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What Does it Mean to Suffer From Traumatic Loss?

By Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD

Grief is an intensely powerful emotion – it’s one of sadness, fear, confusion, and pain. When you lose someone in life, there’s this feeling of emptiness, along with the hurt of knowing that that hole can’t be refilled again.

Loss is an unfortunate part of the human experience, and is always a struggle. But the human spirit is a strong one, and with time it can overcome even the most difficult periods in a person’s life.

When the Pain of Grief Feels Never Ending

Yet there are times when the emotions of loss become so strong that they are profoundly overwhelming – uncontrollable – as though you are living in a different reality, and one that you cannot figure out how to leave.

You may be suffering from what’s known as traumatic grief – grief that passes the boundaries of what the human mind is supposed to handle, and causes your entire world view to be shattered.

Traumatic grief can occur at any point when you suffer from loss, but is unfortunately common after unexpected passings, where the loss wasn’t something a person could mentally prepare for, such as:

  • Loss of a loved one as the result of suicide.
  • Loss of an infant or child.
  • Loss after an accident, such as a car crash.
  • Loss where the body is never recovered/missing.
  • Loss that is the result of its own traumatic experience, like a break-in.

Traumatic loss can occur at any time, and the surprise nature of loss often contributes to that sense of intense fear and dread. This loss may be so emotionally powerful to the individual suffering from it that they may even end up experiencing symptoms of acute stress disorder – living as though they themselves had been the subject of a traumatic event.


The Struggle in Grief Recovery

Accepting a person’s passing is already difficult enough. After a traumatic loss when the person is unprepared for the wave of pains and emotions, it can be as though your entire self has changed.
Many of those that go through this type of process often experience moments where they forget the person isn’t with them – moments where their mind simply decides that the loss didn’t happen, and expects everything to be okay. Then, when they remember that the person has decreased, they have to live through that pain again. It can become almost cyclical, and cause significant grief with each and every reminder.

After a while during the normal grieving process, you’ll start to have more good days than bad days, and focus on the better memories rather than the recent loss. But that time can take a while, and some may find even after a long period of time,that they remain immobilized and unable to begin to heal. If you feel you may be suffering from this type of loss you may want to consider grief therapy.


When is it Important to Get Help

There is always value in seeing someone if you feel your emotions are uncontrollable, especially if this traumatic loss is causing you significant depression and life adjustment issues. But help is especially important when:

  • This loss affects you after 6 months or more.
  • You’re struggling with alcohol or drug abuse to numb the pain.
  • Your relationships are struggling, especially as a result of this pain.
  • You feel yourself becoming depressed, and your ability to imagine happiness is gone.

Help can always be valuable, but if time has passed and you are not experiencing more good days or seeing an end to your tunnel of pain, seeking help from a trained grief therapist becomes important to work through the confusion, fear, and emptiness, to regain control of your life and help yourself get back to living.


Recovery After Traumatic Loss is Possible

There is no denying that loss is difficult, and in some cases the recovery process may be slow. But recovery is possible. Your life may not be the same without them, but you can slowly learn to live the life that your loved one would want you to live.


About the Author:
Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD is a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in Shrewsbury, Monmouth County NJ. She has been providing affirmative, compassionate and individualized help to Individuals, Couples and Families since 1990.