Man in therapy for big T trauma and little t trauma

Big T Trauma and Little t Trauma

What is meant by big T trauma and little t trauma? It’s an informal shorthand sometimes used to classify different trauma categories. When the layman thinks of trauma, it’s usually the “big T” variety. Big T trauma comes from those overwhelming and significant events that leave a person feeling powerless in the moment. Think existential threat, something that could kill or seriously injure you. These traumas have a substantial lasting impact.

Simply put, big T traumas are the type that no one is likely to miss or forget, and the residual effects are hard to deny. Little t trauma tends to be a little more discrete. But it, too, has a lasting impact. In the case of the little t trauma, the threat is more psychological than existential or physical. These are things that affect pride, self-esteem or peace of mind. The advent of trauma-informed care in substance use treatment is a direct response to the very real and lasting impact trauma has.

Examples of Big “T” Trauma Include:

  • Incidents of sexual assault.
  • Living through a serious car accident.
  • Experiencing a mass shooting or combat event.
  • Narrowly surviving a natural disaster like a tornado.

All Types of Traumata are Valid

It may be tempting to compare the two types of trauma, but this is a mistake. If measured against a life-threatening incident, it might be easy to discount the more emotion-centered little “t” traumas as less of a concern or even something someone should just try to grin and bear. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that all trauma has a broad area of effect. It’s one of the major reasons trauma-informed care is considered such an important element in substance use treatment now.

Examples of Little “t” Trauma Include:

  • Going through divorce or separation.
  • Serious financial stress or bankruptcy.
  • Job stress from a tyrannical boss or cruel co-worker.
  • Serious argument or falling out that leaves one estranged from family.

Trauma Touches Almost Every Area of Our Lives

The very nature of trauma is that it has a lasting impact that goes far beyond the time frame immediately surrounding the event. Imagine an earthquake. If you were to visit the epicenter, you might find a huge crack open in the earth. But if you were to look miles in every direction, you could find signs of damage from the quake. Many of them would be invisible to the naked eye, though, as a weakened foundation on a building or bridge. Both trauma types are like that. Also, like earthquakes, they have something akin to aftershocks.

The effects of trauma are wide-ranging, and they are not always easy to see on the surface. They also need to be taken seriously because they don’t heal themselves or simply go away if ignored. Like that undermined foundation or bridge footing, they can give way when we least expect it.

Give Both Big T Trauma and Little t Trauma the Attention They Deserve

Both trauma types rewire the brain. Each has lasting impacts that do not simply fade away or heal themselves without the right kind of attention. The profound effects on mood, behavior, thinking and perception caused by trauma can take expert care to unravel. The good news is that trauma-informed care has become standard at quality substance use treatment centers, making a real difference in patient outcomes. If you would like to know more about how trauma and addiction intersect, or you know someone who needs help with a substance use disorder, please get in touch with Promises Brazos Valley at 800-393-0391. We welcome the chance to help in any way we can.

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