What is Trauma?

Often, words like trauma or something being “traumatic” get used in everyday vernacular without a true understanding of what that word entails. A trauma can be defined as an experience we have that overwhelms our capacity to cope. But how can we be sure that an experience is considered a trauma?

“Big T” vs. “Little t”

One way to distinguish events that may be considered traumatic is by knowing the difference between what we call “big T” traumas and “little t” traumas. “Big T” traumas are what most people associate with the word trauma, and can often be life threatening experiences or threats of serious physical injury or sexual violence. These can include war, violent crimes, and natural disasters. “Little t” traumas are highly distressing events that do not necessarily fall into the category of a “Big T” trauma, and are usually non-life threatening, but may still impact our ability to cope. Some examples include loss of a relationship, job, or pet, bullying, or emotional abuse. Both types of trauma can result in mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, therefore just because something is considered a “little t” trauma does not mean it should be overlooked. One thing to note here is that what is traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to the next, so it is important to focus on the effect an event has on each individual person.

The effect

Now that we understand more about the types of trauma, we can start to think about the effect that trauma has on our emotional and physical well-being. It can be helpful to know what to look for when determining if an experience has disrupted our ability to cope, as trauma can cause a variety of stress reactions. Some examples of emotional responses to trauma include worrying a lot, crying often, feeling detached or numb, having upsetting memories, and blaming yourself or having negative views about yourself or the world. Some examples of physical responses to trauma include trouble sleeping, upset stomach or change in appetite, and rapid heart rate or breathing. These are just a few examples of how our bodies and minds can react to distressing situations. Trauma can disrupt our ability to regulate our emotions and stay emotionally connected with other people, so it is important to seek help if you think that an experience may be affecting you negatively.


While it may feel overwhelming to come to the realization that you have experienced a traumatic event, it can be comforting to know that there are treatment options available as we continue to research. Recovery is an ongoing, gradual process that takes time and for many people, stress reactions will naturally decrease over time. Some steps that you can take to help you along in your recovery are to rely on your support systems and learn healthy coping skills to utilize when you recognize warning signs in yourself. If you or anyone you know is struggling with the aftermath of a traumatic experience, please give us a call or contact us here. A counselor will be happy to assist in your healing journey.

Priscilla Buentello, LPC Associate

Priscilla Buentello, LPC Associate

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