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What is "Small-T" Trauma?

"Small-t trauma happens from events, often hidden or unacknowledged within an apparently normal life." ~ Hilary Jacobs Hendel



Francine Shapiro, the creator of a trauma treatment called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) introduced the concept of Large-T Trauma and small-t trauma in 1977.


Small-t traumas represent adverse life experiences that do not typically contribute to a PTSD diagnosis; yet, they still need continuous loving attention because they represent the wounding of your inner child and inner teen.


List of "small-t" Traumas

This list of "small-t traumas" is inspired and informed by counselor Hilary Jacobs Hendel in her book, "It's Not Always Depression." And, I have added in a few myself.


Childhood and Teenage "small-t traumas"
  1. A shortage of physical affection

  2. The absence of attention and eye contact

  3. A lack of emotional attunement and understanding

  4. Emotional abuse such as being yelled at, called names, manipulated, taken advantage of, threatened with abandonment, etc.

  5. Being bullied by parents, siblings, peers, or others

  6. Being ignored

  7. Having overbearing or controlling parents

  8. Getting too much attention, (intrusion), overstimulation

  9. Not succeeding in school

  10. Feeling like you could not measure up to parental standards or sibling accomplishments - i.e. not book smart, athletic, extraverted, or socially adept

  11. Feeling unseen and unrecognized for your gifts and talents

  12. Feeling different or alone for any reason, including but not limited to feeling ostracized for your gender, mental or physical disability, mental or physical illness, sexual orientation, learning disability, body type, weight, socioeconomic status, cultural issues, etc.

  13. Moving

  14. Parents divorcing and remarrying

  15. Blending families

  16. Being adopted

  17. Having a sick parent or sibling, or a family member dying

  18. Having a parent incarcerated for a crime

  19. Having a depressed parent

  20. Having a parent who was traumatized or who had a mental illness or personality disorder such as narcissism or borderline personality disorder

  21. Poverty

  22. Oppression

  23. Misogyny

  24. Being the target of prejudice or judgment

  25. Emigrating

  26. Inability to meet social expectations - cultural, religious, community

It is important to note that small-t traumas are not less significant than Large-T Traumas. Consider that Large-T Traumas such as rape, murder, or torture are similar to one large deep knife wound, whereas consistent adverse life experiences (small-t traumas) are similar to 15 shallow stabbings. You can bleed to death from both.


Most people tend to minimize the impact of repetitive small-t traumas, believing if they didn't survive a major disaster, their trauma is somehow less valid, and therefore they should not need support. However, all adverse life experiences left unhealed do lead to problems eventually. And, many small-t traumas can add up to big problems.


The good news is, with love and persistence, all adverse experiences can be acknowledged and repaired.


With love,

Shelley

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