What is Meant by “Little ‘t’ and Big ‘T’ Trauma”?

Trauma can be a common cause of underlying issues, such as addiction, depression, self-esteem issues, anxiety, or other mental health disorders. Trauma is treatable, and kids dealing with trauma can learn healthy means of coping to heal and move forward. Depending upon how trauma affects a person, treatment can look different from one child to another.

For kids experiencing trauma, the events and circumstances might look different. As one alumnus of Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center observes during “Beyond Risk and Back,” what is traumatic for one person may feel like no big deal to another. As parents, we might not recognize trauma, as we might be attempting to link trauma to one big event. Understanding the difference between what is known as “Big T and little t” traumas can give a broader scope of how prevalent trauma might be among kids.

Big “T” Trauma

Big “T” trauma often refers to a dangerous event or experience that causes a traumatic response in the individual, sometimes resulting in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For those with this type of trauma, their symptoms can often be traced back to one specific time and place in their lives. Some common examples of these traumas can be car accidents, witnessing a violent crime, or sexual assault. Big “T” traumas might also occur over a longer period of time, such as growing up in an abusive household or serving in combat during a war.

The defining characteristic of Big “T” traumas is the physical threat of the events and experiences. When life and limb are at risk of imminent harm, or a singular event is deeply disturbing, like witnessing a rape, they can shock the body and create an overly active response within the nervous system. Kids experiencing Big “T” traumas might struggle to feel safe at all times, even when no threat is present or long after the event.

Little “t” Trauma

While we are often aware of Big “T” traumas due to the ability to trace the origins of trauma to singular points in a person’s life, little “t” traumas can go under the radar. The dangerous nature of Big “T” traumas can make those types of trauma more understandable. Little “t” traumas might be life events that cause trauma for some, yet not for others. Each person copes with distressing life events differently, and when some cannot process stressful events, they might have a trauma response to things others quickly bounce back from.

Little “t” trauma might be things like loss of loved one or pet, bullying, emotional abuse, moving, disruptions to friendships, divorce, or other events. Often, little “t” trauma can go unnoticed due to the lack of danger involved. These types of trauma also stem from what might be considered normal parts of growing up, unlike Big “T” traumas, which are often unusual or abnormal circumstances. Big “T” traumas might be traumatic for everyone; however, little “t” traumas might be considered more subjective in their experiences.

Why Do People Vary in Trauma Responses?

People can vary in their response to traumatic events due to underlying conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or other difficulties regulating emotions. For example, when a child has underlying social anxiety, the first day of school can be a traumatic experience. When kids do not have coping skills to manage underlying issues, a sudden change can cause a lot of distress to them that we might not notice. We might even have siblings experiencing the same event, such as a divorce or death of a pet, where one child can recover quickly, and another appears to struggle.

As parents, we might need to remember to keep an open mind about what might be considered traumatic. Sometimes, we believe that our kids should just “get over” something or that they need to “toughen up.” We might also dismiss potentially traumatic experiences for younger kids, assuming that younger kids are unaware of distressing issues.

Remember that kids will deal with issues in their own way, and without guidance or support, they might internalize certain events. They might blame themselves for things beyond their control, or they might feel unsafe when being told to “tough it out.” By having open conversations with our kids and remaining consistent with communication, we can better understand how they are processing events and coping with the stressors of daily life.

While Big “T” traumas might appear more obvious, we might neglect to notice little “t” traumas as they develop. Helping our kids cope with either type of trauma can help them grow up into healthy young adults.

Traumatic events can look different to those experiencing them. Some might be significantly impacted by one event, where others might bounce back quickly from the same event. Understanding the difference between big “T” and little “t” trauma can broaden our awareness of how trauma can manifest. Trauma does not always come from one “big” event or a universally distressing event. Depending upon different circumstances, such as a child’s age, coping skills, or other underlying concerns, what might seem like “no big deal” to others can be highly traumatizing for a child. Kids who have experienced trauma in life, whether little “t” or big “T,” might engage in problematic behaviors to cope with their feelings. They might develop other mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, in response to trauma. If your child needs help coping with their trauma, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here to help. Call us today at (303) 443-3343. We can help you get your kid back.

Leave a Reply