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Trauma and PTSD

ptsd recovery trauma trauma response Aug 07, 2023

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health disorder that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Trauma can range from physical violence and natural disasters to emotional abuse or the loss of a loved one. Symptoms of PTSD may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and heightened reactions to triggers associated with the traumatic event.

Recognizing the Impact of Trauma

Trauma comes in various forms, and it is essential to understand the spectrum of traumatic experiences. Trauma can be categorized into "Big T" and "Small t" trauma, each having its unique impact on an individual's psychological well-being.

Big T Trauma:

Big T traumas refer to significant and often life-threatening events that leave a lasting impact on a person's life. Some examples of Big T traumas include:

  • Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods
  • Combat experiences in war zones
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Serious accidents resulting in severe injuries or loss of life
  • Medical emergencies, such during birth
  • Witnessing violence or the sudden death of a loved one

Its wise if you have suffered a clear, big T trauma to seek professional support to reduce the chance of developing PTSD, or to treat PTSD if it has already eventuated. 

Small t Trauma:

On the other hand, small t traumas are more common and may not be as easily identifiable as Big T traumas. They are often cumulative, resulting from ongoing stressful or distressing experiences. Small t traumas can include:

  • Emotional neglect or abuse
  • Bullying or persistent peer rejection
  • Loss of a pet or a cherished possession
  • Chronic illness or medical procedures
  • Divorce, family conflict or estrangement
  • Relocation to a new environment

Small t traumas can have a significant impact on an individual's mental health over time. They may accumulate and contribute to emotional distress, affecting one's self-esteem, relationships, and overall well-being. Just like big T traumas, they can also cause PTSD symptoms, despite the DSM reserving the diagnosis of PTSD for people who have directly experienced events perceived as life-threatening to oneself or another only (infuriating for psychologists who see PTSD symptoms all the time in people who's trauma was not technically life threatening!)

It is essential to recognize that small t traumas can still have traumatic effects on individuals, especially if occurring during childhood, adolescence or another vulnerable time. The emotional and psychological toll of ongoing stress and distress cannot be underestimated.

Understanding Complex PTSD Complex PTSD is a variant of PTSD that arises from prolonged exposure to traumatic experiences, often in situations of ongoing abuse or neglect, such as in cases of childhood abuse or domestic violence. It is especially prevalent in people who experienced repeated abuse (verbal, physical or sexual) or neglect by their parents growing up. Individuals with Complex PTSD may experience all the symptoms of PTSD, but they may also suffer from difficulties with emotional regulation, self-esteem, and forming healthy relationships. This is sometimes due to the effect of caregiver abuse on the developing attachment system (more about attachment in a future newsletter).

Healing and Support

Regardless of the type of trauma experienced, seeking support from mental health professionals is important for healing and recovery. Therapeutic interventions, such as trauma-focused therapy, EMDR, EFT and DBT can be beneficial in addressing the unique challenges posed by each type of trauma.

The Journey to Healing

Healing from PTSD and Complex PTSD is a personal journey, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It takes time, patience, and support. Engaging in self-care practices, such as mindfulness, self compassion, exercise, and creative expression, can be beneficial for many individuals.

Breaking the Shame

It is vital to remember that those experiencing PTSD or Complex PTSD are not weak or broken. These conditions are natural responses to overwhelming trauma and can happen to anyone. It's important to offer compassion and understanding, not blame or judgement to those who have experienced trauma.

Support Networks and Resources

In times of recovery, support networks can be lifelines. Consider seeking support from understanding and emotionally intelligent family members, friends, or support groups where you can connect with others who have experienced similar challenges. Additionally, several organizations and hotlines provide assistance for those dealing with PTSD and Complex PTSD. These can be found on my website.

Understanding PTSD, Complex PTSD, and the impact of Big T and small t traumas makes a big difference in supporting those on their journey to healing. If you or someone you know is affected by these conditions, remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, and there are resources available to help you on your path to recovery.

Nervous system need a tune-up due to chronic or post traumatic stress?

Check out The Nervous System Reset.

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