What is the difference between grief and trauma?

Traumatic situations sometimes inhibit the grieving process, or block it altogether. This happens most often when someone loses a loved one suddenly, such as in the case of a murder, accident or heart attack.

The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children reports that grief and trauma can be distinguished in these ways:

  • Trauma feels unreal. Grief feels real.
  • Terror is the most common emotion with trauma. Sadness is the most common resulting emotion from grief.
  • Feelings of pain, helplessness and fear often result with trauma. Pain is the most common feeling with pain.
  • The bereaved often dreams of being in danger when they are experiencing trauma. With grief, the bereaved often dreams of the loved one that he or she lost.
  • When someone is experiencing trauma, the lack of treatment can worsen the condition. When someone is experiencing grief, the sadness generally runs its course over time.

The majority of professionals encourage those who are grieving to avoid grieving alone and to avoid suppressing their emotions. Holding back feelings generally prolongs the grieving process and makes it more difficult to cope with the loss.

Having family and friends to help us cope with grief tends to speed the process and to help us grieve in a healthier manner.

Grief can manifest physically, so it is advised that bereaved people should take care of themselves by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and getting plenty of sleep.

Those who are grieving also are advised to avoid drugs and alcohol because they are depressants and can make the process much more challenging.

People who are grieving are encouraged to channel their sadness constructively, whether it is by writing in a journal, making a scrapbook, or creating a memorial to honor the deceased.

Many find solace by joining an organization that held a special meaning to the deceased. Organizations such as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) were established by people who were grieving the loss of a loved one.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.