Did you know that there are different types of trauma?
I know right… Why can’t things just be simple? Why does there have to be tall, grande, and venti when small, medium, and large have been working out so great?
I agree, we definitely could’ve stayed with small, medium, and large… However, when it comes to trauma it is important to be a bit more specific. Are you experiencing Big T trauma or Little T trauma?
Wait… What about PTSD? How do you know if you’re experiencing that?
Keep an eye out for that post later on…
Knowing the difference between these types of traumas can not only help you understand what you’ve been experiencing but also help you find ways to cope and work through your feelings.
This post is going to give you a bit of insight on two different types of traumas. And it’s even going to give you a few tips from us trauma therapists about what can help.
What is a Little T Trauma?
The word ‘Little’ is definitely not meant to minimize the type of trauma that you’ve been through. Little T traumas involve stressful events that don’t necessarily threaten our lives per se, but they can certainly overwhelm our system.
Has a pet died? Have you gone through a breakup? Have you had ongoing financial stress? Maybe you’re dealing with a relentlessly critical employer. Have you experienced chronic insults or slights from a family member, friend, or partner?
These things may not be life-threatening in and of themselves, but they can be threatening to your emotional state and mental peace. Every person deals with situations differently. Some try to brush off a relationship like it was nothing. While others are laying under the bed (yes under) stuffing their face with the newest flavor from their best friends Ben & Jerry.
These events do affect everyone differently, but they can still be the cause of significant emotional damage. You may have been reading those scenarios and been thinking that they’re just simple parts of life…
And you’re right. But the thing is, if not dealt with, they can lead to bigger emotional struggles. Especially if you’ve experienced more than one Little T Trauma at a time or the Little T trauma is chronic. When you don’t deal with the situation, all of the feelings associated with your Little T Trauma begin to add up and impact your life even more.
Maybe you’re going through these situations or have gone through them feeling like you have to look “tough.” Or you may even be feeling shame that you’re so bent up about them..
It’s important to remind yourself that it’s okay to be sad and it’s good to allow yourself to feel. Don’t simply brush them off. Instead, allow yourself to work through those difficult emotions and express them.
What is a Big T Trauma?
Have you ever experienced something that left you feeling completely helpless?
Maybe it was a car accident that left you more shook up than you were expecting, or even left you with bodily harm. You can’t get that image out of your head. Maybe it was that night where saying “no” wasn’t respected. The night you experienced sexual assault and you still can’t believe it happened to you. It may have been a huge natural disaster that left your home destroyed, and you haven’t felt safe since.
Did you notice what all of these scenarios have in common?
They all put your physical, psychological, and emotional self at risk. And they can all leave you feeling absolutely helpless. Like your life is somehow out of your control. You couldn’t control that awful situation so you begin trying to avoid anything like it.
Some people will never drive a car again, relying solely on trains and buses. Maybe you’ve decided to never date or avoid relationships all together because that person you thought you could trust violated you. Others go the opposite way and engage in lots of unsafe sex with the illusion of taking back control. Regardless, the way that you deal with your Big T Trauma can lead to the type of avoidance that affects your everyday life and even your daily functioning.
Avoidance may seem like the answer. Staying away from everything that even hints at the reminder of that traumatic event. This way you don’t have to ever experience those feelings of helplessness again… Right?
Have you ever done the mental game where someone says, “Don’t think about a polar bear?” And then of course what’s the one thing you can’t stop thinking about… a polar bear! Well, this same thing happens when you try to avoid your Big T Trauma.
The problem is, even when you try to forget about it, your body doesn’t let you. You may have nightmares and flashbacks that you can’t shake. Or you may even have physical symptoms that are your body’s way of saying, “Pay attention to me. I need to deal with this!”
Those feelings of helplessness, of shame, or maybe even guilt from not being able to do something about it can’t be covered up. Put an elephant in a room, cover it with a giant blanket, and you’re still going to know an elephant is there. The blanket of avoidance simply doesn’t work.
I couldn’t exactly find an elephant with a blanket on, so this cute pug (above!) will have to do.
Okay. Back to business.
Of course, working through the traumatic experience and the feelings that are involved is scary! You have to be vulnerable and open. You may even have to cry… (Don’t worry, we think crying is great).
But honestly, you may not even realize how your Big T Trauma has been affecting you. All you know is that you should try to work through it because you’re not quite sure if you’ve been dealing with it in the “right” way (which is, of course, different for everyone).
The best advice is to simply not avoid your Big T Trauma experience. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.
How should you deal with your trauma?
As I mentioned, not avoiding your trauma is important. Allowing yourself to experience emotions is an important step in working through your trauma whether it be Little T or Big T.
These are a few of the things that can help you:
Have you ever tried meditating? I know, it sounds like it’s the next big wave on the scene right now, but all of the studies are pointing to how beneficial it can be for your mental state. And it definitely doesn’t have to be a spiritual practice if that’s not your thing.
Meditating can help you not only be aware of the thoughts going in and out of your mind but also help with controlling the negative thoughts around the traumatic situation that you’ve experienced. That’s not too bad for only 10 minutes of focus a day.
It’s important to note that for some people, mindful meditation can have very positive effects as mentioned above. But for some, it may lead to further emotional distress. Start slow and see if meditating works well for you
2) Go have fun!
You’re probably thinking, “What… that’s your solution?” I know, I know. It sounds way too simple, but I thought you liked simple… Remember the small, medium, and large thing?
Really though, allowing yourself to enjoy time with friends, family, or even spending time by yourself can help remind you that there’s joy in the present (even while you’re working through your trauma).
Remember the things that set your soul on fire, the ones that give you joy, and go do them. Even going on a walk in nature can have more of a positive impact on your mental health than you’d expect.
3) Talk with a trauma therapist
You already knew this one was coming, didn’t you?
Imagine your electricity gets shut off. You know you paid the bill on time, you know you didn’t blow a fuse from using your microwave while blow-drying your hair. So what do you do next?
Call up your local pizza shop since you can’t heat up that three-day old Chinese food? Maybe… But only if you’re not seeing the big picture. Yeah, your microwave isn’t working but everything else in your comfy living situation is being affected too. And it’s no different when it comes to your mental health.
We all know you should call an electrician when your electricity goes out. You can sit there and dwell on your daily pizza eating habits, but you’ll be baking in the 1000 degree heat of a Texas summer in no time. Not to mention no lights, no charging your cell phone, no tv… the list goes on and on.
So with your mental health, you can sit there and focus on your daily routine. Getting to work on time (Or at least close enough to being on time), taking out the dog when she needs to go, making sure you’ve eaten. But you’re forgetting about the big picture.
The big picture is your overall mental health. Being able to experience joy, not constantly trying to avoid the thoughts and feelings surrounding the traumatic experience that you’ve had, and being able to feel alive again.
But if you’re trying to throw an avoidance blanket over your traumatic experience, and just let it be… You may start to see how these traumatic events begin to affect every single area of your life. No matter how hard you try to not think about it.
Don’t just focus on your microwave. Your feelings need to be embraced. Whether it’s a Little T Trauma or a Big T Trauma, you’re allowed to feel. You’re allowed to work through it. You deserve to feel safe and empowered.
If you want to see how a trauma therapist can help, please give us a call. We’d love to hear from you. And I promise we won’t only talk about animals and food.