , duels of future expectations and past memories.

6. Goodbye is not forgetting

We must say goodbye to the deceased, but not forgetting him, but relocating him in our life in some way . We have to find ways to carry the person who has left within us while we continue to live and move forward. Memory can produce nostalgia, but each person who passes through our life leaves us a sign, a teaching. Realizing this helps us to respect their life, their death and their memory.

7. EMDR therapy, sensorimotor therapy and hypnosis

Especially in traumatic duels it is important to go to therapy . If you see that even by doing all of the above you are not able to overcome the loss of your loved one, maybe it is time to ask a professional for help. EMDR therapy, sensorimotor therapy and hypnosis are proven techniques that will help you overcome your pain. Ask your trusted psychologist.