When a person experiences a distressing event such as a divorce, loss of a job, or death of a loved one, they will often describe it as “traumatic.” And in the sense that these events may cause significant painful reactions, they are “traumatic” but they do not normally cause the same type of overwhelming emotional response that a Trauma such as a rape, combat, or murder of a loved one.
Many think of the differences as “little ’t’ trauma” and “big ’T’ trauma.” For the most part, little “t” traumas can lead you to experience painful general stress reactions but you can still go about your day and they tend to diminish over time. However, It is important that you not disregard lingering stress reactions because they can cause long-term mental and emotional issues. You may develop more serious problems such as anxiety and/or depression. Treatment commonly focus on managing stress reactions and/or the resulting anxiety and depression as well as the difficulties they cause in your daily life.
Big “T” Traumas can cause you to develop reactions specifically related to the Traumatic event(s). Although these reactions can gradually diminish on their own, you may develop significant debilitating symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although originally thought to only result from combat, we now know that experiencing or witnessing any type of life threat, sexual violence, or serious injury, especially if during the event you had no control over what was happening or was extremely afraid, can lead to developing PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD may include nightmares, flashbacks in which you respond physically and emotionally as if the traumatic event(s) are happening again, avoidance of anything that resembles/reminds you of the trauma, self-blame/survivor guilt, anger, difficulty sleeping, and always feeling tense or that danger could strike at any moment. These reactions can lead you to fear that you are losing your mind. It's important to remember that you are reacting to overwhelming terrifying, horrific event(s). You are not going crazy. Nonetheless, PTSD is a serious condition requiring that you receive treatment from a therapist who has extensive training and experience treating PTSD. Your treatment will focus on helping you to gain a better understanding of what you experienced, the context of the trauma(s), your current reactions, and tools to view the trauma as just another (although horrible) part of your past so that it no longer dominates your present life.
If you think you might need help with either little “t” or big “T” traumatic reactions (or PTSD), then you probably do. Mild or severe, short-term or long-standing, there is help. You can feel more comfortable in your own skin, participate in activities with friends and family, and gain more restful sleep.
If you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis/emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), go to a hospital emergency room,
or call 911 immediately.
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