For many people, the word trauma conjures up images of serious life experiences such as war, abuse, suicide and divorce. Many therapists call these types of threat to life and/or safety “Big T Trauma.” This type of trauma is complex trauma, and is often associated with layers of traumatic events being repeatedly thrust upon a victim. Some examples of complex trauma include: abuse throughout childhood, a domestic violence victim staying in an abusive relationship, or a spouse being betrayed repeatedly by a partner’s chronic infidelity.
Many neglect to consider “Small T Trauma” and the impact that these experiences have on one’s personal life. For myself, during my high school years I had a crush on Stacey and got the courage to ask her to Homecoming. She said yes and I was on top of the world. Soon after homecoming, Stacey gave me the cold shoulder and dated many of my friends. The pain of this was like the world on top of me! Even 20 years later at a high school reunion, I felt the lingering pain of that event. Some other examples of Small T Trauma include a parent not being there during a significant period in your life, drama that can happen during a holiday with family or a weekend with friends, chronic conflicts with a boss, or impaired functioning at school or work.
Here are some warning signs that you are experiencing Small T Trauma:
- Intrusive memories or triggers from earlier traumatic events
- Sudden mood swings with a tendency to be over-reactive
- Flooding of emotions such as anxiety, fear, panic, anger
- Being hypervigilent – obsessively focused on past injuries, being a detective, feeling uptight and tense
Here are some lesser known symptoms of trauma that many tend to overlook:
- Feeling emotionally worn out or depressed as a result of too many days of fear/anxiety
- Disassociation – or feeling outside yourself as if you are observing what is happening around you rather than being a part of your life
- Codependency – a reaction to trauma where one seeks to care-take others in an effort to self-heal. This often leads to a neglect of your own self-care.
- Aches and pains in the body. These can be unresolved trauma stored in the body.
- Feeling disoriented, in a daze, a flight of ideas, and poor concentration.
- Chronic avoidance or distancing oneself from people
Now that we have laid the groundwork for understanding Small T Trauma in your life, here are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to healing.
- Don’t suffer in the symptoms above and think “they are not that bad” or “this is just the way I am.” Healing from these symptoms is possible
- Healing takes time. Even if you have a symptom free season in your life, it is not a guarantee that something in life may reawaken old wounds.
- Don’t over-function and expect that filling your life with business will prevent you from suffering. Unresolved trauma will surface in your life.
Here are some Self-Compassion guidelines for healing trauma
- Self-compassion means slowing down, taking time for self-care and when you make a mistake you gently say, “I learned something important about myself.” I love Brene Brown’s daily affirmation: “At the end of the day whatever is done or left undone, I know I am still loveable.”
- Meditation or Mindfulness—there are many free phone apps on the market such as Head Space or Breathe that offers a helpful guide to clear your mind and relax. The big benefit beyond relaxation is the practice of tuning-in to oneself. Trauma survivors learn self-attunement and grounding are vital.
- Spirituality is about connection to self, others, God. Spiritual people tend to have a sense of purpose or meaning to what they do. A common phrase in trauma recovery is “it is not the traumatic event that hurts us; it is the meaning we attach to the trauma.” Spirituality teaches things like “surrender this to God” and offers insights that can create meaning to our suffering.
- Break toxic loyalties: carefully consider relationships or projects that are leading you to be overcommitted and exhausted. Set boundaries and/or say no in order to preserve some time for self-care and a realistic pace in life.
- Remember that F.E.A.R can be reframed to False Evidence Appearing Real or Forgetting Everything is All Right. As you recover from Trauma, you begin to allow things to happen and stop trying to control or manipulate things.
- Remember that forgiveness is not for the offender it is for us. Righteous anger is hard to overcome. When we forgive, we allow more space in our hearts to love.
- Develop an optimistic outlook. “The greatest discover of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.” W. James
- Slow down. Drive the speed limit; watch the sun set or rise; play with a child; stare into a fire; slow your thinking, walking and daily routine!
- Develop a social support network. Find at least 3 friends that are safe, non-judgmental, and available. Reach-out and share one another’s burdens.
- Seek professional help. A good clinician has been in the pit with many suffering in trauma. He or she can walk along side you in your healing.
Remember that you are unique and that ALL your life experiences can work together for your good. You have a special call and life purpose. Unresolved trauma can distract and disorient you from your best self. Practice self-compassion by taking the time to heal your wounds and so you may rise-up to your call in life. Come see us at Center for Marriage and Family Counseling and LifeSTAR Dallas, for help along your pathway toward healing trauma.