"Big T" and "Little t" Trauma
Ok here goes, I'm going to drop an (obvious?) bomb on you here - we are all affected as adults by our childhood trauma! Look, it's simply a fact that while our brains are growing and creating neural networks at a rapid pace, we soak up everything in our environment and start storing it away in procedural memory. We use this subconscious data to guide our choices for the rest of our lives, unless we choose to expand our minds beyond that programming. Life gives us added opportunities to make this choice - near death experiences, health issues, profound spiritual moments - but it is ultimately up to us to make the choice to grow and change.
For many of us who have experienced clear abuse or neglect, this has always been clear. We have always known consciously that being hurt growing up leads to dysfunction. We don't deny what happened, and commit to finding answers and resolving the past instead of sweeping it under the rug or insisting it doesn't have an effect on us.
Others with abusive, chaotic or neglectful upbringings choose to deny this link and instead push themselves to "get over it." This results in fracturing of the psyche leading to a painful internal struggle as their nervous system and conscious mind does everything it can to survive and control the environment. Thankfully today it is becoming more and more accepted and known to the public that therapy or other means of addressing childhood abuse is necessary to heal and live a full life.
But what about everyone else? What if you just grew up in a "normal" happy home and can't understand why you are struggling with depression, anxiety and overwhelm? What about the millions of people who can't shake the feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with them or something is wrong with the outside world that's keeping them from being happy? This is what I refer to as trauma with a lower case "t." It's a quieter, more subtle form of societal trauma affecting all of us.
You don't have to grow up neglected or abused to feel like shit all the time, be afraid to make eye contact with strangers in the coffee shop, or struggle with being able to feel relaxed and calm in your own home. We as a society have an epidemic of shame, unworthiness and disconnection. We lack the skill set for deep connection and intimacy with others. We love our family and maybe even like ourselves but we don't feel good and we don't know why. This is the subtle nature of "little t trauma" and it's impact on society. Seemingly small and acceptable instances of shame, exclusion and punishment add up to a subconscious worldview where we are never good enough. Because we have divorced ourselves from this reality as a society, we have suffered the consequence of not having the space for the natural development of a healthy inner Self. So many of us are walking around with the maturity level of a child or a teenager. Our adult Selves weren't given the appropriate space, tools or models for optimal growth. Basically, we have work to do!
In therapy I work with individuals, couples and in a group format to get at these deeper issues. I partner with my clients to strengthen the brain's ability to access their healthy core adult Self and live a life unburdened by the past. It's truly life changing, transformational work that I am honored to hold space for. I have struggled for a long time to "define my niche" in this business because it's so hard to describe this issue succinctly and put it into words. This explanation of "Trauma with a lower case t," gets a lot closer to shedding light on what exactly it is I do and how I help people.
A resource I recommend to learn more in depth about the nature of Trauma is Dr. Bessel van der Kolk's book The Body Keeps the Score. As a yoga teacher I love how he includes an entire chapter on yoga, and there is also a chapter about Internal Family Systems therapy which is the approach I use to help my clients reframe their experience and begin to enact change.