Big ‘T’ and little ‘t’ Trauma
Imagine, if you will, a tennis court with a ball launcher. You are there to practice your swings to become a better tennis player. The ball launcher launches a ball at you and you swiftly deflect it to the other side of the net. The next ball comes and again you are adept at placing the ball where you want. As you tire your ability to be adept and swift starts to wane. You start just hitting the ball to deflect it, no longer caring if it made it to the other side of the net or even in the court.
Let’s say that each ball represents some aspect of your life such as a fight with your spouse, changing jobs, illness, or moving. Each ball isn’t significant enough to be a traumatic event but as you live your life the cumulation of the launches creates trauma for you.
Alone these ‘balls’ don’t create a significant life-altering response but collectively they are more than your coping skills can handle. This type of trauma is called Little “t” trauma.
Now imagine the same tennis court with a ball launcher but the ball launcher goes a little crazy and starts launching balls at a more rapid speed than you can possibly respond. You trip, fall and immediately become unable to cope with the onslaught of the balls. At this point you may run off the court or curl up on the court covering your head, waiting for it all to be over. This would be an example of Big ‘T’ trauma. A single event that creates a significant impact on your life.
Natural disasters, sustained abuse, witnessing sustained abuse or violent happenings are all such examples of Big ‘T’ trauma.
In life, as in tennis, some are better at placing the ball than others. Different people respond differently to life’s happenings. What may be a significant trauma for one person may not be for another. It does not make one person weaker than another, just different.
Generally speaking, friends, family members, and employers understand the need to seek counseling when a Big “T” trauma occurs. However, the accumulative effect of little “t” traumas can be ignored, misunderstood or minimized not only by friends, family members, and employers but also by the person experiencing them. It’s important to be compassionate whether the person is experiencing a one-time disturbing, life-altering event or a series of distressing life-altering events.
Since each individual has a different collection of life happenings how that individual responds to trauma will determine the level of care they need. Generally speaking, if your trauma, whether it is Big “T” or Little “t”, has resulted in any of the following symptoms, it is best to look for a therapist trained in healing trauma: substance abuse, sustained anxiety/depression, insomnia, anger, violence to self and/or others, consistent irritation, feeling numb, mood swings, avoidance of people or places that formerly were part of your life.
At Therapy Utah we specifically chose therapists who have a background in the treatment of trauma in children, adolescents, and adults. We understand the need for a correct diagnosis so the path of healing can be tailored to our client’s needs.
In 1975, Arthur Ashe was the #1 tennis player in America and to this day the only African American player to be invited to play on the U.S. Davis Cup team. During his life he had his share of Little “t” and Big “t” traumas. The advice he gave for handling life’s challenges on and off the course is applicable to anyone trying to heal from their own traumas whether “t” or “T”.