What is the Definition of Trauma?

Trauma is any experience that one perceives as negative and that negatively impacts your present life. It creates extreme stress in the body and mind. Traumas can be perceived as horrific, helpless to prevent, and threatening to either your survival or the survival of others or it can be when something happens to you large or small, that leaves you feeling distress and you are unable to process it. The effects can be long lasting and create distressing symptoms. All trauma manifests in physical and/or sexual and/or psychological symptoms, which can eventually lead to PTSD.

Trauma can be defined as “Big T” trauma and “little t” trauma.

Big T trauma examples:

Car accident



Fire-house burns down

Home invasion

Little t trauma examples:

Dynamics in a toxic relationship

Neglect over time


Non-life threatening injury


Little “t” traumas may not meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis but these events can be extremely upsetting and cause significant emotional damage, particularly if an individual experiences more than one event or if these traumas occur during important periods of brain development like early childhood and adolescence. Evidence now concludes that repeated exposure to little “t” traumas can cause more emotional harm than exposure to a single big “T” traumatic event. Empathy and acceptance for the impact of little “t” traumas can be harder to garner because of the common misconception that these events are less significant than life-threatening emergencies. Minimizing the impact of these little “t” incidents can create adverse coping behaviors such as bottling up emotions or attempting to manage symptoms without support. Failing to address the emotional suffering of any traumatic event may lead to cumulative damage over time.