When grief complicates and becomes pathological by virtue of its duration, intensity, or by bizarre or somatic manifestation, the psychiatric diagnosis of Complicated Bereavement or chronic grief is in order. This prolonged grief may occur due to the loss of a loved one when the nature of death is traumatic or unexpected and sudden. In children, the results of this type of traumatization include sleeping problems such as difficulties in going to sleep and nightmares or night terrors. Hypnotherapy has been shown to be successful in helping children to overcome their sleeping problem in a 2002 study of children ranging in age from 8-12 yrs.
Often people who are experiencing chronic grief do not even realize that is what is going on because they are in a state of sympathetic or parasympathetic shock. Those that are in sympathetic shock become work-a-holics, focusing on a million irrelevant details, frantically running around and keeping busy in order to not feel the loss and the deep pain. People that are in parasympathetic shock have completely numbed out by either sleeping a lot, being depressed and hiding in bed, or using food or alcohol to shove down their deep grief.
As children many of us were told not to cry since that would indicate we were still a baby. Boys especially have gotten this message and I have worked with men who haven’t cried for 30 years or more. One man told me he hadn’t cried since he was a small boy, not even when his parents died. The result of holding in these feelings for him was chronic hypertension and severe cardiac problems. In other words, his heart was hurting him, even “attacking” him, due to the deep grief he was attempting to deny.
Often we find that complicated bereavement or chronic grief results from previous unmourned deaths or losses that are triggered or activated by a current loss. Relief is relatively immediate when through hypnotherapy and age regression the archaic unfinished business of these old losses are allowed to come to consciousness, and to be cathartically released.
A woman who began to have what was finally diagnosed as Fibromyalgia came to see us. She had chronic pain that seemed to move from one part of her body to another. One day it was like a stabbing pain in her chest, then her muscles ached all over and on and on. She felt like she had pins and needles in her joints and went from one doctor to another until they threw up their hands and sent her to us for hypnotherapy. With hypnotherapy we always begin our work with someone who has physical symptoms by going directly to that symptom. We began with the stabbing pain in her heart and regressed her to the source of this pain. She was immediately sitting at the bed of her sister who was dying of breast cancer that had metastasized all over her body. Our client did four sessions as she unraveled the complicated relationship she had with her sister and all the feelings she had pushed down in order to “be strong” for her sister as she deteriorated and be even stronger for the other family members.
When her sister finally passed away after a long and grueling deterioration process, our client was so exhausted that she felt completely numb. Naturally she became focused on arranging the funeral, packing up her sister’s home and all the other details that needed tending to. When she finally was able to return to her own family and job she could barely concentrate. She noticed that she had gained a lot of weight during the period of watching her sister deteriorate and began to feel extremely depressed about her own body. She then noticed herself drinking several glasses of wine at night just to be able to go to sleep. She felt like she was going downhill quickly, and it was then she began to focus on the stabbing pains in her heart. She thought she was having a heart attack but was assured by her doctor that she was not.
She never had a chance to grieve and deal with her deep feelings about her sister when several months later she got the news that a close friend of hers had been in a terrible car accident and had no family members in the area. She was devastated and of course had to run to her friend’s side to be there for her. These situations continued to happen over the next several years where she had no time to grieve one loss when another tragic loss occurred. After each loss it seemed that our gal would notice another symptom for which she sought out a new doctor. In the Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy we helped her to process all the unresolved grief that she had literally stored in different parts of her body. After each hypnotherapy session, where she released layers and layers of chronic grief, her body felt better. Finally she went back to her doctor and told him she no longer had Fibromyalgia!
One way hypnotherapy can be used to assist an individual suffering from chronic grief is to complete their unfinished business with the deceased. Hypnotherapy allows the person to safely relive historical events with the now-deceased loved one through age regression imaginative involvement, and to constructively change any memories that are interfering with healthy current involvement in life. For example, if the client is obsessing over their failure to be present at the moment of death, the therapist might facilitate a creative visualization within the state of hypnosis in which the client is present at the deathbed and has an opportunity to say everything that needs to be said.