Big “T” and little “t” Trauma

Emotional trauma can come in many shapes and sizes and some clinicians colloquially use the words Big T and Little t to describe different types of trauma. What is important to know is that everyone handles, processes, and recovers from trauma differently and that is okay! It is also important to know that all trauma is painful and will impact the survivor.  Big T and Little t trauma can alter your brain, behaviors, and emotions. Just as trauma can change your brain and your behaviors, healing, practicing coping skills, and making a commitment to care for your mental health can also change your brain and behaviors in very positive ways. 

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Examples of Big T trauma usually include witnessing or being present at a life changing or very high stress, violent or dangerous event. Examples of Big Ttrauma include:

Being present when a shooting takes place

Being present when a natural disaster is taking place (hurricane, earthquake, tornado, etc.)

Living in or being deployed to an active war zone


Witnessing or being the victim of a violent crime

Sexual Abuse


Being in a severe car or work accident

Sudden death of a primary caregiver for a child

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Examples of Little t trauma usually include nonviolent, non-life threatening events that sadly are more common in society. Due to these events being typical, often individuals brush them off or rationalize their experiences as normal bumps in the road of life. Some examples of Little t trauma include:

Interpersonal conflicts and bullying

Emotional and verbal abuse



Family separation


Legal problems

Financial troubles

Losing a job

Living with or having close relationships with people suffering from addictions, physical illness, or mental health conditions

Living in extreme poverty or unpredictable environments 

The problem with trauma is that the effects are cumulative and someone who has been exposed to multiple Little t traumas for a long period of time sometimes can have more severe symptoms and difficulties than those who have been exposed to one Big T trauma. Looking at both lists, think of how many people you know who may be struggling with symptoms of trauma!!!! Consider this before becoming frustrated or angry when you see behavior that is upsetting to you.

Individuals that have trauma may present with nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, isolation, insomnia, depression, emotional dysregulation, memory problems, difficulties concentrating, irritability, and hostility. All kinds of trauma are very unpleasant and many individuals avoid dealing with or talking about their trauma. In order to treat trauma you have to work your way through it, not around it. 

Please consider this information and practice kindness and compassion with others and yourself!

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