PTSD: National Center for PTSD
Meaning-Making and GriefSpiritual and religious beliefs can either help or hinder trauma survivors in their attempts to create a healthy understanding of traumatic events, and ultimately make meaning from the events. If trauma survivors believe that their Higher Power failed them, or that the traumatic events were punishment for past sins, these beliefs could result in anger toward their Higher Power, and disconnection from spiritual or religious
Crystal Park and colleagues27,28 have theorized about how meaning develops during exposure to traumatic and loss events, and how religion and spirituality can provide a framework that may aid the development of meaning. They suggest that two levels of meaning are involved in coping with trauma.
These are the internal cognitive structures that encompass an individual's understanding of the nature and functioning of the world; in other words, their expectations about how the world works. These global beliefs serve to guide life goals, direction, and functioning.
These meanings include appraisals of events as threat, loss, or challenge, and also include causal attributions as to why and how these events occurred.
Meaning-making is also one of the recovery tasks for family and friends who lose a loved one to a traumatic event. Researchers who have studied meaning-making in the context of bereavement have suggested two important ways that individuals make new meaning31.
Two Ways Individuals Find Meaning
This happens when survivors appraise an event as fitting their existing worldview. For example, people sometimes report making sense of a loss by attributing it to God's will, or by attributing it to a predictable possibility of war, or even by taking on some element of blame themselves.
Individuals will report gaining a greater appreciation for life, or experiencing personal growth from the event, or perhaps placing a higher value on their relationships following the loss. This has been called meaning through construed benefit.
On the other hand, survivors will often find meaning by providing resources or support to other victims and their families. For Service members, Veterans, and their families, organizations such as the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) provide both resources and opportunities to volunteer and support others who have experienced the deaths of loved ones in combat.
It is important to note that, at times, strong emotions that come from loss (e.g., sadness, anger or resentment) may actually provide the energy for actions that create meaning. Care providers should resist pathologizing these normal, yet strong, emotional reactions. Rather, they should help survivors reframe and understand these emotional reactions in a different way while also guiding them to use the energy linked to these reactions to do positive things that enhance the meaning making process and better memorialize the lost loved one.