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Male Looking Into the Distance

Small ‘t’ Trauma

By Cathy Klapstein

In its simplest form, trauma can be defined as events that affect people’s sense of control and overwhelm our coping responses. These circumstances can cause people to avoid situations or seek to numb their feelings about what they cannot or could not control.

Most of us are more familiar with big ‘T’ Trauma caused by significant events such as war, witnessing violence, traffic accidents, debilitating or incapacitating illness, death of a loved one and more. As a society we seem to be starting to get a good grasp on what can cause big ‘T’ trauma.

However, did you know, trauma can also be caused by smaller life events that you would not expect to cause harm? This is known as small ‘t’ trauma.

Unbeknownst to most, small ‘t’ trauma can substantially impact one’s wellbeing and may require professional treatment. If left untreated, small ‘t’ trauma can take up residence in an individual and wreak havoc on one’s ability to cope in simple everyday living (Elyssa Barbash, 2017).

Here are some ways small ‘t’ trauma may be present in one’s life:

1. Relationships

Negative relationships can cause small ‘t’ trauma. Recurrent invalidation, boundary violations, hurtful remarks, or emotional reactivity and can cause small ‘t’ trauma. For instance, a marriage founded on misogynist beliefs can have a lasting traumatic affect. Or maybe it is an ongoing relationship with someone who relies on you, but whom you cannot rely on. In other words, being in a relationship with someone who does not validate your feelings, respect your boundaries, and engage in meaningful and constructive conversation can become small ‘t’ trauma.

2. Work

Small ‘t’ trauma can result from a poor or toxic work environment. Years of trying to please a potentially domineering, critical, unappreciative boss can cause small ‘t’ trauma. A verbal bullying coworker can cause trauma within a person. Even something like never feeling caught up with an impossibly huge workload can also leave us traumatized over time  (Howatt & Rodrigue, 2024).

3. Other situations

There can be many causes of small ‘t’ trauma. Any situation wherein we feel helpless to make changes for the better can be traumatizing over time. Caring for a sick parent, death of a pet, having to relocate, chronic pain, poverty, discrimination, and more.

 

Small ‘t’ trauma causes lasting adverse effects in individuals who experience it.  Continuously spiked cortisol (a stress hormone in our body) results in many harmful effects in the body such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, heart problems, weight gain, low self-esteem, digestive issues, memory loss and brain fog (What Is Cortisol?, 2022).

Fortunately, there are ways to treat small ‘t’ trauma and one does not need to indefinitely suffer the effects of it. Recognizing the existence of small ‘t’ trauma and changing trauma-causing circumstances are good places to start.

Kells Counselling holds semi-annual ‘Tools for Trauma’ one-day workshops to equip those with trauma. These workshops are designed to develop skills to manage anxiety, regulate emotions and recover from new or past traumatic stress. By helping to navigate trauma and help you move towards healing.  Please visit our Trauma Recovery Page for more upcoming workshops.

 

 

 

References

“Why Can’t I Get Over This?” – Understanding Small ‘t’ Trauma. (n.d.). Retrieved from Trauma Counseling of Florida: https://traumacounselingfl.com/blog/understanding-small-t-trauma

Elyssa Barbash, P. (2017, March 13). Different Types of Trauma: Small ‘t’ versus Large ‘T’ . Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/trauma-and-hope/201703/different-types-trauma-small-t-versus-large-t

Howatt, D., & Rodrigue, M. (2024, February 7). How To Build a Trauma-Informed Workplace Culture. Retrieved from Engage WSPS: https://engage.wsps.ca/trusted-leader/how-to-build-a-trauma-informed-workplace-culture

What Is Cortisol? (2022, December 13). Retrieved from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol