The first thing you find when you search for a definition is: “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” And that is true. But I like to think of it in even broader terms. Trauma is anything that completely overwhelms us and our ability to cope. I view it as a cup of water overflowing after too much has been poured into it. This can be all at once, or a little bit at a time. Trauma can change our life in an instant, and it can also wear us down slowly over time. We may not even realize it until we are already suffering. The impact and symptoms can look very different from person to person, and can often look like other issues, both mental and physical. This makes it hard for many health professionals to spot if they are not trauma trained.
Big “T” versus little “t”
Many trauma specialists tend to think about trauma in two terms: big T, and little t. Big “T” traumas are often what people first think about when they consider trauma: active combat duty, sexual assault, natural disaster, terror attack, or violence on a large scale. These experiences can leave someone feeling powerless and wanting to avoid any reminder of the traumatic memory. You can find yourself slowly starting to shrink your life into a bubble, and notice signs of flashbacks, nightmares, and feeling like you are always on edge.
Little “t” traumas are more subtle and vary from person to person, but they still exceed our ability to cope and can end up leaving us feeling overwhelmed. Some examples of little “t” traumas can include: divorce, planning a wedding, conflict with a family member, having a stressful job, infidelity, and a sudden or unexpected life change, just to name a few. These experiences are often not thought of as trauma, but that is just how they can build to become a problem. We keep thinking we can handle it, and before we know it, our cup overfills and we are past our breaking point. We often see little “t” traumas materialize in physical complaints like headaches and exhaustion, relationship issues, anxiety, or depression.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with trauma, there is effective and evidence-based help. Call me at (407) 205-0251 for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I would love to help you start your road to healing!
Check back in next week for part 2 of this series to learn more about how trauma may be impacting you.