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In general, trauma is a disturbing event that diminishes an individual’s sense of control. 

Therapists often refer to two types of trauma:  “Big T-Traumas” and “Little t-Traumas.” 

The DSM-5 defines a PTSD trauma as any situation where one’s life or bodily integrity is threatened; these are typically Big ‘T’ traumas.

Examples of Big T Traumas:

  • Rape
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Auto Accidents
  • Combat

Therapists refer to ‘little t traumas’ as  every day disturbances, conflicts, and feeling states that exceed our capacity to cope and cause a disruption in emotional functioning.  While they may not be life-threatening like Big T Traumas, they can lead an individual to feel helplessness, hopelessness, shame, fear, and pain.  And despite their nickname as ‘little t traumas’, these outcomes are certainly not to be minimized.  In fact it is the minimization that we usually use to attempt to ‘move on’ from little t traumas that often makes the incident traumatic.

Examples of Little t Traumas:

  • your parents getting a divorce
  • unwanted life transitions
  • grief
  • your partner’s infidelity
  • a difficult adjustment to having a baby
  • adopting a child
  • financial stress
  • ongoing conflict with a friend, family member, or coworker

As you can see from the examples above, trauma often happens in relationships.  Trauma can include any instances where our feelings are minimized, either by ourselves or by others. In other words, when our ego perceives us as being less-than or unworthy of love and connection, we experience trauma. 

While the distinction between Big T- and Little t- trauma is helpful for educational purposes, it should be noted that ‘little t’ traumas do not imply that the events should be less important for treatment or shouldn’t effect you as much.   

Dr. Gabor Mate, a renowned addiction expert, explains trauma in a beautiful way, one that eliminates the need to separate trauma into Big T- and little t- traumas.  He said,

“The essence of trauma is that, as a result of the overt abuse or neglect, or because of the relational trauma, we lose the connection to our essence.  That’s what the trauma is.  The trauma is not what happened; the trauma is not that I was raped, the trauma is not that I was abandoned, the trauma is not that I was hit, the trauma is not that my parents didn’t know how to listen to me. 

That’s not the trauma; the trauma is that, as a result of that, I lost the connection to myself.  Hence, I lost the connection to my essential qualities: my joy, my vitality, my clarity, my wisdom, my power, my strength, my courage.  That’s the trauma!”

Because we are human, most of us have experienced trauma—a disconnection to our essence—in some way.  The good news is there are many research-validated techniques that trauma-focused therapists can utilize to help clients heal.  Techniques like EMDR can help alleviate or lessen a trauma’s impact on our daily lives, while codependency treatment and Post Induction Therapy (PIT) can aid in understanding and tools to cope.

If you’ve experienced emotional pain that is continuing to impact you months and years later, consider seeking an EMDR-trained and/or PIT-trained therapist.