Grieving Process With Complex PTSD

Have you ever felt like you’re stuck in this grieving phase on your healing journey with complex PTSD?

That intense sadness and heavy pain… if you’ve got complex PTSD, not only are your PTSD symptoms complex, but also the grieving process is complex.

People may have suggested to you to “just let it go” or “just move on” … Well that’s not helpful advice!

There’re several reasons why the grieving process is so complex for us with cPTSD.

Let me explain two of them now 😊

  1. If the trauma happened early in your childhood,

you may have missed the milestone where you learn to regulate your emotions. Life was just too chaotic, unsupportive and dangerous at that time of our life.

When it comes to regulation of emotions, people generally think about difficulties with regulating anger. But for us it includes all emotions, e.g. anxiety and fear, sadness and grieving, excitement, joy, pleasure, …

The minute any sensation comes up in our body, it quickly feels like “oh my gosh, it’s gonna be way overwhelming… I’m not going to be able to cope…”

… and if you’re like me, my number one coping mechanism is shut down, go numb or dissociate. This really stopped my grieving process, because every time there was a sense of sadness coming up, I dissociated, hence I was never able to cry. I couldn’t process that heavy pain. Instead I shut down all emotions…

 I’m curious to hear, if you’re stuck here too for that same reason.

  1. All the trauma and abuse affected the way our brain developed and functions.

From brain scans we can see that the area called anterior cingulate gyrus often works too hard in trauma survivors. That results in us getting stuck on thoughts and ruminating on thoughts, including being stuck ruminating on grief and pain.

So there’s a physiological reason there, why this is so difficult for us and why we can’t just let it go…

While searching for information I stumbled across Kübler-Ross’s work on the stages of grieving. It’s a simplistic version and her work was designed for people with terminal illness and not cPTSD.

But it helped me to realize just how complex the grieving process is. There is so much more to grieving than I realize.

For example “DENIAL” is one stage of grieving according to Kübler-Ross. I was stuck in denial for many years. It was too painful to think about my past… (I used to be a workaholic to avoid thinking about the past…

Other stages of grieving are shock, testing, anger, bargaining and depression…

So the grieving process was way more complex than I imagined. It took me a long time to work through this. I was stuck in different stages over the years.

But I’d like to share one thing that really kept me stuck.

(This may not be an issue for you, but it sure kept me stuck 😊)

All the trauma and abused caused me so much pain.

There was so much pain within me and I wanted people to see just how damaging and painful the trauma and abuse I been through was for me. I wanted some form of acknowledgment…

So, I clung on to that pain, because I believed that

  • pain was my only evidence that this trauma & abuse ever happened. There’s really no other evidence or signs
  • having a joyous, successful, happy life now, would tell others that what happened to me wasn’t really that bad

This is just not true. No amount of happiness, joy, love, peace, pleasure, success we’ll have now or in future will ever take away the fact that what happened to us was not ok. It was in fact abuse, which is an illegal and criminal offence. That will never change.

This was my number one reason I clung on to all that pain, sadness, mourning, grieving… for so long. Really, way longer than necessary.

So here you go 😊 Please let me know your thoughts on that too. What kept you stuck or trapped in the grieving phase?

For more information on CPTSD and other issues visit our YouTube Channel

If you need support or would like to connect with like-minded people join our Private and Closed online Facebook Group for Child Abuse Survivors and those with CPTSD. Click here to join


  1. Hi Erin,
    That was very helpful and comforting read.
    I suffer from cPTSD.
    I verbally attack and chase away/ sabotage any meaningful relationship in my life, while desperately needing or longing for it.
    The more it means to me the harder I destroy it.
    I’m 40 with no children and feel I will always be scared, alone and i live in a state of fear 24/7. It doesn’t matter how good things are I’m waiting for it to fall apart or disappear.
    I so broken and sad.


    • Hi Zoe, thanks for your kind comment. I’m delighted the article was helpful. CPTSD is a terrible condition. It isolates and destroys our trust in others. Our past trauma is so difficult to heal and it comes back to haunt us in flashbacks and re-experiences. I truly understand what you say about pushing people away and not getting close to people for fear of getting hurt. It took years of EMDR therapy for me to learn how to trust again. I am now happily married with four children but there are still times when I am very wary of new people and they certainly have to earn my trust. It doesn’t come easy. Do you have therapy? I can highly recommend EMDR for processing past trauma in a gentle way in the hands of an experienced practitioner Mine gave me my life back. I wish you all the very best of luck on your healing journey and hope you have loving support around you. Erin

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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