When it comes to trauma, something I learned in the field as a therapist-in-residency working in the trauma-informed setting is this concept of "little T's" and "big T's," which suggests some things are minor (relationship breakups, bullying/harassment, emotional abuse, death of a pet, etc.) and others more severe (death of a loved one, sexual assault, car accident, violent crimes).

I disagree with this framing as it comes across as dismissive, authoritative, and misses the point of trauma, which is that it's not about the event itself, but the inability to process and/or cope with the experience and how it's then interpreted as a part of one's survival in relationship to self and others. It’s a literal rewiring of the brain & a disruption to a regulated nervous system. It also ignores the systems of harm we live under in a white cis-heteropatriarchal capitalist society.

For better language, I prefer to think of things as acute vs chronic; short-term vs ongoing; developmental vs relational, physical vs emotional/psychological, etc. (but, really, who needs binaries, right?) I think it's up to the individual to use what feels most accurate, comfortable, and sensible for their lived experiences.

What is and isn't a trauma to someone is relative - while we can have overarching categories to speak to some universal experiences, each individual has their own way of processing and responding to an event and its impact on their nervous system. Some people come out of a trauma more resilient, some desensitized, some more fragile - none of it is WRONG because there is no RIGHT way. “The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg."

No one can help or choose what traumatizes them and why. Instead, we can be there for each other; we can learn to listen with empathy, compassion, genuine curiosity, and be present. Instead of comparing ourselves and how we cope/d, we can ask people what they need; we can connect people to resources, support spaces (peer-led is often best), & advocate for better mental health care and access (which includes housing, food, substance (ab)use, disability, healthcare, monies, and more).

  • Ericka Gail M.S.Ed
trauma isn't simply the event