Adults Could Experience Serious Psychological And Physical Trauma If They Lose A Parent

Losing a parent is one of the most painful yet normal events in life. After all, while we are growing up our parents are growing old.

But just because losing a parent sooner or later happens to almost everyone it is not easy to accept it and live with it. The death of a parent is not only stressful, but it could also cause psychological trauma. It can change the life of the child who has lost their parent/s for good.

“In the best-case scenario, the death of a parent is anticipated. There’s time for families to prepare, say their goodbyes, and surround themselves with support,” psychiatrist Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi explains for Fatherly. “In cases where a death is unexpected, such as with an acute illness or traumatic accident, adult children may remain in the denial and anger phases of the loss for extended periods of time …[leading to] diagnosis of major depressive disorder or even PTSD, if the trauma is involved.”

According to neurology, the children could suffer physical discomfort shortly after a mother’s or a father’s death. But the real problem is that losing a parent could damage the whole body in the long-run.

Several studies on the topic have confirmed there is a  link between grieving and hypertension, cardiac issues, low activity or overactivity of the immune system, and cancer. It is not known why grief would lead to so serious physical consequences. Yet, there exists a theory which states the following. The permanently activated sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) can create serious genetic changes. In such cases, the person suffers from less pre-programmed cell death or their immune system is not responding efficiently to germs and illnesses. Although these problems could go unnoticed at least for a certain period of time they are actually quite serious. For instance, this kind of cellular dysregulation could cause cancerous cells to metastasize if it is not controlled.

And while the physical consequences following the death of a parent are relatively well-known the psychological ones still remain unpredictable.

The American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders warns the adults who have lost their parents that they could experience a series of different emotions in the year following the death. They could suffer from depression, rage, resentment, stress, numbness, exhaustion, guilt, regret, and disappointment. It is common people who’ve lost a parent to retreat from friends and social life and spend more time in their own company.

The circumstances of death are important too. A traumatic loss increases the chance of developing a grief disorder. This may explain why young adults are more strongly influenced by parental loss than adults who are middle-aged. Probably, it is due to the fact the parents of the former had died suddenly, or at least earlier than it could be expected. Moreover, if the adult child has a fractured relationship with their parent, death can have even more severe consequences.

“Coping is less stressful when adult children have time to anticipate parental death,” Jumoke Omojola, a clinical social worker in Omaha, Nebraska, explained to Fatherly. “Not being able to say goodbye contributes to feeling depressed and angry.”

Another important fact that should be taken into consideration is the gender, of both the parent and child.

According to research, the death of a father is linked to. the loss of personal authority. While the loss of a mother evokes a more painful response.

“Many people report feeling a greater sense of loss when a mother dies,” Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, and author explained to Fatherly.“This can be attributed to the often close, nurturing nature of the mother-child relationship.”

Studies also reveal that girls grieve more than boys. But men who lose their mothers or fathers might need more time to get over their loss.

“Males tend to show emotions less and compartmentalize more,” adds Manly.

Yet the pain and the period of grieving after the loss of a mother or a father has nothing to do with the gender of the parent who has passed away. It is the connection between the parents and their children that matters the most.

“Complicated bereavement can exist no matter which parent is lost,” Benders-Hadi a psychiatrist says for Fatherly. “More often, it is dependent on the relationship and bond that existed with the parent.”

Elisabeth Goldberg is a relationship therapist in New York City. She says that there is a connection between losing a mother or a father and cheating on a partner.

“I see many affairs as manifestations of unresolved grief about losing a parent,” Goldberg says for Fatherly. “The adult child stays in a state of disbelief and rejects reality in many ways in order to feed the delusion that the parent is still alive. The grieving child needs a new attachment figure, that’s the psyche trying to reconcile the denial and grief. So rather than say, ‘My mother died,’ the grieving child can say, ‘While Mommy’s away, I will play with someone other than my spouse.’ ”

Or in other words, grief can turn into distress and depression. This is particularly true when the mother or father commits suicide. A study from 2010 carried out at Johns Hopkins University proved that the death of a parent who has committed suicide makes children more prone to commit suicide themselves.

“Adults who lose a parent to suicide often struggle with complex emotions such as guilt, anger, and feelings of abandonment and vulnerability,” Lyn Morris, a licensed therapist, and VP at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services told Fatherly.

Ross Grossman, a licensed therapist and a specialist in adult grief, also shares his opinion on this issue. He says his patients often blame themselves for not being good to their deceased parent. “These kinds of thoughts, if left undisputed, usually result in a feeling of low self-worth, low self-esteem, shame, self-judgment, self-condemnation,” says Grossman.

There are however opposite situations when patients blame their deceased mothers or fathers for not being good parents. This is as dangerous as blaming themselves.

“The usual result of this is deep resentment, anger, rage,” Grossman states. “They may have genuine, legitimate reasons to feel mistreated or abused. In these situations, it’s not always the death of the parent but the death of the possibility of reconciliation, of rapprochement an apology from the offending parent.”
To solve this problem sometimes people who have lost their parents need to undergo special therapy. However, this is necessary for very extreme cases.

“Husbands can best support their wives by listening,” Manly explains. “Men often feel helpless in the face of their wives’ emotions, and they want to fix the situation. A husband can do far more good by sitting with his wife, listening to her, holding her hand, taking her for walks, and — if she desires — visiting the burial site,” she concludes.

So, it turns out that support from other family members and friends might be quite effective in getting people who’ve lost parent/s back on their feet.

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