Personally, I always love episodes that rail against social norms and speaking ill of the dead definitely does. However, this social norm is understandable but in today’s episode we’re going to look at the inherent problems this causes trauma survivors and how speaking ill of the dead might help them in their recovery. If you’re even remotely interested in clinical psychology and therapy, you seriously need to read on!
Today’s episode has been sponsored by Abnormal Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Mini-Introduction to Benefits of Speaking Ill of The Dead
As I mentioned in the introduction of the post, there actually might be benefits of speaking ill of the dead for people, and this could be especially true for trauma survivors. Since when offenders of trauma die, survivors often face a wide range of very complex emotions and this sets them off on an emotional journey where they will need others to help them understand, support and accept themselves and their own emotions.
As well as in this case the social norm of do not speak ill of the dead under any circumstances is very damaging, because it could make the social support network of the trauma survivor get uncomfortable listening to them speak ill of the dead and they may be ill-equipped to support the trauma survivor. Resulting in them even being tempted to challenge, silence or minimise what the survivor experienced all because of some social norm.
Personally I flat out do not blame anyone for feeling uncomfortable about speaking ill of the dead, because I too experience it. For example, if someone speaks ill about my Grandmother on my dad’s side, then yes, I get uncomfortable and to be honest I do not want to hear it.
But there are problems with this, and I will fully admit if my Grandmother was abusive or wronged other people then I might be tempted to silence a survivor on the matter. But the point of this podcast episode is to help raise awareness of this, and learn how to improve myself at the same time in case I do actually have a loved one or know someone who was good to me, but abusive to others.
Supporting The Survivor’s Grieving Process
Whenever an offender dies, trauma survivors can experience a wide range of disturbing and conflicting emotions throughout their grieving process. They might be angry and devastated about the death, they might be happy and relieved or they might be overwhelmed. And like always everyone is completely entitled to feel how they want to feel, like I know when certain people pass in my family none of my immediate family will be upset. It doesn’t make us bad people, it is just the response we will have because of what certain people have done.
Therefore, to aid in the grieving process, survivors might benefit from sharing their feelings,
thoughts and experiences about the dead offender or offenders. So some survivors might speak ill of the dead as part of the grieving process, whilst other people might not.
At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and the worst thing any of us can do, me included, is to try to force someone to grieve a certain way.
Additionally, trauma survivors do need to be selective or at least intentional about who they allow to support them during this difficult time, even more so if they do end up speaking ill of the dead. For example, it is unofficially best to talk to a non-judgemental best friend compared to a family member who thought the offender of the trauma could do no wrong.
In addition, there are a lot of reasons why people won’t be able to support trauma survivors and they might even be intolerant towards the survivor. Some of these reasons include they might be grieving themselves for the offender, and they might perceive them differently to the survivor.
Therefore, as an unofficial tip here, it could be best to seek out a friend or family member who either didn’t know the deceased offender or someone who is capable of distancing themselves from their own personal thoughts, feelings and experiences of the offender to help support the grieving process of the survivor.
Connecting This To Intergenerational Trauma
When it comes to trauma, there are many different types including intergenerational trauma. This is a type of trauma that consists of a response that has been passed down from one or more person to another. Normally this is done within the same family or a shared community. Intergenerational trauma can begin with an event that impacts one person in a family, or a number of events impacting multiple different people in the same family, or traumatic experiences that impact a particular community. Be it a cultural, sexual, national, ethnic, racial, religious or another type of group entirely.
Therefore, survivors of this intergenerational trauma, be it different generations of a family starting and continuing a cycle of physical abuse or another type of trauma, may need to speak ill of the dead so they can acknowledge what happened to them and process the impact of this intergenerational trauma.
And connecting this to a wider point about death, we all talk about the dead so we can tell their stories as well as gain and learn enough to form our own understanding about them. As a result, survivors could need to speak ill of the dead to gain a similar understanding and accept the impact and most importantly help themselves heal.
Also it is this understanding and accepting of the trauma that could be critical to avoid them passing on the trauma to future generations.
Speaking Ill of The Dead and Breaking Cycles:
Whilst cycles of abuse isn’t something we’ve ever covered on the podcast (something I actually find rather surprising), we do really need to talk about it here. Due to trauma survivors are vulnerable to unknowingly repeating their experiences and trauma, so they may victimise others just like how they were victimised themselves. This, as a result, creates a cycle of abuse, and sometimes survivors engage in self-sabotaging behaviours. Such as if a father was abused as a child repeatedly for years then he might abuse his children, or he may avoid having a child altogether. And like I have mentioned on previous podcast episodes, this can happen to anyone, and mothers can be abusive too.
As a result, in order to break this cycle of abuse, the survivors of the trauma may very well need to talk ill of the dead. They might need to say something along the lines of “He was a terrible father and I will never ever harm my children like he did,” or “I will never turn into my abuser,”. These sort of verbalisations can help people foster not only an awareness of their own personal thoughts and feelings, but they help give the survivor a sense of accountability to help them break or avoid the cycles of trauma and abuse.
Clinical Psychology Conclusion:
I know today’s mental health themed podcast episode was very different and to be honest, I will be rather surprised if it didn’t “trigger” anyone because the social norm of not speaking ill of the dead is so ingrained in our society. However, as psychology students and psychology professionals, we know the damage that other social norms, societal beliefs and other societal constructs can have on people’s mental health and healing processes. Therefore, it is very possible that this social norm about the dead needs to be added to that list.
Because as I have mentioned time and time again and I always will, as current or future psychologists, it is our unofficially mandate to help people decrease their psychological distress and improve their lives. And if speaking ill of the dead helps them to do that then it is something we absolutely have to consider.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s biological psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Abnormal Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Have a great day.
Clinical Psychology References
Krebet, Isabella. Is it OK to Speak Ill of the Dead? It Can Be. ABC Everyday. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/is-it-ok-to-speak-ill-of-the-dead/11906…
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