Separating Grief and Trauma

How do we proceed with such important matters so that, by cultivating the right attitude and taking the right actions, we might even prevent certain developments? Because that also is part of our task since Anthroposophy would be meaningless if we only practiced it privately for ourselves.—Ita Wegman, 1933


Over the past week, I attended the London Book Fair and was able to meet some friends of SteinerBooks in the UK. This meeting of people from around the world was united through the written word and its ability to bring people together. While we were there, we heard about rising knife violence in London, a tragic plane crash in Ethiopia, and a shooting at a mosque in New Zealand. The outside world kept moving, while we learned of new thoughts and ideas that could help the world.

How do we help our communities overcome the trauma, begin to grieve, and finally heal? How do we continue to live in the world, while learning new ways to engage and support our fellow citizens? Today, I will share some books that are helping me work through these questions.

“Despite some essential similarities between trauma and grief, there are obvious differences that one needs to be aware of. As part of a sociological study, William Steele and Melvyn Raider (2001, 155) listed the following differences between trauma and grief responses. While the grieving process involves feelings of sadness that have no effect on the griever’s self-image or self-confidence, trauma evokes a sense of horror and overwhelming powerlessness and leads to a loss of any sense of safety, a distorted self-image and the loss of self-reliance. Grief results in despondence while trauma leads to silent suffering.” - Bernd Ruf, Educating Traumatized Children

We need to understand the difference between trauma and grief if we are to help our communities heal after tragic events and to provide a process to help others restore their faith in the world. We can do this through soul nurturing activities like reading fairy tales to children, connecting to nature, and establishing rituals to ground us in times of inconceivable world events. We need to practice activities that interrupt what Bernd Ruff calls “shock energy”.

Many of us would like a handbook for working through trying times such as these. No matter how we work through this shock energy, we must move through it.

More Radiant than the Sun will be a valuable companion for anyone ready to move beyond reading verses into working with verses by Rudolf Steiner. This handbook offers verses, exercises, and original instructions from Steiner, along with commentary, suggestions, and context from Gertrude Reif Hughes, a student of Anthroposophy for much of her life.

Centering Prayer and the Healing of the Unconscious is an essential work for all those interested in the history and practice of centering prayer. In addition to describing the background of this unique and effective practice, Fr. Ó Madagáin offers unique insights into the ideas of one of its leading contemporary teachers and practitioners.

Our world will continue to swing between tragedy and joy, but we have an opportunity to grow stronger and wiser during the times of conflict so that we can live more deeply in joy in times of health.