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Can losing a friend be trauma?

Losing a close friend can be an extremely painful and difficult experience. While death is often seen as the most traumatic type of friendship loss, breakups and drifting apart can also cause significant distress. So can losing a friend be traumatic? Let’s take a closer look.

What is trauma?

Trauma refers to any disturbing or distressing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope. It can be caused by a single event or repeated exposure to adversity over time. Examples of potentially traumatic events include:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Violence or war
  • Serious accident or illness
  • Natural disasters

Experiencing trauma can lead to lasting effects on mental health and wellbeing. Common symptoms of trauma include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), emotional detachment, sleep disturbances, and relationship difficulties.

Can losing a friend be a traumatic event?

The loss of an important friendship can certainly be experienced as a traumatic event by some people. Factors that may contribute to trauma from losing a friend include:

  • Closeness of the relationship – Losing a best friend or someone you considered family can be more traumatic than a more casual relationship ending.
  • Length of the relationship – A breakup after decades of friendship may hit harder than losing a newer friend.
  • Circumstances of the loss – Sudden, unexpected losses are often more traumatic. For example, a friend dying young in an accident versus drifting apart naturally over time.
  • Level of support – Having little support from others during and after the loss can make the grief more difficult to cope with.
  • History of trauma/loss – Previous traumatic experiences like abuse or multiple friendship losses may contribute to trauma.
  • Mental health factors – Pre-existing depression, anxiety, attachment issues or PTSD may exacerbate reactions.

So while not every friendship breakup leads to trauma, losing an extremely close, long-term friend, especially under sudden or distressing circumstances, can certainly be a traumatic life event for some people.

Signs losing a friend may have been traumatic for you

If you recently experienced the end of an important friendship, here are some signs it may have been traumatic:

  • You are experiencing intense and lingering emotional distress – uncontrollable crying, depression, despair, etc.
  • You feel emotionally numb, empty or disconnected from others.
  • You have disturbing dreams or flashbacks related to the loss.
  • You are obsessed with what went wrong and replay events over and over.
  • You desperately avoid anything that reminds you of your friend or the loss.
  • Your sleep, appetite and concentration are disrupted.
  • You feel extremely irritable, angry, guilty or ashamed.
  • You feel like you will never get over this or fully trust again.

If you have several of these symptoms in the weeks and months after the loss, it’s possible you are experiencing trauma that may require professional support to process and recover from.

Reasons losing a close friend can be traumatic

There are many reasons why the loss of a treasured friendship can be so distressing for some people that it leads to traumatic effects, including:


Losing a close companion means grieving the person who is gone as well as the hopes, dreams and experiences you can no longer share together. This grief process is often more disenfranchised than grieving a family member, making it harder to cope with.


A lost friendship can leave a hole where intimate communication, support and companionship used to be. This loneliness following the severing of a treasured bond can be incredibly painful.

Identity disruption

Our sense of self is shaped by close relationships. Losing a friend means losing a part of your identity, history and shared memories. This can be destabilizing to your self-concept.


When friendships end due to conflict, betrayal or other hurts, it can shatter your faith in yourself, other people and relationships in general. This loss of trust is deeply disturbing.


Friendship breakups often involve situations out of our control. The involuntary loss of someone so important can leave you feeling helpless, frustrated and tormented by the injustice.


There is less social support and acknowledgement of friendship loss than other losses. Many people don’t take it seriously, leaving you feeling invalidated and alone in your grief.

Reason Description
Grief Grieving the person and the relationship
Loneliness Loss of intimate communication, support and companionship
Identity disruption Losing part of your identity, history and shared memories
Betrayal Loss of trust after hurts and conflict
Helplessness Involuntary loss leaves you feeling helpless
Stigma Lack of social support and acknowledgement

Coping with the potential trauma from losing a friend

If you feel you are experiencing trauma after losing a close friend, here are some tips to help you cope and move forward:

Allow yourself to grieve

Give yourself permission to fully mourn the loss of this relationship instead of minimizing your feelings or rushing to “get over it.” Cry, journal, talk to supportive people – do what you need to express the grief.

Don’t isolate yourself

Lean on other friends and family during this time. Spending time with loved ones can combat the loneliness and remind you that you still have meaningful connections.

Take care of yourself

Make sure you are attending to basic self-care like eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. This will help you manage the emotional turmoil more effectively.

Consider counseling

If your distress is overwhelming or lasting longer than expected, see a therapist experienced in grief and trauma counseling. They can help you develop coping skills and process the loss in a healthy way.

Look for meaning

In time, reflect on what this relationship brought to your life, how you grew from it, and how you want to move forward. Finding meaning in the loss can help transform it from trauma to growth.

Practice self-compassion

Rather than blaming yourself, speak to yourself with the same kindness and care you would show a close friend during a difficult time. Be patient and understanding with your healing process.

Try creative expression

Writing about your emotions, making art or music related to your loss, looking through old photos and other forms of creative processing can help you work through the grief.

When to seek professional help

It’s advisable to seek counseling or therapy if you are experiencing any of the following after losing a friend:

– Suicidal thoughts
– Severe depression lasting over 2 weeks
– Extreme anxiety, panic attacks or PTSD symptoms
– Obsessive thought patterns you can’t control
– Outbursts of anger and rage
– Inability to return to work or normal life after an extended time
– Turning to alcohol or drugs to cope
– Domestic violence or abuse

A qualified mental health professional can assess if you are suffering from trauma and provide specialized treatment approaches such as EMDR, cognitive-behavioral therapy, support groups and medication if needed.


The end of a profoundly close and meaningful friendship can certainly be experienced as a traumatic event by many people. While not a formally recognized type of psychological trauma, losing an intimate friend meets many criteria in terms of being an emotionally disturbing loss that overwhelms your ability to cope. However, trauma from losing a friend should not be minimized or dismissed simply because it falls outside more accepted examples like bereavement, abuse or war. If you feel you are suffering trauma after the end of a friendship, do not hesitate to seek professional help and practice self-care until the pain becomes more manageable. With time and support, the traumatic distress will likely subside, and you can heal and form fulfilling new bonds.