The T’s of Trauma

October 30, 2019

Vanessa Leveille

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I always say this, once something becomes a trend, it tends to be watered down. In the case of trauma, it isn’t necessarily that it is getting watered down because you can’t necessarily water down the concept of trauma. However, I am referring to how frequently the term is used as a blanket statement to describe difficult emotions and that it happens, but it isn’t used in the most appropriate context when it happens.

While I love that we are now giving more attention to trauma and its impact on our lives, we are inadvertently making trauma more confusing by using the term loosely. I also want to point out that “trauma” is now so commonplace that it is a household term when at one point, it was too taboo even to be discussing trauma, especially in households of color. And in some cases, especially in families of color, the discussion about trauma is still taboo.

In my work with clients, we often discuss “Little Ts and Big Ts” to explore Trauma. It is super helpful to break down trauma, and as well-intentioned as it is to break it down like this, labeling trauma as “little” or “big” can also have a damaging impact. So I wanted to take the time to talk about trauma, define the “little and big” labels, address both effects, and discuss how to begin recognizing the Trauma in your life. 

Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing event.” Historically, trauma has been seen as the umbrella term for a catastrophic event that impacted one’s physical and psychological safety. These events were experiences such as war combat, natural disasters, sexual violence, physical/bodily harm, tragic accidents, etc. This is why we began to distinguish it as “Big T” because of how large scale the event was and how damaging it was to one’s functioning. However, suppose trauma is defined as a deeply distressing and disturbing event. In that case, we need to consider possibilities that weren’t so large as able but had the same damaging impacts on one’s functioning because it was so distressing and disturbing to the person experiencing it. So we started looking at these other events and realized they too were traumatic and mimicked the same symptomology we see in “Big T” trauma, and we started calling those “Little T” events. These events were experiences like divorce, job loss, bullying, loss of a loved one, community violence, oppression, etc. We found that Trauma was subjective, and every person, whether it was a Big T or Little T event, would likely have the same symptomology and experience it subjectively. Therefore we needed to consider all these experiences.

In my practice, I make it a point to help my clients recognize all the Ts in their life. In the beginning stage of our work together, I administer an assessment to help us get to know one another and learn more about what events led to this moment where they are now in my office. When I ask them if they have ever experienced anything traumatic in their life, many respond, “no, not really.” So we dig a bit more, and within a short time, we discover so many little Ts, and it is my job to say, “Honey, that is trauma.” At this point, we may go into insightful conversations about the event, their meaning-making of it, and the impact those events have had on them. I can conceptualize it as trauma for the purpose of my , but ultimately it is up to them to mark it for themselves and how they want to move forward with that information in their healing journey. 

So how can you recognize Trauma in your life? Here are the steps I like to break down for the people I serve, and I am sharing them with you. Remember, this exercise may be distressing in and of itself, so please lead with caution, personal care, and mindfulness for yourself. The last thing I want to do is trigger you. Here are the steps:

  1. On paper, make a list that starts from conception to your current age. For reasons beyond me, some people can remember experiences in their mother’s womb, so I like to start there. For example, conception, in utero, birth, infancy, 1 yrs old, and so on until you reach your current age.
  2. Then next to each age, you’ll write down any experiences you remember or were told you had that would have been distressing or disturbing. For instance, I was born by cesarian section due to delivery difficulties. I do not remember it, but that could not have been an unpleasant birth and entrance into the world. Sometimes you have been told stories you do not remember but had to have been distressing. Also, you may suddenly remember experiences that may have been fragmented previously. Write those down as well. 
  3. Review your list, and look for the following things in each event:
  • Were you frightened?
  • Did you have sleep disturbances?
  • Did you think about this event frequently?
  • Did you avoid people, places and things that would remind you of the event?
  • Did you feel on edge? Easily startled?
  • Did you have trouble remembering details of the event?
  • Did you have negative thoughts about yourself or the world as a result of this event?
  • Did you have unwarranted feelings of blame or guilt?
  • Did you feel intense feelings of anger and/or sadness?
  • Did you lose interest in doing things as a result?
  • Did you feel less like yourself?
  1. Journal on your reflection about this exercise. What insights did you gain?
  2. Lastly, if this seems to connect some dots for you and bring up some difficult feelings, please seek support in the form of a trusted friend, faith member, therapist or another trained professional to help you process what you are feeling. 

We cannot fully embrace our healing journey until we have recognized and named events as traumatic in our lives. Everyone will experience something traumatic at some point, so it does not matter how “big” or “little” that event is. If it was distressing, feel free to call it Trauma. It may be helpful to distinguish Trauma as “big” or “little” initially to help you wrap your heads around it, but believe me; there is nothing minor about how traumatic events impact us. We each experience Trauma differently, label it, make different meanings about it and cope with it differently, but what is constant is that the body does not see the difference and experiences it all the same. 

The body stores a tragic car accident like it does an awful breakup. This is because trauma is trauma. The body makes no difference; if it hurts you physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, the body stores it. You have every right to label that event Traumatic, but don’t go around tossing the label loosely and not doing anything about it. Trauma impacts your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and has a lasting impact on your relationship with yourself and others. It is so powerful and empowering to acknowledge the Trauma in your life and take steps to grow from it so you can heal.

If you’d like to learn more about how trauma has impacted your story as a Mother, and even your entrepreneurial journey, stay close to the instagram page or this blog as I often share about these concepts as you navigate wellness as a Mompreneur.

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The T’s of Trauma

We each experience trauma differently, label it differently, make different meanings about it, and cope with it differently,

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