PTSD Grief and Bereavement: How It Can be Caused by Trauma

PTSD Grief and Bereavement: How It Can be Caused by Trauma

Losing a loved one, especially when you are young, can leave a deep imprint. The PTSD grief and sadness that accompanies a sudden loss can be overwhelming and unfortunately, for some, it is a lifelong burden.

As a therapist working with Post-Traumatic Stress, I have heard my fair share of horrendous stories related to loss.

Many of them came from mothers about losing their child prematurely, often through accident, disease, or birth complications. The other major group is people who have lost one of their parents or a brother or sister while young.

The latter has a tremendous impact on the delicate and developing nervous system and psyche of the person. Traumatic overflow related to loss and bereavement, which cannot be contained and processed at the moment of impact, will inevitably create deep and long-lasting coping mechanisms and reenactments.

The Complexity of Reenactment and PTSD Grief

I have seen repeatedly that people who suffer from Trauma or PTSD related to unresolved grief attract situations that involve death and people who are dying.  This is incredibly hard, partly because they might blame themselves for contributing to someone’s death, but mostly because of the resurfacing of deep wounds of bereavement which they carry with them.

» Dive deeper into this topic by reading The Trauma Essential Series →

Guilt, blame or self-reproach is a reaction used to deal with an overwhelming emotion like grief and sadness. It is intrinsic to a traumatic experience. It is not that you are a bad influence over someone, but more likely that you are reenacting a distinct set of feelings related to your unresolved residual emotions. In this case loss, grief and bereavement.

The Layers of Emotion-Related to PTSD Grief and Bereavement

When you have suffered the loss of someone close to you in childhood, it is most likely not the first thing that comes up when you work with me. You might first address problems like an eating disorder, anger or anxiety issues.

Unresolved grief will create a secondary coping emotion (for example anger or anxiety issues) and very likely a coping habit (for example overeating) to deal with the ongoing stress. For a therapist, it is key to realize this and not to get lost in the complexity of someone’s life story and inner landscape.

It is of tremendous help to patients to understand why they are feeling what they feel, and why they have established a secondary coping emotion and habit. Knowing the territory helps to give less importance to what reinforces trauma. The work can then begin to start containing, owning and processing the emotional residue of loss, grief, and bereavement.

The therapist plays an important role in preventing further reenactment. This could be by arresting the energy flow towards guilt, blame or self-reproach; by pointing out how the body-mind systems react in the wake of trauma; and by not allowing the patient to escape into dominant coping emotions, also by providing trust, safety, and containment.

Did you find this blog post helpful?
Subscribe so that you never miss another one!

Yes, I agree with's terms of service and privacy policy.