Trauma is any event that impacts an individual’s sense of control and ability to process the event. In past years, trauma was typically associated with war, abuse, and natural disasters. These are traumatic events. As more has been learned about trauma and how it impacts the brain and emotional system, there is a growing understanding that events like divorce, loss of a loved one or pet, and interpersonal conflict are also traumatic events. Our understanding of trauma is growing, and the reality is that trauma is different for every person. Two people can go through the same experience and one will feel like they have been affected and the other person may not. Some of this could be due to past traumatic experiences, current or predisposed mental health diagnoses, and environmental factors. Sometimes, it is helpful to look at trauma from a Big T and Little t perspective.
Little t Trauma
“Little t” traumas are events that impact our ability to cope and function. These traumas most likely did not involve threat to our life or body, but still created feelings of helplessness in the individual who experienced the trauma. A person who has experienced a “little t” trauma may overlook the impact of the experience or even shame themselves if they perceive they are responding in a “weak,” “dramatic,” or “oversensitive” way. Other times, an individual may be unaware of how the “little t” trauma impacted them and are only aware of the fact that they are not functioning at the level they are used to. In either situation of invalidation, the trauma response runs the show and impedes an individual’s sense of control and capacity.
“Big T” traumas are typically events where some obvious threat to life or body was evident. These events are usually significant and more easily identified. An individual who has survived a “Big T” trauma likely experienced the sense that they had no control over their situation and this sense of helplessness may contribute to avoidant behaviors as a response to the trauma. Individuals who have experienced “Big T” traumas are likely to avoid things that remind them of the event in an attempt to minimize the distress they would feel. This individual will most likely experience a more severe impact on their daily functioning as the amount of energy used to avoid reminders or cues of the traumatic event will be quite consuming.
A large part of healing from trauma is acknowledging and validating the experience – and this applies to both “Big T” and “Little t” traumas. One way to do this is to seek professional help to process the trauma and decrease the impact of the trauma response on daily functioning. There are different approaches for the treatment of trauma, but one that is popular is EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. EMDR, and other trauma focused treatments, works to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of trauma and empower clients to feel more capable of managing distress or future situations where they may feel triggered. Trauma-focused treatment is not a quick fix and it invites the participant to be open and dedicated to their own healing process. It is tailored to the individual client and honors their trauma circumstances and goals for a better quality of life. It is work, but it is worth it.
If you or someone you love is dealing with the aftereffects of trauma, contact us and make an appointment today.