What Is Traumatic Grief?

traumatic grief

Losing a loved one is always difficult; however, over time, the emotional distress associated with grief will usually lessen. While traumatic grief has similar characteristics to other forms of grief, it is generally more intense and challenging to manage as it usually happens in response to a sudden, unexpected loss.

Traumatic Grief Defined

Each grieving process is unique, and there is no correct way to navigate it. Although they are natural, the emotions experienced can be confusing and overwhelming.

Psychologists have identified five distinct stages of grief:

  • Denial – for some people, this is the first response to loss. It helps people manage the shock by convincing themselves that it is a mistake.
  • Anger – according to psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, anger is often redirected pain from a loss. It enables people to express their feelings without worrying about being judged or rejected.
  • Bargaining – this stage helps people hold onto hope throughout the other painful emotions of grief. To do this, people may agree to do something in exchange for relief from the anguish they are experiencing.
  • Depression – depression is experienced in different ways and can last long after losing a loved one. Feeling depressed when grieving is not necessarily a sign of a mental health condition; however, if it persists for several months, it could be a case of traumatic grief.
  • Acceptance – accepting a loss is about acknowledging what has happened. Although people in this phase tend to manage their emotions better, they still experience emotional stress linked to grieving.

Any form of death can cause traumatic grief, although common examples include losing someone to violence, terrorism, or suicide. Grief can also be traumatic if people witness death or the griever’s life is threatened simultaneously. In some cases, traumatic grief can lead to prolonged grief disorder or complicated grief.

Complicated Grief

Approximately 2.4% – 6.7% of people experience complicated grief after losing a loved one.[1] While traumatic and complicated grief are closely related, there is no official diagnosis for the former.

Complicated grief can sometimes be misinterpreted as depression due to the symptoms being similar. Complicated grief takes much longer to be diagnosed than depression, with the grieving process usually taking around one year.

Feelings After Traumatic Loss

After losing someone, people may experience various intense, and in some cases, frightening emotions. These feelings could include:


  • Numbness – people can feel numb and might detach themselves after a loss to protect themselves and others from losing a loved one. Most people experiencing numbness struggle to display emotions of any kind.
  • Shock – losing a loved one, especially suddenly or traumatically, can be incredibly shocking and it can take people a long time to process.
  • Anger – feeling angry is a natural reaction to losing someone, especially if the loss was sudden or caused by violence or neglect. People may be angry at themselves, the people who caused the trauma, or the authorities who may be trying to help.
  • Guilt – it can be easy for people to blame themselves or others for the loss of their loved one, even if their passing could not be helped. People may even punish themselves by thinking that they could make things right and bring back the person they lost.
  • Loss of meaning – it can take a lot of time to re-adjust after a traumatic loss. For a while, people can struggle to find meaning in their life, and returning to normal can feel impossible. Some people may even experience suicidal thoughts.
  • Fear – traumatic loss can make the world seem terrifying. Fear and anxiety, particularly concerning death, can be expected after losing a loved one.

There is no right or wrong way to feel after a loss. The intense emotional distress associated with traumatic grief can lead to other symptoms, such as:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Avoidance of anything that reminds someone of their loved one
  • Physical symptoms, such as nausea, loss of appetite, or muscle weakness

Finding Help for Traumatic Grief

Traumatic grief can persist for years and can be challenging to deal with alone. However, help is available, and trauma treatment with Khiron Clinics can help people manage their symptoms and lead happier lives.

Grieving is unique to everyone, and there is no right or wrong way to feel after a painful or shocking loss. Although traumatic grief is often much more intense and prolonged than other forms of grief, with help, it can be effectively addressed.

Seeking support can seem overwhelming, but Khiron Clinics will ensure that the beginning of your recovery path is as simple as possible. Requesting assistance is the first step. If you think you or a loved one is experiencing traumatic grief, please get in touch with us immediately.

If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anything you have read in this blog, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).


[1] Nakajima Satomi, 2018, Complicated grief: recent developments in diagnostic criteria and treatmentPhil. Trans. R. Soc. B3732017027320170273 http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2017.0273