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  • Writer's pictureMonique Johnson

Diving Into Trauma

Everyone has their own definition of what trauma means and what trauma looks like. What is your definition?

T – Treatment? R – Recovery? A – Adverse? U – Uncomfortable?

M – Malicious? A – Alienated?

Five different people can have five different meanings for the word trauma, but the thing is that trauma is all of it. It is the big, the little, and everything in between.

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a traumatic event is an alarming, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a person’s life or bodily integrity. Any event that could be perceived as sudden, unexpected, and dangerous can be a traumatic event. Trauma is an emotional response to all of these different types of events, and tied to the individual’s perception of the experience.

In a way, trauma can be a very broad term. It covers everything from medical traumas to psychological traumas. It also includes less severe incidents that we may encounter more frequently.


There are both BIG T traumas and little t traumas both experienced differently by different people. BIG T traumas include life-threatening, deeply disturbing situations or events that are most commonly associated with PTSD like physical abuse, sexual violence, war, car accident, shootings, etc. Little t traumas are highly distressing events that impact individuals on a personal level, but don't fall into the BIG T category like bullying, emotional abuse, divorce, losses, etc. While certain traumas can be debilitating, others are dealt with more resiliently– often to our own surprise.

Types of Trauma

Along with BIG T and little t traumas, there are also different types of trauma–acute trauma, chronic trauma, and complex trauma. An acute trauma is a response to a traumatic event that is experienced once, such as car accidents or natural disasters. Chronic trauma occurs as a result of repeated and prolonged exposure to a traumatic event like domestic violence. Complex trauma is a response to varied and multiple traumatic events.

Childhood Trauma

When children experience trauma, it impacts their physical, emotional, academic, and relational abilities. Some may recover from these experiences, but some may have more difficulty along the way. Some youth have had adverse childhood experiences that make it challenging to recover without treatment.

Experiencing trauma during childhood can have a huge impact on the adult brain. The human brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties. Therefore, when a child experiences trauma his or her brain development may be interrupted and can cause problems that effect emotional and behavioral health. If these concerns are not addressed, then difficulties can continue into adulthood. These traumatic experiences are stored in the brain and the body, which will come up when an individual comes into contact with a trauma trigger. Therefore, it is important to process and work through these experiences with a trained professional to be able to cope and manage those trauma triggers.

Healing Trauma Through Support

It may feel alienating to face trauma alone or uncomfortable to talk about it, but it is important not to stay silent in order to heal from trauma. Counseling can play a significant role in healing. No matter if it is a little t or a BIG T, acute, chronic, or complex trauma, seek the support that you need to heal. We all have our definitions of trauma and we all need the support to get through these tough experiences. Whether it is family support, community support, or professional support, relationships play a large role in recovering and healing from trauma.


Sources: The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2021, from https://www.nctsn.org/.

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