When we talk about trauma, we are often referencing momentous events. Wars, assaults, and horrifying accidents are examples of what we might call Big "T" trauma. They are shocking moments that break through our ability to cope and shake us to our core.
Little "t" traumas, on the other hand, often go overlooked. These are events that are deeply painful, yet may unfortunately be common enough in society that their significance is minimized. They are still traumatic, though, if they overwhelm our ability to cope and cause us to feel helpless and isolated.
Emotional abuse is a common example of this. A child who is called "stupid" by a parent does not have the capacity to cope with a verbal attack by a trusted caregiver. Being cheated on and lied to by a partner can shake our faith in relationships and our own perceptions. Being sexually harassed may cause unbearable stress every day at work and every night in anticipation of returning.
Other events that may seem common but can cause feelings of helplessness and isolation include:
Being emotionally neglected
Going through a divorce
Having a parent with a mental illness or substance abuse problem
Starting or losing a job
Feeling burdened by constant financial stress
Managing a medical illness
An important relationship ending
On a cultural level, being part of a marginalized group that is directly or indirectly under attack can wear away at the ability to cope and be hopeful for the future. There are a number of studies that highlight the detrimental impact of social environmental stress on emotional well being.
The impact of little "t" trauma may show up physically. Symptoms may include:
Feeling worn down
Being constantly on edge
Shakiness, as if from a constant stream of adrenaline.
Psychologically we may experience:
Intrusive memories of the stressor
Feeling as if we are in that stressful experience even when circumstances are different
A desire to avoid reminders of the stressor
An increased view of ourselves and the world as bad or dangerous
Lack of interest in things that matter to you
Being constantly on alert for danger
Difficulty feeling happy
Being easily startled
In addition to feeling the pain of the little "t" traumas, there is an increased likelihood of feeling ashamed for being so hurt by what is supposed to be an everyday experience. This may decrease the chance of reaching out for help or using coping skills.
It is easy to rationalize away feelings. It is much harder to acknowledge just how much pain you are in. Yet, it is only by admitting to yourself just how hurt you that you can begin to take steps forward toward recovery.
Reach out for help today.