Trauma. It’s a word we’ve all heard, and have an idea of what it means. 

But for people who’ve experienced trauma or have loved ones who have, it’s essential to know the true definition and its implications.


What Is Emotional Trauma?

Psychology Today defines trauma as “a deeply disturbing event that infringes upon an individual’s sense of control and may reduce their capacity to integrate the situation or circumstances into their current reality.” 

Emotional trauma results from extraordinarily stressful events that shatter our sense of security and make us feel helpless in a dangerous world. 

Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety. But any situation that creates feelings of overwhelm or isolation can result in emotional trauma. 

With trauma, it’s not the objective circumstances, but your subjective emotional experience. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you will be traumatized from that event.

Emotional trauma can come from overtly distressing events like combat, natural disasters, or abuse. However, trauma can also come from less obvious events. These can be categorized as different types of trauma – big T and little t. 


Big “T” Trauma

Big “T” trauma is what most people think of when they hear the word trauma. 

Psychology Today defines big “T” trauma as “an extraordinary and significant event that leaves the individual feeling powerless and possessing little control in their environment.” 


These big “T” traumas are easily identified, like:

  • Natural disasters or catastrophic events
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Combat or war
  • Car or plane accident


Small “t” Trauma

Small “t” traumas are “events that exceed our capacity to cope and cause a disruption in emotional functioning,” according to Psychology Today. 

While these events aren’t inherently life-threatening, they can cause people to feel helpless in their circumstances. The accumulation of small “t” traumatic events can create similar traumatic responses to Big “T” trauma.


Examples of small “t” traumas include:

  • Conflict with family members
  • Infidelity or divorce
  • Conflict with a boss or coworker
  • A sudden or extended relocation or move
  • Planning a wedding 
  • Being laid off
  • Starting a new job
  • Having or adopting a child
  • Financial or legal worries


One little “t” trauma may not receive a PTSD diagnosis. However, studies have also shown that repeated exposure to little “t” traumas can cause more emotional harm than exposure to a single big “T” traumatic event. 


Impacts of Trauma

Trauma impacts everyone differently. Based on each person’s past experiences, beliefs, expectations, level of resilience, and ability to process the experience, trauma can manifest differently. 

Although each person who goes through trauma responds differently, there are common trauma symptoms, including:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma with nightmares or flashbacks
  • Powerful emotions and reactions
  • Feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, guilt, and numbness
  • Avoiding thinking or talking about the event
  • Changes in how you view the world, people around you, and yourself
  • A hyperactive nervous system, and a being on guard or seeing danger everywhere


If you’re experiencing trauma symptoms, know that there is nothing wrong with how you’re feeling! Many of the symptoms are your body and brain’s natural, healthy reaction to the trauma. 

Experiencing these symptoms for a short time is normal and healthy, but severe symptoms lasting for several months or longer are often categorized as PTSD. It’s important to be aware of your symptoms and how long they are lasting.


The Hope After Emotional Trauma

Trauma may have touched your life or the life of someone you love, and you’re feeling helpless, trying to process it. But you don’t have to suffer in silence! 

Treatments like therapy and medication, along with emotional support can help throughout recovery. Each treatment is different, but help survivors recall the memory of the trauma and address the memories, thoughts, and feelings.

At Seeking Hope, we have the unique privilege of training people to support victims on what is possibly the worst day of their lives. We’re here to help you learn how to rebuild – physically and emotionally, with online training and virtual emotional first aid coaching

There is no quick fix, and there are no “cures” for trauma. Some people successfully eradicate the impact of the traumatic memory on their lives, and others find significant improvement in their quality of life. 

Regardless, when trauma is on the table, avoidance does not work. Instead, the best way out is always through.

Navigating emotional trauma can be a process, and each person’s experience will be different. Take time to find coping methods, know that emotions are rarely linear, and be patient with yourself and your own unique experience.