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  • Writer's pictureGary Katz

What exists more than we know and less than we think?


Trauma exists more than what we realize and less than we think at the same time.

We’ve all heard people use the word “ traumatic” or “traumatizing” when referring to something emotional. For example, “ I showed up at the party, and was completely traumatized when i realized i was wearing the same outfit as someone else.”

People refer to trauma to describe emotional situations that are upsetting. I have heard people express that they were “traumatized” in a class because the teacher said something that was not in alignment with their views.

This isn’t trauma. It might be upsetting or even offensive but that doesn’t render something traumatic.

Trauma also isn’t a synonym for “painful.” All trauma is painful but not all painful things are trauma.

Trauma is not what happens to us but what happens inside us.

Dr. Gabor Mate shares this checklist to help determine if something is or isn’t trauma.

If the following remain true over the long term then something isn’t trauma"

  1. It does not limit you, constrict you, diminish your capacity to feel or think, or to trust or assert yourself, to experience suffering, without succumbing, to despair, or to witness it with compassion.

  2. It does not keep you from holding your pain and sorrow in fear, without being overwhelmed, and without having to escape habitually into work, or compulsive, self, soothing, or self stimulating by whatever means.

  3. You are not left, compelled, either to aggrandize yourself, or to face yourself, for the sake of getting acceptance, or to justify your existence.

  4. It does not impair your capacity to experience gratitude for the beauty and wonder of life.

Without these impacts, something is not considered trauma.

At the same time, trauma also exists more than we realize. We often think of trauma as something resulting from abuse, severe neglect in family of origin, an incident of assault, physical impacts such as a car crash, or the impact of racism or poverty. These are generally referred to as “big T trauma.”

The lesser known forms of trauma, referred to as “little t trauma” are often not as noticed or memorable but leave impacts that can be even greater than “big T trauma.” This could include repeated critical comments from a parent, bullying at school or home, or not receiving enough care, comfort, nurturance and affection. More often than not, this is the type of trauma that clients have experienced but don’t recognize as painful or traumatic and then report in a session, “nothing bad happened in my childhood.”

Overusing or misusing a term like “trauma” trivializes it and diminishes its value.

Understanding trauma correctly and healing from it is essential in any therapy or recovery. Without it, a person is incapable of being their fullest self.

I’m our next blog post, I’ll discuss more in detail the impact of neglected and unhealed trauma and why it’s so important to address trauma.

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma and would like to be free of its impacts, please reach out to us to make an appointment with one of our therapists.




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