Trauma is a deeply disturbing event that infringes upon an individual’s sense of control and may reduce their capacity to integrate the situation or circumstances into their current reality. When most people think about trauma, they tend to think about those who have been exposed to war, combat, natural disasters, physical or sexual abuse, terrorism, and catastrophic accidents. These are some of the most profound, and some may argue the most debilitating, experiences one can endure. However, a person does not have to undergo an overtly distressing event for it to affect them. An accumulation of smaller “everyday” or less pronounced events can still be traumatic.
There are large ‘T’ traumas and small ‘t’ traumas. Small ‘t’ traumas are those events that exceed our ability to cope and cause disruption in our ability to function on an emotional level. They are distressing events but are not inherently life or body threatening. Examples of little ‘t’ traumas can be conflict with others, infidelity, divorce, relocation/moving, planning a wedding, starting a new job or financial worries.
Large ‘T’ traumas are extraordinary and significant events that leave an individual feeling powerless and having no sense of control. A key factor in large ‘T’ traumas is the feeling of helplessness. Examples of events that could cause large ‘T’ traumas are natural disaster, terrorist attack, sexual assault, war/combat, plane or car accident.
Avoidance is common in either form or trauma. The difference is that in large ‘T’ traumas the individual tends to overtly and decisively engage in actions to minimize distress by eliminating or reducing reminders of the traumatic event.