In nearly all instances of a person who dies by suicide, family and other loved ones are virtually universal in stating that when they learned of the death, they were in shock. People often time do make statements like “I was shocked” when something alarming occurs in their lives. In some instances, they really may be experiencing shock as an emotional response to a situation.
We do distinguish in this article between emotional shock and physiological shock. Again, the focus in this article is on the emotional shock response to the death of a loved one by suicide.
In this article we discuss a number of topics related to shock and the death of a loved one by suicide:
- Overview of emotional shock
- Shock is a natural response
- Shock doesn’t have a definitive end point
- Shock upon learning of a loved one’s death by suicide
- Shock upon finding the remains of a person who died by suicide
Overview of Emotional Shock
In the book Neurobiology of Emotional Shock, emotional shock is defined as:
Emotional shock is often part of the fight or flight response, a normal but painful way your brain reacts to something it sees as a threat to your well-being. When your brain is unable to process the situation, it freezes in an effort to protect your mind and body.
There are a set of signs that an individual may be experiencing emotional shock. The primary signs of emotional shock are:
- Muscle tension
- Increased heart rate
- Tightness in the throat or chest
- Inability to speak or move
- Difficulty rationalizing, thinking, or planning
- Loss of interest in surroundings
- Inability to express emotion
Shock is not a recognized stage of the grieving process that follows the death of a loved one. With that said, emotional shock can inhibit and impact the grieving process at any of the five commonly recognized stages:
Shock has the potential to waif in and out of the grief process. It can appear to be gone only to remerge. Eventually and over time, as the grieving process progresses and time moves on, shock will no longer make a reappearance in the life of a survivor of suicide loss. If shock continues to manifest itself over time, preventing a person from working through the grief process, that individual should seek out professional assistance.
Shock Is a Natural Response
Experts in human biology recognize shock as being a natural response in certain situations. They consider it to be a part of the flight or fight response. Emotional shock is thought of as a protective response that shields the victim of a horrible situation from fully comprehending it or taking it in at the moment. Shock is thought to shield a person from the complete reality of something like hearing that a loved one has died by suicide. As is discussed in a moment, shock is not intended to persist as a permanent feature in a person’s life. Although a natural immediate response, it is something that is to dissipate going forward into the future.
Shock Doesn’t Have a Definitive End Point
Shock doesn’t have a definitive end point as such. Rather, it fades away over time until a person may look back and realize that he or she has not been experiencing the symptoms associated with emotional shock for some period of time. Over time, and as an individual works through the grief process, shock stops openly manifesting itself in an individual’s life.
Shock Upon Learning of a Loved One’s Death by Suicide
As was mentioned a moment ago, many people do experience emotional shock when they learn the news that someone important in their lives has died by suicide. The reality is that there are virtually no situations in which a person is fully prepared to learn that a family member or friend has died by suicide.
There can be situations in which the death of a loved one by suicide might not feel surprising. However, when such a death actually occurs, it is still an emotionally shocking situation. You can be emotionally shocked without being actually surprised.
Shock Upon Finding the Remains of a Person Who Died by Suicide
One of the most emotionally shocking events that can happen in a person’s life is discovering the remains of a person who has died by suicide. This typically is a shocking and traumatic experience.
The discovery of a person who has died by suicide becomes even more significantly shocking and overwhelming if the individual who has died used a violent instrumentality like a gun or knife in the process. Indeed, that type of situation can fairly be described as emotionally overwhelming for most people.