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Trauma versus Grief          

How do you know if you are suffering from grief and loss vs. trauma vs. traumatic stress?

  • Grief can exist without trauma
  • Trauma will also involve grief reactions from the loss suffered in the traumatic event
  • You can work through grief –symptoms are not linear
  • You process trauma—to do so the narrative must be linear.

Sadness vs. Terror

  • “Sadness” is the word best used to define the experience of grief.
  • “Sheer terror” is the best phrase to define the experience of trauma.
  • Grief can stand by itself---one can feel sad without feeling unsafe or terrorized.
  • When a person is traumatized the terror overpowers any grief reactions.
  • The victim needs to become a survivor first by processing the trauma then grief can emerge.
  • Sadness usually turns inward and weakens the person; therefore grief is not energizing or motivating.
  • The terror of trauma usually renders a person powerless.
  • Powerlessness turns into anger
  • Anger is motivating- either in a positive way or a negative way.
  • Trauma victims need to regain the sense of power taken from them by their trauma experience in order to become survivors themselves.
    • Victim→ Survivor→ Thriver


  • In grief the dreamer is usually dreaming about the deceased.
  • In trauma nightmares, the dreamer, or someone else, is in harm’s way (being shot at, chased etc.)


  • Grief is usually associated with “I wish I…”
  • The core of guilt in grief is sadness
  • Trauma guilt is often survivor guilt.
  • Survivors may feel powerless “I could have prevented it if …”
  • It is easier for people to feel guilty (feeling that you have done something wrong) than to feel powerless

With thanks to Sheli Bernstein-Goff , Certified Traumatolgist

Connie Studer

Home | LGBTQQ Services | Couples Counseling | Trauma Vs. Grief | Substance Abuse and Replase Prevention
Connie Studer, M.A., LMFT

3137 Hennepin Avenue South #104, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408
Email: connie@hftherapy.com , 612-275-1657