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Understanding “Big T” and “little t” Trauma

When I ask my clients if they have experienced trauma, often the answer is, “no.” Many individuals think of trauma within the lens of “Big T” traumas, or specific traumatic events. Some examples are those who have been exposed to war, terrorism, catastrophic events, and physical or sexual abuse. While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the most painful experiences an individual can experience during life. However, a person does not need to have experienced a specific event to experience the negative impact of trauma in their life. 

Sometimes, an accumulation of distressing life events and beliefs in the form of “little t” traumas can produce a similar negative response in individuals. Some “little t” traumas can include interpersonal conflict, financial difficulties, abandonment or enmeshment, attachment wounds, breakups, moves, etc., resulting in pervasive negative beliefs about oneself or the world around them. The accumulation of these events is important to consider in their impact. Many individuals come to therapy due to this accumulation of “little t” traumas, often noting difficulty pinpointing what is distressing in particular, yet noting a feeling of powerlessness or unhappiness in life. 

Whether you have experienced “Big T” or “little t” trauma there is hope in many treatment options. One modality that is helpful with both “Big T” and “little t” trauma is EMDR therapy. Sometimes, clients are unfamiliar with this modality. This short video gives a brief intro to EMDR, and how this treatment can help neutralize the distressing events, while helping the client connect to a more positive belief about themselves.

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A Value Driven Life

This is the season of goals and change. Goals can be wonderful benchmarks to help navigate us toward the life we want. However, goals can sometimes lead us into rigid thinking, frustration, and shame when we aren’t connected to the value, or “why,” behind those goals. 2020 has taught us that the unexpected happens, and circumstances can change quite rapidly and drastically. However, even amidst uncertainty and change, you can continue to move in a direction that aligns with your core values. When obstacles beyond your control prevent a desired goal from occurring, it is possible to pivot and continue in the direction of the value connected to that goal in new, and possibly, unforeseen ways.


A helpful exercise is to sit down and journal all the values that matter to you. Some examples of these values are: curiosity, resilience, spirituality, love, empathy, safety, compassion, growth, learning, spontaneity, joy, humor, creativity, grace, flexibility, and so many more. As you review your listed values, I encourage you to narrow those values to your top three, and then, choose a top value to focus on for this year if one stands out to you. This will help guide decisions that arise throughout the year, as you return to your core value of focus, when navigating the nuances of life.

Goal Driven Life

  • I want to run a marathon.
  • I want to go on a vacation with my family this year.
  • I will complete my degree.
  • I want to stop yelling in my home

Value Driven Life

  • I will value health and determination
  • I will value adventure and connection with my family.
  • I will value education and lifelong learning.
  • I will value safety, connection, and mindfulness.

If you would like help focusing on the values that drive your life, please call 801.944.4555 to schedule an appointment.

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To Thine Own Self be True

We live in a world where we are being fed a constant stream of information at, seemingly, every turn. It can be easy to get lost in all the noise, and disconnect from our core sense of self, worth, and values. When that happens, one might experience depression, anxiety, feeling untethered, resentment, and unhealthy relationships, among others. One of my greatest steps in my own journey was learning how to come out of the self-betrayal that had become familiar and comfortable.

What is self betrayal? Self betrayal can manifest in many different ways. It can be sacrificing your own values and boundaries to maintain a relationship, saying “yes” when you actually want to say “no,” people pleasing, perfectionist tendencies in an effort to feel, or be seen as, “enough,” or living in a cycle of shame from not understanding the wounds that drive behavior. In a sense,
it is disconnecting from that voice of truth within.

Learning to connect to your most authentic self can be scary and liberating, all in the same breath. Some tools to help you connect to this authentic self can be:

-Meditation and mindfulness exercises
-Truth and distortion journaling prompts
-Future self authoring exercises
-EMDR, and other somatic work to process past trauma
-Inner child work and attachment healing

As you learn to connect and find belonging to your truest self, you will find deeper and more meaningful connections in your relationships, as they are no longer responsible for filling your cup of worth. If you have experienced self betrayal in your life, and are wanting to find healing, know that you have all the tools of healing within you to begin this journey. An experienced counselor can help you unlock those tools when you find yourself feeling stuck.

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Notice That

Bessel A. van der Kolk, a leading trauma expert, said, “As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are “Notice that” and “What happens next?” Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”

Through my clinical work over the past 10 years, I have found the body to be one of the greatest teachers in helping clients to connect with, and heal from, trauma that is stored in the body. Stored trauma often manifests itself physically, such as with anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, fear, and other “uncomfortable” emotions. Consequently, our bodies are often feared, rather than embraced as the wise teacher it is.

I have found one of the most powerful tools in helping myself, and my clients, stay in a state of curiosity, rather than fear, of these bodily sensations is the breath. When triggered by these bodily sensations mentioned above the body typically moves into the sympathetic, or fight or flight nervous system. Often, clients with trauma have learned to operate in this nervous system more often than is useful. The breath is a powerful bridge between the sympathetic and parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” nervous systems.

Next time you find yourself filled with anxiety, I challenge you to take four deep “box” breaths, where you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out of four counts, and hold for four counts. After which, maintain the deep breathing pattern and notice what is happening in your body physically, and breathe into any tension you find. Then, remain curious and ask yourself what is needed to help you feel safe and secure in the present moment. At that point you may ask, “what happens next?” Take note of what inner child wounds or beliefs may be surfacing, and allow yourself to sit with that wound to find truth. Learning to become curious about thoughts that once seemed overwhelming, scary, or insurmountable can be an empowering exercise when you start unwinding unhelpful past conditioning.

Sometimes with trauma, clients may find themselves feeling stuck at certain points of traditional talk therapy. If that has been the case, it is helpful to explore other modalities to help release trauma on a cellular level, such as EMDR. Other movement based interventions such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and dancing have also been found to be helpful in healing trauma. If you have found yourself stuck in processing past trauma, please feel free to reach out to see if we can explore some additional healing modalities. You can schedule by calling 801.944.4555.

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