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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

Grief & Loss: Collective Grief

Collective Grief is when a town, community, culture, society, or nation has a shared experience of change, loss, or death. This can be caused by a widespread tragedy that impacts many.

Examples of Collective Grief include the death of beloved celebrities, national tragedies, deaths in small communities, etc. In a small rural community where everyone knows everyone, tragedy has a ripple effect that impacts us all.

In cases of tragedy we view collective grief as secondary traumatic stress which is “an event, or series of events, that shatters the experience of safety for a group, or groups, of people. … These events are different from other forms of traumatic events because of their collective nature. That is, these events are a shared experience that alter the narrative and psyche of a group or community.” (Source)

When our community hurts, we hurt and it may even cause us to feel unsafe or vulnerable. This may lead us to try to find answers that don't exist.

With collective grief, we often put ourselves in the shoes of the people closest to the loss and have tremendous empathy for them to the point that we grieve too, even if we are largely unaffected by the loss.

It can be hard to allow yourself to grieve and sometimes we feel a little silly while comparing our grief to others knowing someone else is grieving so much more, but remember your feelings are valid and it’s okay for you to grieve and feel sad too. “...empathy ought to be normalized and further, celebrated because it speaks to how interconnected we feel to each other.” (Source)

Our experience of Collective Grief is often accompanied by feeling a lack of control since we could not prevent the tragedy or loss and we feel powerless and helpless as a result.

Here are some tips and things you can do to manage your feelings associated with Collective Grief to feel more in control:

  1. Go back to the basics. Focus on routine + Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Stay on track and keep your normal routine. Focus on eating healthy food, drinking enough water, and getting an appropriate amount of sleep.

  2. Use self-regulation strategies. Spend time in nature getting fresh air and sunlight, do yoga or other exercise, journal, practice guided meditation or mindfulness, utilize deep breathing, and engage in the hobbies you love when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

  3. Take a break from social media. Social media can be very overwhelming and distracting during times like these. You can quickly fall down a rabbit hole of information that may or may not be true. If you find yourself losing track of time, take a break. Turn your phone off or give it to a friend or loved one for a social media timeout.

  4. Talk about it. Share your thoughts and feelings with those around you. This will help you to process your experience better and you’ll soon see that others share many of your thoughts and feelings which will help you feel that your experience is normal.

  5. Reflect on your own losses. Sometimes the loss of someone else stirs up losses we’ve experienced in the past. Revisit whether you actually worked through those losses or ignored them. If you ignored past losses and they are resurfacing, it may be time to work through them with the help of a therapist or grief support group.

A positive side to collective grief?

We shift from looking only inward at our own grief experience to looking outward at how a tragedy or loss has impacted others and we feel connected, linked, and even camaraderie with those who share in our grief.

So for now, Jones County will unite and grieve together.

Need additional support? Contact us to start your journey at 319.224.0722 or by filling out our New Client Information Form.

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