Are "Little T" Traumas Hurting Your Chance at True Happiness?

emotional life inner child healing Jul 19, 2022
girl traumatized, in shock covering her mouth


The biggest mistake most people make is thinking that people who've experienced serious, severe trauma are the only ones who need healing. And I totally get it. The only time people mention healing work or therapy is typically when things are so bad - either have depression or anxiety, or they lost a parent or close loved one and can’t cope. So it's really easy to believe that only people who've experienced serious trauma are the only ones who need healing.

But let me ask you. Does every single person who didn't experience serious trauma go on to lead an easy and happy life? No, and you could actually create quite an unpleasant life experience if you hold on to that belief.

Because there are so many things that happen to us that don’t qualify as "Big T" Trauma that leave us feeling broken, unlovable, unworthy, and less-than. It’s these circumstances and events of our lives that I call trauma ("little t" trauma).

"Big T" Trauma… what most people think about when they think about a young person not having a great childhood… are things like:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse (i.e., rape)
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mental illness
  • Substance abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Serious accident
  • Loss of career
  • Crime
  • Major surgery/ life threatening illness
  • Death/loss of a loved one
  • War, combat, persecution
  • Witnessing death



A landmark study in the 1990s found that the more of these forms of physical/emotional abuse, neglect and household dysfunction a person experienced, the worse their physical and mental health, and the greater their substance use and extent of risky behaviors in adulthood. The more of these forms of abuse, neglect, and dysfunction someone experienced, the greater their risk for chronic health problems, depression, substance abuse, other unhealthy coping behaviors, poor social development, social/behavioral issues, engagement in risky behaviors or violence.

But it’s not just these “Big T” Traumas (physical/emotional abuse, neglect and household dysfunction) that negatively impact young people for a long time to come. “Little t” trauma exceeds your capacity to cope and creates chronic stress that likewise negatively impacts the mental, emotional, and physical development of a young person as they mature. These things that don’t fit the “Big T” Trauma criteria but are distressing events that often wreak havoc on a person are things like:


  • Parents not offering emotional safety or protection
  • Parents or caregivers not attuned to your needs and personality
  • Parents not comforting you in the way you needed to be comforted; not offering verbal reassurance, closeness, or comfort
  • Death of a pet
  • Being bullied or harassed in school/feeling left out/shamed/ridiculed/verbally abused
  • Experiencing a non-life-threatening injury
  • Abrupt or extended relocation
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Parents or caregivers who have an agenda for you needing to do something specific or be someone specific, rather than encouraging your most unique and authentic self
  • Infidelity
  • Divorce
  • Legal trouble
  • Financial insecurity or difficulty
  • Parent with a psychiatric diagnosis
  • And just about everything else—if it was traumatic to the person, then it was traumatic.


Sure, these events aren’t necessarily life-threatening, but they sure are life-altering. “Little t” trauma can be just as clinically significant and impactful on a person’s life as “Big T” Trauma, affecting your relationships, career, and life and if we are to grow into who we’re truly meant to be, these "little t" traumas need our care and attention more than ever.

So how do you create a life that feels truly happy from the inside? You get honest with yourself about the things you experienced while growing up and acknowledge the less-than-ideal situations you were part of regardless of whether they are considered to be a “big T” trauma or not. "Little t" traumas deserve just as much of your care and attention as "Big T" Traumas. In fact, “little t” traumas are not any less significant in how they colored your perceptions and impacted your life and it’s by letting yourself get honest about these events in your past that you can heal the wounds and hurts you accumulated as a result of them.


“Little t” traumas are not any less significant in how they colored your perceptions and impacted your life.



So first you identify those things around which you have unresolved feelings (whether it was the way your dad wasn't really emotionally present, the way that kid bullied you in school, the way your first boyfriend or girlfriend cheated on you, or the fact that you never felt good enough in the eyes of your mother, whatever it might be). Then you really connect with the version of you who had that experience and let him/her share everything they want with you about how it felt to be in that situation. You create a space of comfort and care for them - which they likely didn't have when the original event happened - and you bring to them the compassion and love they needed but didn't get back then. Then, you find out what support or help they need in terms of that experience and how it's influencing you today and you help to provide that for this younger version of you. That's how you heal a past wound and prevent it from impacting your present.

So let me ask you. Do you really want to keep thinking that only people who've experienced serious trauma need healing and keep letting your past take away from your present-day happiness or do you want to heal your past and move into a genuinely happy present and future?

If you find yourself in the latter category, then I invite you to come check out and join my group program, Happy from the Inside Out. It's where I walk you, hand in hand and heart to heart, through healing the “little t” traumas of your past so that you can step into your greatest and best future.


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