What is Trauma

“Trauma” is a weighty word that carries with it images of major accidents, assaults, wars, and mayhem. And while these things can certainly cause trauma symptoms in those who experience them, I want you to know that “trauma” and the experience of post-traumatic stress are not only caused by experiences as catastrophic as these. Trauma looks different for everyone, because we all have different perceptions of the world and enter any given scenario with completely different sets of tools and resources for dealing with what happens to us. Sometimes events that are seemingly mundane or “no big deal” have the power to destabilize us. We should never deny ourselves the care we need simply because what we’ve gone through seems like “no big deal”. If you are suffering, you deserve to care for yourself no matter the cause. 

Consider the following analogy: two children are on the same playground, playing the same game of Red Rover, and both children trip during the game and end up with scrapes on their knees. The first child goes home to a loving family and a clean house; she has her scrape attended to properly, eats nourishing food, gets good sleep, stays clean and receives emotional support when the wound hurts. In a matter of days, this child is back on the playground ready to try again. The second child has limited resources- she does not have a clean home, emotional support, healthy food, nor does she sleep well. In a matter of days, her wound has developed into something much worse. She is not ready to get back on the playground and will need much further care to get back up to speed: her small scrape has become a disabling wound. 

This same concept applies to these “no big deal” trauma events. Sometimes we fall and get right back up again- we’ve got all the support and physical/emotional health we need to bounce back from an upsetting experience. But for many of us at various points in our lives, these seemingly small events create a huge impact. In cases such as these, things like making a mistake at work, getting rejected by a crush, or failing an exam feels so much more impactful than we believe they should. We tend to reject these small experiences of emotional pain because they don’t equate to what we think of as “trauma”. But it may be that in those moments, we are lacking the support in our lives, the health and well-being in our bodies and relationships, or the recovery from other trauma events, to really be able to heal from those little emotional scrapes. This is known as “little-t” trauma, and this kind of trauma is every bit as dangerous to us as the “Big-T” type of trauma that I mentioned in the first paragraph. “Little-t” traumas build over time in our hearts and minds, and with them come negative beliefs piling one on top of the other until we find ourselves feeling totally overwhelmed with negativity. Sometimes the pain becomes so unbearable that we become destabilized- unable to function in life the way we want to. 

If you are experiencing a deep amount of emotional pain in response to something that you (or even others) are telling you that you need to “get over” or “brush off”, it’s a very good indication that what you’re experiencing is a buildup of “little-t” emotional trauma that needs to be treated and cared for as gently, thoroughly and directly as any other profound emotional trauma. I urge you to avoid comparing your trauma experiences to those of others and know that you are allowed to acknowledge the truth about how your pain feels- no matter what the cause. It is only by meeting and treating your pain exactly as it is, without judging or shaming it, that you can begin the process of healing.