Cira Center for Behavioral Health

You May Have Experienced Trauma (And Don’t Even Know It)

by | Mar 29, 2016 | Blog

Sounds like a funny thing to say right?  I mean, you would know if you experienced trauma.  Right??
Not necessarily so.

So let’s start at the beginning.  When I use the word “trauma” lots of things probably come to mind: war, rape, a tornado, a car accidents.  Am I hitting some of them?

And you are right!  Those things are often traumatic for folks that experience them.

We in the psych world call those events “Big T trauma”.  It’s a terrible name, but all that it means is that these are things that happened ONCE.  Except war.  War is obviously not a single incident trauma, but the powers that be threw it in there.  Don’t ask.  But regardless, anything that happens one time is single incident trauma and therefore Big T.  And some of the folks that I work with come in for these sorts of reasons.

But FAR more of the folks that I work with have a different kind of trauma history.  They often have something called “little t trauma”.  Again, terrible name, because while the name implies it, one is not better or worse, easier or harder.  But little t trauma is basically bad stuff that happened a lot.  For instance, a childhood filled with abuse and/or neglect.  Witnessing or being a victim of domestic violence.  Being diagnosed with a major medical illness or disability.  All of these things can also be traumatic.  But you probably could’ve guessed that too.

Here’s the part that might surprise you.  There’s a subset of little t trauma called “relational trauma”.  This is where people hurt other people…but not necessarily with their fists or bodies.  A relational trauma survivor might be someone who…

  • Endured a contentious divorce
  • Has a history of physical/sexual abuse and/or neglect
  • Had a parent/caregiver/family member who struggled with a medical illness 
  • Had a parent/caregiver/family member who struggled with a mental illness or personality disorder
  • Had a parent/caregiver/family member who struggled with a substance abuse/addiction
  • The death of a loved one
  • Experiencing sexism, racism, homophobia, etc

Are you surprised that any of those things can be traumatic? Are you reeling or confused because you see yourself in any of those examples? If so, how do you know if those experiences are still following you around and impacting your life NOW?

When we experience any kind of trauma, our body and brain respond in predictable and NORMAL ways. This may include:

  • Difficulties with regulating your mood:
    • Feeling mild to severe sadness more often than not
    • Explosive or inhibited anger
    • Chronic anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • Unstable sense of who you are
    • Sense of helplessness and/or powerlessness
    • Frequent feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame
    • Sense of being totally different from others
    • Feeling numb or empty
  • Relationship difficulties
    • Feeling the need to isolate and withdraw
    • Disruption in intimate relationships
    • Difficulties with trust
    • Ending up in the same relationship patterns that you know aren’t good for you, but you can’t figure out how to get out of them
  • Memory/Consciousness difficulties
    • Cannot remember major parts of childhood, including but not limited to, traumatic experiences
    • Can remember in vivid detail your traumatic history and it comes into your mind when you least want/expect it to
    • A sense of not being fully present in your life

Ok, so this is a lot of information to digest, especially if you are seeing yourself in this post so let’s re-group for a second. Trauma is more than war and rape. Trauma is also when people do bad things to other people, with malintent or not, and it causes people to respond in similar and predictable ways as is detailed above.

So what if this is you?

If you experienced some (or several) of the traumatic experiences that I discussed above and you currently struggle with your mood, sense of self, relationships or memory, **treatment can help.

This does not mean that you are crazy. This simply means that you are having a normal reaction to something abnormal. That is all.

And you are not alone.  

According to a study done by some of the most highly respected trauma researchers out there, 60.7% of men and 51.2% of women reported experiencing at least one trauma in their lifetime (;).  

Ok so let’s stop here for now even though there is a lot more to talk about.  How has trauma affected YOU?  What have you done to overcome it?  I want to hear about it on my FaceBook page!

**If after reading this, you want to talk to someone about potentially getting into therapy, feel free to visit me at my website to schedule a complimentary phone consultation or schedule an appointment.