Trauma: the big T and the little t


What is TRAUMA actually?

At the beginning of therapy I often ask individuals about their trauma history. Some people are very clear about what it is they have experienced and know it has been a trauma; be it child abuse, domestic abuse, terrorism, war or rape. However, others are quick to saying "I haven't been through anything traumatic" in a heartbeat. Since the terminology is most frequently used about "big T traumas", greater society assumes that  trauma means something really big or horrific.
Trauma can be defined as any event that causes an unusually high level of emotional stress and has a long lasting negative effect on a person. Essentially, any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope or left in a daze can be traumatizing, regardless of whether there was physical harm.

Trauma isn't objective or based on facts, it's the individual's subjective emotional experience of an event that determines whether it was traumatic. 

One person can experience an event and be able to bounce back and another individual can have lasting effects of the same or very similar experience. There are a few components at play here.

It's never "just" something that happened, it's also what was missing. Say someone was badly hurt or abused but they had nurturing parents or a trusting adult to turn to, their ability to heal and move through the pain is significantly better than one who has no one to turn to.  

Trauma of Commission is a trauma where something happened: a harm, a sexual assault, an attack, domestic abuse, a crash. 

Trauma of omission is where something didn't happen. It's the loss of not receiving basic human needs; the loss of comfort, physical touch, support, consistency, honesty or warmth.

More on trauma of commission and omission here. 

Trauma can be broken down into two categories of life events: "small t" and "Big T" traumas.  

  • Big "T" traumas refer to experiencing a highly distressing event such as war, an accident, near death experience, sexual, physical abuse or rape.

  • Small "t" traumas relate to experiences that overwhelm the mind and body, they may seem less dramatic, yet cause feelings of intense distress. Emotionally neglect, loss, feeling isolated, being in an emotionally unhealthy relationship, feeling chronically inadequate, or having a life with chronic stress causes a perpetual feeling of overwhelm, leaving you mind, body and spirit feeling exhausted and worn out.

When you don't have adequate supports to make sense of and let go of stress, the experiences get stuck in your mind and body, expressing themselves in the reliving of memory,  often with irritability and a lack of internal ease. 

Most humans have been through something that has felt somewhat upsetting or possibly traumatic, regardless of how "big" the world may label it.  It may have been

  • being bullied

  • feeling left out

  • having parents that weren't attuned

  • experiencing social anxiety

  • feeling insecure about a part of yourself

  • living with someone with anger/extreme moodiness

  • moving

  • experiencing divorce

  • losing someone you love

  • losing a job

  • experiencing a fall out with a friend

Traumas have a strong influence on your view of the world, how you see yourself  and shape how you cope in life. 

Sometimes you may have symptoms or worries that are kicked up and you may not realize how much they were connected to something internally.  By noticing something doesn't feel right you is the first step in identifying where the discomfort is coming from and begin the healing.

You can rebuild a sense of identity with more confidence, and security.

Redefine who you are capable of being. You can choose today to build a better tomorrow by solidifying your strengths and learning new ways of interacting with yourself, others and the world. 

If you live in the Five Towns, Nassau County, or Long Island and are ready to do the work to relieve trauma wounds, feel free to reach out. Contact me today via phone or email. Let's help you feel better starting today.