Several years ago, I sat at my kitchen table making a simple grocery list. In the middle of making the list, my mind went blank and I broke into tears. “What is wrong with me?” I thought. I had no “real” reason to be upset. I had a beautiful family, great friends, and good health. I felt guilty for even “allowing” myself to feel this way.
However, as I began thinking through the previous year, I remembered all that had happened. Four family members passed away, job loss, financial difficulty, and moving to a new town, all while clumsily attempting to parent two toddlers only 20 months apart. But because none of these experiences were “terribly” traumatic, I summed them up with the thought that, “I need to be grateful that it wasn’t worse. After all, so many people have it worse than me.” While I felt that this was the best way to view my current situation, I did not realize the harm that denying my own pain was causing.
I can now look back on this situation and identify it for what it was – trauma. When most people hear the word “trauma,” experiences like war, natural disasters, and serious or life-threatening injury may come to mind. In the world of counseling, we call these “Big-T” traumas. However, there is another type of trauma called “little-t” trauma. This type of trauma can also be highly distressing, but includes experiences like significant personal loss, non-life-threatening accidents, and emotional abuse. Feelings of being overwhelmed and helpless are common with this type of trauma. Further, because “little-t” traumas may not cause true PTSD symptoms, they are easier to minimize and more difficult to seek help for.
Whether you can relate to “Big-T” or “little-t” trauma experiences as described, here are 3 things you need to know:
1) Trauma is not so much about the situation but how you experienced it. If you and a friend were both in an accident, she may not have the trauma symptoms you do. Beware of comparison! It is necessary for you to heal from your own experience.
2) Seek out support from those who will allow you to be honest about what has happened.
3) Symptoms of trauma may come up soon after the event. Symptoms may also subside until months or years after the event. Anxiety, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and nightmares are just a few symptoms associated with trauma.
Christy Hughes is a therapist at Sage Hill Counseling in Murfreesboro, TN.Christy has over 15 years of experience working with individuals in both pastoral and professional settings. She understands that life can be messy and, at times, overwhelming. It is her desire to walk alongside clients as they bravely uncover their past and present wounds in order to help them begin to heal and learn to live more fully.