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Let's Talk Trauma

You just clicked on this link that is inviting you to read about one of the most researched experiences in the history of mental health, and one of the most common human experiences known to man.

Chances are you clicked because the word 'trauma' resonates. For 1 out of 3 people it does. That's right, about a third of all people on this planet will have had a traumatic experience in their lifetime.

So let's dive in to understand what trauma is, why it's so impactful, and what we can do about it.

What is Trauma?

According to Bessel Van Der Kolk in his book The Body Keeps the Score, trauma is a stress that we cannot shake.

We all go through stressful situations on a daily basis; these are called stressors. Some are more intense and some less.

How we interpret those stressors will yield the experience of stress. I can look at a stressor and say "no biggie" or "it was meant to be" and I won't feel stressed. For most of us, however, on any given day we can look at a stressor and say "oh no, what am I going to do" or "shoots I can't...don't have time for...whyyyyy!?"

We tend to deal with stress in a bunch of different ways:

  • Tackling the stress head on in a practical way

  • Sitting anxiously in the stress for a while until it either goes away on its own or we make it go away

  • Distracting ourselves

  • Numbing ourselves

  • Getting support to help us either take away the stress or learn new ways to deal with it so that we feel calmer

When we are traumatized, however, we get stuck in our ability to fight off the stress experience.

The Impact of Trauma

The processes we had used to deal with stress don't seem to work anymore. Time seems to both stand still and go back and then suddenly move forward furiously fast. We don't know where we are in time and in space. We feel disconnected from our bodies and our emotions. When we are asked about it, if we're open to it we share bits and pieces of our experience(s) but rarely the whole story. We may not even remember some or all of our story.

Additionally, we may have:

  • A harder time connecting to and relating to "normal" people

  • Difficulty with sleeping

  • Changes in appetite

  • Irritability

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Triggers

Another thing about trauma is that it's highly subjective, much like stress. One person's stress is another person's little blimp in their day. Similarly, when it comes to trauma, how we define "terrible things" is highly subjective and based on familial, cultural, religious, and relational norms and values.

Of course, there are some more universal traumas too! In the therapy world, we differentiate between big T trauma and little T trauma.

Big T traumas are experiences that are so negatively profound, they leave us feeling completely powerless and helpless, whereas Little T traumas are experiences that seem just beyond our threshold to deal and hurt our typical baseline of emotional functioning.

Examples of Big T Traumas are:

  • Losing a home to a fire

  • Sexual assault

  • War

  • A car or plane accident

  • Experience of or exposure to violence

  • Natural disaster

  • Death of a loved one

Examples of some Little T Traumas are:

  • Death of a loved one

  • Financial worries

  • Legal issues

  • Divorce

  • Interpersonal conflict

What We Can Do About It

Just because the word 'little' exists in Little T traumas doesn't mean these experiences are easy and should be gotten over quickly. It takes a lot of hard work and processing to heal from both Big and Little T traumas and most importantly, it matters how the traumatized person experienced them. A person could have lost their parent and felt tremendous grief, experiencing a Little T trauma and another person could have lost their parent and experienced a Big T trauma. Our backgrounds matter.

So how do we actually deal?


Going to a qualified trauma specialist can be the greatest gift of life you can give yourself to heal from trauma. Not all therapists are created equal so do your homework and make sure there's a good personality and modality fit between you and your therapist. In therapy you can learn to identify and diffuse triggers, grounding tools, communication tools (to help with talking to loved ones and supports about your trauma and trigger experience), and so much more.


As science has shown us, trauma lives first and foremost in our bodies. Even for those of us who don't remember our traumas, have no fear, our bodies do. And because of our bodies' tremendous wisdom, we can heal starting with our bodies. This type of work is called Somatic Therapy and is a bottom-up approach to trauma treatment, that is, you work on your body and that heals your mind. Another healing option through the body is some kind of massage therapy or physical activity that gets you more in touch and in sync with your body. This can help with feeling more grounded and connected to the present.


As I mentioned before, many times our memory suffers after we've experienced trauma. Our trauma story comes to mind in fragments. Whether alone or with a trauma-informed therapist, having a beginning, middle, and end of your story can help give you resolution and some sense of control of both time and your life. When we are living after the end of a story, we see that we are no longer in it, we are safe. And that is super powerful!


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