Some of the suffering that people experiencing grief and trauma have comes from the idea that they could have controlled what happened. In some instances that was true, but much of the time people think they should have done something differently. Had they made different choices the outcome would have been better, in their opinions. That kind of thinking can sometimes lead to anguish and agonizing about their past choices. It leads to unnecessary guilt and can contribute to depression and complicated grief.
Some examples of this kind of thinking include the following examples:
* A rape survivor thinks that if she had worn different clothing, she would have avoided being raped
* A bereaved husband thinks that if he had catered to his wife’s needs more, she would have lived longer (assuming that he was reasonably helpful to her while she was alive)
* A person with a chronic illness or chronic pain thinks that if she had been a nicer person, she wouldn’t have developed her illness
* An incest survivor thinks that because he didn’t tell his parents, it must mean that he wanted his relative to abuse him sexually
* A man believes that if he had been more religiously involved, his son would not have perished unexpectedly
Much of grief and trauma is beyond our control, but how we handle it is within our control, if we work on how we make meaning of it. This is something that can be changed, thankfully.
One thing we can do when we have such thoughts is to reality-test them. If you can’t do this within yourself, talk to a friend or a professional who can help you distinguish the control you did and didn’t have in those past situations. Another way is to imagine how you would talk to a little boy or girl, or a good friend in that same situation. Would you really blame him or her for what happened to him/her? Would you be more compassionate, perhaps? That is something to consider when you are unkind to yourself with such thoughts: have the same compassion for yourself as you would for a loved one. I am a professional who helps people with grief and trauma; my number is 661-233-6771.