What is "Little t" Trauma?

Some forms of trauma - those we generally refer to as “Big T” trauma - are easy to recognize. When we think of trauma, we think of surviving terrorist attacks, assault, violence, car accidents, or years of continued abuse. These perhaps larger, more dramatic forms of trauma are easily recognizable, easy to diagnose, and lead more people to see a trauma-informed therapist in their wake. What about “little t”* trauma, however? “Little t” trauma is harder to recognize. It may develop over years, or be caused by multiple smaller incidents. Some examples include continuous interpersonal conflict, sustained financial trouble, being in an unhealthy or unstable environment, family conflict, or continuous stress.  *Please keep in mind we aren’t dismissing anyone’s trauma as smaller or less worthy than another; this is simply a term used to describe less obvious forms of traumatic events. While the event of “little t” trauma may be hard to see, the impact is easy to point out if you know what to look for. Check out these side effects of experiencing “little t” trauma. Altered Relationship Patterns “Little t” trauma occurs in so many relationships, unfortunately. This could stem from your family of origin; if you constantly saw your parents fight, you’ve likely been traumatized from it. In your own relationships, multiple toxic romantic partners may lead to developing trauma if your coping skills aren’t keeping up with the hurt.   Ultimately, “little t” trauma in relationships can alter our relationship patterns. If our parents fought all the time, we may normalize this behavior in our own relationships. If we have had multiple partners who cheat, we may nearly lose our ability to trust. Holding on to our trauma is a surefire way to alter how we view and experience relationships forever.  Increased Risk of Mental Health Disorders For those of us that experience prolonged “little t” trauma, there is an increased risk of developing a mental health disorder. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common diagnoses related to prolonged trauma.  Additionally, substance use disorder, PTSD, and eating disorders are linked to both “little t” and “Big T” traumas. Childhood trauma is a large factor in the development of both bipolar disorder and depression. Stuck in a Hyper-Vigilant State When we experience trauma of any kind, we are experiencing something that activates our central nervous system. If we experience prolonged trauma, our nervous system becomes overactive, or hyper-vigilant. When we experience an overactive nervous system, we become harder to calm down, more “jumpy” or easily startled, exhausted or experience lack of sleep, panicked, and/or anxious. In other words, having our “fight or flight” system turned all the way up all the time will wreak havoc on our nervous system and overall health. Hopefully this blog helps you recognize “little t” trauma and its impacts in your own life! If you need some help recognizing or working through any kind of trauma, we’re here to help. Reach out to us today by emailing hello@therapybeyondhealing.com to make an initial appointment and start healing from trauma today. We look forward to hearing from you!