The Difference Between Big ‘T’ and Little ‘t’ Trauma

by | Jun 30, 2021

Did you know that not all trauma is the same? Trauma takes on various (sometimes unexpected) forms and impacts children and adults alike. Considered an emotional response to a terrible event, trauma infringes upon an individual’s sense of control and can alter their sense of reality. While some individuals may recognize the serious impact of their trauma over time, others may remain in a state of denial or even avoidance.

In fact, response to traumatic events varies from individual to individual. According to Elyssa Barbash, Ph.D., LM HC, as discussed in Psychology Today, “How a situation impacts a person is largely dependent on predisposing factors, such as the individual’s past experiences, beliefs, perceptions, expectations, level of distress tolerance, values, and morals.”

Trauma is categorized into two main categories: Big’ T’ trauma and little ‘t’ trauma.

Big ‘T’ trauma is most commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. As described in the DSM-5, an individual experiences PTSD after an event that jeopardizes their life or bodily integrity. Examples include serious injury, a car accident, natural disaster, or sexual assault. These events are deeply distressing and can leave an individual struggling with feelings of powerlessness, recurrent dreams, flashbacks, extreme irritability, difficulty sleeping, depression, persistent anxiety, and additional prolonged psychological distress.

On the other hand, little ‘t’ traumas are less pronounced yet highly stressful events that extend beyond an individual’s ability to cope, thereby disrupting their emotional functioning. These are personal, ego-threatening difficulties that lead to feelings of hopelessness. Examples of little ‘t’ traumas include a breakup, legal trouble, financial worries, a pet’s death, or abrupt relocation.

While a single little ‘t’ trauma may not lead to significant distress, multiple little ‘t’ traumas, especially over a short period, can severely affect an individual’s emotional and psychological state. What’s more, little ‘t’ traumas have the unfortunate tendency to be overlooked- an individual may rationalize an event as commonplace and fear any response would be perceived as an overreaction, or they may not realize how deeply disturbed they really are.

Working through trauma can be a scary, painful process, regardless if it’s big ‘T’ or little ‘t. It is an individual journey that takes both time and patience. If you are struggling to cope with trauma, Natasha Kendal and Associates would like you to know there is no shame in seeking help. NKA has several trauma-informed therapists trained to help both children and adults. Please, do not hesitate to reach out to us. You may contact us at