Grief isn’t just about physical death. It is a natural human reaction to any kind of loss.
Family members experience so many losses as a result of sibling sexual trauma: loss of innocence, loss of trust, loss of childhood, loss of family support, loss of family connections, loss of identity, loss of autonomy...the list goes on. Given the stigma and the silent nature of sibling sexual trauma, those involved usually end up grieving in private. They grieve for things that are not understood and not even seen by others. They are denied the support from community, friends, and family that provides consolation in times of public grief. There are no rituals to channel the grief. It may be hard to even find words to describe to themselves what they are grieving, or that what they are feeling is a type of grief.
The grief process is integral to healing from sibling sexual trauma, for all who are affected. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross pioneered the study of grief in people facing death and described five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining (or regret), depression, and acceptance. She and others have since built on her work. It is now generally understood that these facets of grieving aren’t a sequence or a requirement; they are more a description of what experiences are most common in grief. Other common responses are shock, guilt, shame, fear, and finding meaning.
Depression and grief are closely intertwined and the use of the two words can cause confusion. Depression is a broader experience than grief; grief is a broader experience than depression, but they are very often experienced together. Grief almost always includes a time of depression, but includes other symptoms/feelings as well.
Depression can be a clinical condition caused at least in part by long-standing characteristics of a person’s brain chemistry. Life circumstances, including grief, can also cause behavioral and brain chemical imbalances that send a person into long-term depression. Depression is usually associated with sadness but, particularly in men and children, can also show itself in anger or acting out.
On a personal and practical level, it can be nearly impossible to know whether you are experiencing grief, or depression, or both. Fortunately it doesn’t matter that much. Neither grief nor depression is wrong, or a sign of weakness or failure. Being kind to yourself and getting help are important keys to healing.
1in6.org: Stages of Recovery for Men
Litsa Williams, WhatsYourGrief.com: Ambiguous Grief: Grieving Someone Who is Still Alive
Pauline Boss, PhD: Ambiguous Loss
Elearnor Haley, WhatsYourGrief.com: The Myth of the Grief Timeline
Crystal Raypole, Healthline.com: Disenfranchised Grief; When No One Seems to Understand Your Loss
Christina Gregory, PhD, Psycom.com: Five Stages of Grief
American Psychiatric Association: Depression is Different From Sadness or Grief
Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast: ttfa.org
Jane Epstein shares her journey from Grief to Healing and Advocacy, from death and sibling sexual trauma: Complicated Courage
Image credit: Cari Gregersen
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