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Unveiling the Hidden Impact: How Big T and Little t Trauma Shape Our Lives

Updated: Feb 20

Life is like a rollercoaster with ups and downs that affect how we are as a person and how we view the world. Some experiences on this ride are heart-stopping loops, while others are gentle curves.

What is Big T and Little t Trauma?

Big T traumas are those heart-stopping loops and refer to significant, life-altering events like abuse or a natural disaster. These traumas affect our mental health, relationships, and how we see the world.

Little t traumas are those gentle but sudden turns that slowly accumulate and affect us over time like bullying or relationship problems. Little t trauma is complicated by the length of time that something stressful occurs. These traumas shape our behavior, thoughts, and emotions over time.

trauma can leave us feeling alone

Similarities of Big T and Little t Traumas

  1. Emotional Impact: Both types of traumas significantly impact people's emotional well-being and can bring out emotions like fear, sadness, or anger. Some examples include depression, panic attacks, conflicts with others, low self-esteem, nightmares, etc.

  1. Personal Significance: Traumatic experiences can profoundly affect one’s sense of self, beliefs, and worldviews and challenge one’s understanding of safety, trust, and control. Some examples include feelings of worthlessness, difficulty forming intimate relationships, attachment issues, increased self-doubt, etc.

  1. Cumulative Effect: These traumatic experiences accumulate over time and impact people's well-being and functioning. Examples of an accumulation of traumatic experiences can lead to mental health problems, substance abuse, stress, social withdrawal, etc.

  1. Interpersonal Difficulties: Traumatic experiences usually negatively impact one’s interpersonal skills to where they may develop trust issues, attachment issues, trouble with communication, inability to process emotions, etc.

Differences between Big T and Little t Traumas

  1. Intensity and Magnitude: Big T traumas are usually more intense and have a bigger magnitude than little t traumas, but that doesn’t correlate to a greater impact on the person. Big T traumas are caused by life-threatening situations, physical or emotional harm, or by witnessing a traumatic event. Little t trauma examples are being in a toxic relationship, having a boss who dislikes you at work, chronic invalidation, etc.

  1. Visibility and Recognition: Big T traumas are more recognized and acknowledged by society while little t traumas may go unnoticed or be dismissed as insignificant by others, leading to invalidation of the individual's experiences. Little t traumas may be overlooked by comparing to a more intense trauma however it can have as big of an impact as a big T trauma.

  1. External Factors: Big T traumas often involve external events beyond an individual's control, such as accidents or acts of violence while little t traumas may come from interpersonal conflicts, relationship difficulties, or ongoing stressful situations, which can be impacted by external factors.

Trauma vs Complex Trauma

Trauma: distressing event(s) that can have an impact on one’s emotional, psychological, and physical well-being. Examples of events include accidents, natural disasters, assault, etc.

Complex Trauma: repeated exposure to traumatic events that might start from childhood but could also occur in adulthood, and involve interpersonal relationships.

Approaches For Trauma and Complex Trauma

  1. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT): TF-CBT combines cognitive-behavioral therapy with trauma-specific interventions to help individuals process and cope with their traumatic experiences.

  1. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR involves the use of eye movements or other stimulation techniques while recalling traumatic experiences to reprocess and repair the mental stress from that memory.

  1. Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE): PE gradually exposes individuals to the thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of the trauma. Through repeated exposure, individuals can learn to process traumatic memories in their lives.

  1. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT uses skills training, like mindfulness, to help people cope with emotional distress from disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  1. Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to address symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions that occur with traumatic experiences.

  1. Group Therapy or Support Groups: Sharing experiences, providing support, and learning coping strategies from others can be valuable in the healing process. Some examples of trauma-focused group therapy are interpersonal group therapy, mind-body skills group therapy, feminist-informed group therapy, etc.

  1. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga can help individuals manage stress, regulate emotions, and bring a sense of calmness and self-awareness.

  1. Self-Care and Lifestyle Changes: Engaging in self-care activities can contribute to overall well-being and stability.

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