Healing Trauma Through Understanding

Even though years have passed, I can still remember the moment I was finally given the permission I needed to begin my healing. I was sitting on the couch of my new therapist’s office, giving her the usual rundown of my life. I gave her the family history, childhood experiences, and my career and life transitions up to that point.

She sat quietly and listened. When I was finished, she asked me, “ What work have you done to address your trauma?” I became uneasy and replied, “ I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that I suffered from trauma.” In that moment, I knew I had suffered some abuse, but the word trauma seemed so much bigger. The word trauma seemed so severe, extreme, and beyond what I felt I had a right to call what I’d experienced.

I’ve since healed many wounds and have revealed experiences that I know without a doubt were trauma. But in that moment, even with all of the abuse, I realized I did not feel worthy of the term trauma.

Isn’t that a nutty idea, to feel like you need to be worthy of a word? In my mind, until that point, I’d equated trauma with extreme child abuse, domestic violence, rape, murder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from combat experiences. I still did not connect my own experiences with trauma.

This isn’t an uncommon response from people when I bring up the word trauma these days. People will discount their wounding. They do not feel that what happened to them was big enough to be considered traumatizing.

I’ve spent so much time lately educating people about the many types of trauma and how they impact our lives, our money, and our business. There are two main classifications of trauma, commonly called Little T and Big T traumas. Big T traumas are events commonly connected with PTSD. These are shocking, unpredictable events that have caused physical and emotional harm—such as disaster, violence, death, and other crisis situations.

Witnessing a Big T trauma can cause PTSD. These Big T traumas are what most people think of when you say the word trauma, so it makes sense that many people wouldn’t know that they’ve experienced trauma.

Little T traumas are highly distressing experiences that don’t fall into the Big T trauma definition. These are often ongoing, and the experience may or may not create a traumatic response for every person. When confronted with Little T trauma, a person’s support network, resilience, and coping skills can play a huge part in the long-term impact of trauma.

Here are some examples of Little T traumas that I see most:

  • Bullying in school
  • Not fitting in and having a peer group in school
  • Undiagnosed and unsupported learning disabilities
  • The use of consistent physical punishment in the home
  • Emotional neglect
  • Having divorced parents
  • Going through divorce yourself
  • Moving around a lot
  • Being a caregiver at a young age
  • Chronic illness

Do you see what I mean by these events? They are chronic, consistent, impactful, and can create wounds that impact thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—which then inform our lives and choices as adults. They certainly informed mine.

I have suffered with an undiagnosed learning disability, so every day of school was torture. I thought I was stupid and would never be a success. No one expected me to graduate high school, much less get a master’s degree.

I was physically and emotionally abused as a child, and these experiences also led to feelings of worthlessness, which led to compulsive eating and toxic relationships. It is no secret that I have been married three times. Thankfully, I finally healed my wounds and found the right person!

My Little T traumas were so impactful on my self-worth, so much so that I could not even see the Big T traumas when they happened.

I’m thankful for that therapist and the personal development prompted by my own desire to be successful in my own business. I never imagined that starting a business would be a platform in which I could heal a new layer of trauma in my life. I didn’t realize that starting a business equals entering into a relationship, and that I was about to re-traumatize myself again through my business. Yes, it is true that I recreated my trauma in my business, but the good news is that I recognized it and flipped the switch.

Instead of my business being a new arena for abuse, I created it to be a platform for healing. Knowledge is power, and clarity is key. I am so thankful for all of these lessons.

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About the Author | Nicole Lewis-Keeber

Nicole Lewis-Keeber MSW LCSW has combined her therapy background and coaching training to assist entrepreneurs in taking the trauma out of their business. Nicole believes that you can heal yourself through your business and has created innovative approaches to doing just that. She is a lifelong learner and overcomer of the impact of trauma. She has a loving husband and 3 fat happy cats.

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2 comments to "Healing Trauma Through Understanding"

  • Simone

    In the list of small T traumas I would add – consistent emotional abuse especially as a child while growing up. Incessant criticism from both parents and frequent anger outbursts that came close to violence caused me to have PTSD from my childhood.
    I am sure there are many variations on this type of emotional abuse scene that qualify as trauma.

    • Nicole Lewis-Keeber

      Honoring your experience and yes you are so right there are soo many more that could be added to the list. Thank you for reading and sharing your experience.