What is Trauma?
When the mind and body are exposed to a distressing event that triggers a strong, emotional response, it can create unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headache or nausea. Issues around abuse, trauma, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), can be caused by a one-time event or an ongoing occurrence of repeated events. You may be left feeling scared, vulnerable, and anxious. Although some common examples of trauma may be experiencing an accident, rape, or natural disaster, many of us suffer from anxiety triggered by events that are seemingly less catastrophic.
Experiencing a stressful or disturbing event can sometimes cause more damage than you think. Many people struggle with feeling hopeless, out-of-control, and unable to manage their emotions, because an event has left them traumatized. Trauma can cause emotional distress that doesn’t seem to go away. After experiencing a traumatic event, it can take a long time to feel safe and able to move on from the pain.
Not all trauma is the same. Trauma affects everyone differently and can leave its mark in different ways. Trauma often falls into one of two categories: large “T” trauma and little “t” trauma.
Little t Traumas
Little t traumas are experiences that leave us feeling hopeless. They are distressing events that can be beyond a person’s ability to cope. Such traumas may not be life threatening, but the emotional distress caused by these events can still be highly disabling. Some examples of little t traumas might include:
- Legal trouble
- Having a child
- Conflict with a boss
- Financial difficulty
The most challenging aspect of dealing with small t traumas, is the ability to recognize that you have experienced trauma at all. Because these life events are more common, we fail to assign the same need for care and healing that is required with more obvious traumas. There is an inclination to instead minimize our experience rather than consider how these hurts can impact a person’s overall well-being.
Additionally, little t traumas can cause damage on their own, but there can sometimes be an accumulating effect in which multiple small traumas occur within a short period of time. This can compound and create a significantly high amount of distress in a person.
Big T Traumas
Big T traumas are more often significant events that leave a person feeling powerless or hopeless. These events often cause a person to feel as though they have no control over their environment and can be readily identified as the source of the trauma. Others who have experienced the same form of trauma are able to easily relate and understand exactly what the person may be going through. Big T traumas are often life-threatening events such as:
- Natural disaster
- Terrorist attack
- Being in a combat or war zone
- Car or plane accident
- Sexual assault
- Physical injury
Big T traumas cause intense distress that interferes with a person’s ability to get through the day. Those who have experienced this type of trauma are more likely to engage in avoidant behavior, attempting to minimize contact with things or people that may serve as reminders of the stressful event. They may avoid crowded places, ignore calls, and get rid of things that remind them of the trauma.
Complex trauma usually occurs as a result of repeated trauma experienced by a child or young person, although it can also occur as a result of experiences in adulthood. When you are not protected or cared for as a child or young person, or are hurt or betrayed, it can affect how you manage your life as an adult. You may have been raised by a parent that suffered from mental illness, or your caretaker may have misused drugs or alcohol. For some, you may have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Still, if you were raised by a parent that was physically or emotionally unavailable, this can affect your ability to trust others and enjoy the benefits of healthy relationships in your adult life. Many situations can cause complex trauma in childhood. Common indicators of complex trauma include:
- Abuse or neglect that was repetitive, prolonged, or cumulative
- Abuse that involved direct harm, exploitation, neglect, abandonment, by primary caregivers
- Abuse/neglect often occurred at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim’s life – typically early childhood or adolescence, but can also occur later in life.
Some may not recognize the effects of their trauma until much later in life. It is important to know that people can and do recover from early abuses or neglect.
Therapy works in a number of ways to help you emotionally move forward and convince that traumatized part of you that it is no longer stuck. Desert Consulting has a number of highly trained therapists utilizing Lifespan Integration Therapy, EMDR Therapy, and other somatic based forms of therapy which promote rapid healing by relying on the mind-body connection to heal itself.