How ‘small t’ Traumas are Affecting Your Daily Life

September 30th, 2018
In: Trauma

Do you ever feel anxious, or embarrassed when meeting a new person?

How about when you drive over a bridge, or go on a plane, or when you sit in the passenger seat of a car – do you get a bit nervous?

ALL of these experiences originate in a trauma! And more often than not, they are what we refer to as a ‘small t’ trauma (as opposed to a ‘big T’ trauma).

If a ‘big T’ trauma is abuse, neglect or a serious injury, a ‘small t’ trauma can be a friend not wanting to sit next to you on the school bus, giving the wrong answer in class, struggling through homework, falling off your bike, or being frightened while watching a movie.

As you can see, ‘small t’ traumas are inescapable. So how is it that we are not all walking around traumatized?

Well, we actually are. We just don’t realize it.

But how is driving over a bridge today, connected to a friend in second grade not wanting to sit next to you on the school bus?

The answer to that is the way that trauma is registered in our Nervous System.

As children, when we experience a stressful event – we imprint the feeling, and body sensation we experienced during the event into our Nervous System, along with a negative belief about ourselves.

Here is what I mean: When you think about going on a plane 35,000 feet above the ground, or sitting in the passenger seat of a fast moving car – how do you feel?

Nervous, Scared, Helpless…

What does it feel like in your body?

Chest pain, Nausea, Headache…

And as you connect with that experience, what is the bad thing that you say about yourself? (from your gut, not your head)

I’m helpless, I’m not in control, I’m in danger, I can’t handle it…

Now, if you were to follow this experience (feeling, sensation, and belief about yourself) back in time through the years, you would get to an early childhood experience that holds the exact same internal experience. That may be when your parents divorced, or when your dog died, or when you fell off the monkey bars and broke your arm.

So you see, the trauma itself has NOTHING to do with flying in a plane, and EVERYTHING to do with the feeling of helplessness, and an emotional + physical sense of not being in control.

When a trauma registers in our Nervous System (and remember that trauma is simply a stressful experience), it is as if a computer file opens in our body, containing:

  • a snapshot of the experience (at least one image that is ‘frozen in time’) 
  • the feeling that you felt when the experience took place
  • a negative gut- belief about yourself
  • a body sensation (a physical feeling in your body)

That computer file sits in your Nervous System collecting debris. If no other events occur throughout life that hold similar feelings and/or beliefs, then the file remains in your Nervous System, but has little effect (no symptoms). But if more events happen throughout your life that hold similar feelings, and beliefs then the file gets bigger and bigger. The bigger it gets, the more it will affect your life (more symptoms, and more frequent).

When a trauma gets triggered (like when you’re on that plane, or the passenger seat of the car), it is the whole computer file that gets triggered – that is why it feels so huge.

How to find the original trauma:

When you think about the current experience that is causing you anxiety/hurt/shame (maybe your friends forgot to invite you to a party, or you feel nervous about an upcoming meeting, or you are upset by your child’s crying…) –  spend about 30 seconds, thinking about the whole experience.

Now, close your eyes and take three deep belly breaths.

Answer the following three questions:

  1. What is the negative thing I say about myself? (I am…)
  2. What feeling comes up with that?
  3. Where do I feel that feeling in my body?

Now, take the belief, feeling and body sensation together, and hold them together like a package in you mind and allow your mind to go back in time, along these sensations, noticing where your mind takes you, and where it stops. Allow your mind to go back in time all the way to the FIRST time you felt the _________ (feeling) in your ___________(body location).

If your mind stopped on an experience that took place when you were younger than 10, then this is likely the origin of the trauma. If you get to an experience that took place after the age of 10, continue with the following:

Bring up the negative belief, feeling, and body sensation.

Hold them together like a package in you mind and allow your mind to go back in time along these sensations, all the way to the (experience after the age of 10 that your mind led you to) using that as a STATION IN TIME, and from there going back even further to the FIRST time you felt the (input feeling) in your (input body location).

When you get to the early trauma, breathe Love and gentleness into it. Speak to that young child that experienced the trauma with compassion and validation (that must have been so hard…you must have felt so alone…). Notice how he/she relaxes, and releases the stress.


Take care, and lots of love 

Tami Amit
Therapy Beyond The Couch
206-1089 West Broadway , Vancouver, V6H 1E5

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