Overcoming the Fear of Loss in Trauma Recovery
After enduring childhood trauma and developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I battled an intense fear of loss. Not only was I sexually assaulted at the young age of four, but that same boy threatened my safety as well as my family's. If I told anyone what he did, he would retaliate. While I can rationalize in adulthood, my young brain couldn't comprehend the validity of his menacing warnings. I truly believed my family's lives depended on my ability to stay quiet. Now, in trauma recovery, I fear loss.
From then on, I constantly experienced anxiety about losing the people I love, whether to death or other circumstances. Since I assumed responsibility for their lives, I also became controlling and obsessive. If my mom didn't answer her phone after one call, I would begin panicking, re-dialing her number incessantly with my shaking hands. If my dad was a few minutes late, I began to mourn him, sure that he must have died in a car crash. Eventually, this debilitating fear of loss in trauma recovery bled into my friendships and romantic relationships, too.
Trauma Recovery and the Fear of Loss
In my experience, trauma has caused me to develop an extreme fear of loss that impacts my close relationships. Whenever I get close to someone, I worry about their wellbeing. Through therapy, I've realized this fear stems from my inability to feel safe with or seen by most people. After going through such a traumatic event as a child (and being told I would lose my loved ones if I talked about it), I clung to my "safe people," who were few and far between. When I do feel even relatively safe with someone, the overwhelming fear of loss creeps in, telling me I will lose them in some way.
While no one wants to grieve someone they love and care about, this fear becomes heightened for me. At my best, I worry something will happen to my loved one if I don't hear back from them for a while; at my worst, I overthink everything I do or say, wondering whether it will push them away or change how they perceive me. This has strained many of my past relationships, as I often found myself riddled with extreme anxiety.
Overcoming the Fear of Loss in Trauma Recovery
While, in trauma recovery, the fear of loss can be debilitating at times, it doesn't have to take over your life. In fact, through therapy and trauma work, I've been able to better cope with this fear. Here are some ways I've overcome the fear of loss in trauma recovery:
- Talking with a professional: First and foremost, I will always recommend speaking with a professional before taking recovery into your own hands. While we know ourselves best, I've found trauma can alter our awareness and warp our self-perceptions at times. Talking with a licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist can ensure you're taking the right steps toward healing and processing your fear of loss in trauma recovery. This could help you better understand where it stems from and healthily process the fear.
- Surrounding myself with safe people: By "safe people," I mean those who do not judge or harshly criticize you for your thoughts, feelings, and triggers. Not only should the people in your life make you feel physically safe, but they should also provide an emotionally supportive environment that's accepting and loving in nature. This doesn't mean they can't hold you accountable. A good support system will call out any negative behavior or toxic patterns. However, shaming or victim-blaming is not in the realm of emotional safety.
- Expressing my fear: Oftentimes, it helps me to talk openly about my fear of loss — especially with the people it involves. For example, I recently started seeing someone who treats me with kindness and compassion. Naturally, because I feel so accepted and safe with this person, I find myself worrying about his health and safety. Instead of bottling this up or hiding the feelings, I decided to express them to him so we could talk through it and find ways to alleviate the worry without enabling any compulsive behavior. Sometimes, all I need is to feel understood by someone.
- Maintaining a sense of self: While no one wants to lose someone they love, focusing your attention on remaining whole and true to yourself without another person helps cultivate safety within yourself. That doesn't mean you wouldn't experience grief if you were to lose someone you love. Rather, it's a simple reminder that you can rely on yourself for the support and love you need. This can lessen the panic you have and help ground you in the present moment so you can enjoy your loved ones as you are with them. Don't lose yourself in any relationships; instead, maintain your connections with yourself, your friends, your family, and other important people so you don't feel you're getting fulfillment from just one person.
- Coming to terms with loss: Loss is, unfortunately, part of life. However, losing someone in any way — whether through death, a breakup, or betrayal — can be both devastating and traumatizing. Know that everyone fears loss to an extent. All we can do is appreciate who we have when we have them.
For more on overcoming the fear of loss in trauma recovery, watch this video:
Caramela, S. (2023, November 20). Overcoming the Fear of Loss in Trauma Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2023/11/overcoming-the-fear-of-loss-in-trauma-recovery