5 THINGS I LEARNED AS A GRIEF AND TRAUMA THERAPIST
Does this sound familiar?
"I'm not good enough." "I'm a failure." "I don't deserve to be loved."
Do you believe negative thoughts about yourself like, "I need to be perfect." "My needs don't matter." or "I should've known better."? These negative beliefs are probably preventing you from truly feeling connected in your relationships or successful in your career or school. You are probably feeling anxious, panicky, or depressed. You might be experiencing unexplained and chronic health issues or feel like your life is always in chaos.
For many people, these are some of the ways symptoms of trauma impact our lives even years afterward. Traumatic events and experiences overwhelm our mind and body's ability to process or cope appropriately. We develop negative beliefs about ourselves and have difficulty managing our emotions. Many people minimize the events and experiences that were traumatic. They say things like, "That was a long time ago. It doesn't bother me now." or "It wasn't that bad, I got over it."
If you recognize that you have negative beliefs about yourself, have difficulties in your relationships, struggle at work, feel anxious or depressed, have chronic health concerns, or feel out of control then there is a very likely chance that your autonomic nervous system is still struggling with trauma reactions.
There are two main categories of trauma commonly referred to as "Big T” and little t.”
Big “T” traumas are the events most commonly associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) including serious injury, sexual violence, or life-threatening experiences. Threats of serious physical injury, death, or sexual violence can cause intense trauma even if the person is never physically harmed.
Witnesses to big “T” events or people living and working in close proximity to trauma survivors are also vulnerable to PTSD, especially those who encounter emotional shock on a regular basis like paramedics, therapists, and police officers.
Are you struggling with "Big T" Trauma?
Are you having trouble “getting over” some recent distressing event?
Are you suffering from flashbacks or nightmares?
Do you find yourself avoiding situations that remind you of the event?
Little “t” traumas (sometimes called relational or attachment trauma) are highly distressing events or experiences that affect individuals on a personal level but don’t fall into the big “T” category. Examples of little “t” trauma include non-life-threatening injuries, emotional abuse, infidelity, bullying or harassment, and loss of significant relationships.
People have unique capacities to handle stress, referred to as resilience, which impacts their ability to cope with trauma. What is highly distressing to one person may not cause the same emotional response in someone else, so the key to understanding little “t” trauma is to examine how it affects each individual rather than focusing on the event itself.
Have you experienced "Little t" trauma? Certain challenges that might be rooted in early relational trauma or attachment trauma, including:
Taking responsibility for the emotional well-being of others.
Adjusting your mood according to the mood of others to avoid conflict.
Feeling emotionally unsafe in most relationships.
Fearing failure or perfectionism, which is driven by your belief that anything short of perfection is a failure.
Acting with self-sufficiency that leads to isolation, loneliness, and more shame.
Fearing abandonment, which results in behaviors that reflect a belief that others will eventually leave.
Although "little t" traumas may not meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, these events can be extremely upsetting and cause significant emotional damage, particularly if an individual experiences more than one event or if these traumas occur during important periods of brain development like early childhood and adolescence.
Evidence now concludes that repeated exposure to "little t" traumas can cause more emotional harm than exposure to a single "Big T" traumatic event. Empathy and acceptance for the impact of "little t" traumas can be harder to garner because of the common misconception that these events are less significant than life-threatening emergencies.
Minimizing the impact of these "little t" incidents can create adverse coping behaviors such as bottling up emotions or attempting to manage symptoms without support. Failing to address the emotional suffering of any traumatic event may lead to cumulative damage over time.
Healing from trauma
As trauma-trained therapists, our work is to help you look at your past with compassion. To help our clients heal past trauma, we use several different advanced psychotherapy methods and theories such as complex developmental trauma, attachment theory, neuroscience, CBT, ego states, and somatic experiencing as well as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy (Learn more about EMDR Therapy in our blog post). This comprehensive approach encompasses awareness of the ways that the autonomic nervous system becomes sensitized to fear responses as well as the ways that attachment patterns surface in all of our relationships.
Our approach to trauma treatment can help you:
Take the charge out of distressing memories.
Release strong body sensations.
Take on more positive and accurate beliefs about yourself.
Identify internal resources so you can relate in new ways to negative experiences in the future.