As a broad definition, psychological trauma is caused by whatever “the organism” perceives as a threat. "Shock Trauma" or "Big T" trauma is caused by a severely stressful event that may or may not involve physical trauma. The event could be experienced by the individual suffering from the trauma or witnessed in another. These types of events might be acts of extreme violence both physical and sexual. This might be experienced in the community where one is living or through war or political acts of violence or within the home as acts of domestic or family violence. This type of trauma is usually well identified and support comes quickly and readily from the community.
Small "t" Trauma
There is also a more subtle type of trauma that is less clearly identified. This type of trauma can best be described as fairly common life events that are experienced as upsetting. On the surface, these events may not be seen as significant and any single event may not be significant at all. What makes these experiences traumatic is that the emotional impact to the individual is significant. What may compound the trauma is the dismissal by others regarding the significance of the emotional impact. Objectively viewing these events does not give an accurate picture of the magnitude of the impact subjectively to the individual. All of these experiences leave lasting effects that keep us from being able to tolerate the present.
Hemmingway in A Farewell To Arms wrote, "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places". This speaks to the human capacity for resilience. Resilience is the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe. The road to resilience lies in working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events. Resilience develops as people mature and gain better thinking and self-management skills with more knowledge. It is found in a variety of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in Trauma Treatment.
Trauma recovery is best looked at as a process that is worked on over time and in stages. The re-establishing of safety is the first and most central step in recovery. This stands apart from whether the details of the trauma are ever spoken of or not. There is debate in the field of trauma treatment as to whether revisiting traumatic memories is necessary for healing. Obviously this is an individual matter and many may find it beneficial to tell and retell their experiences of trauma where others may find that destructive to their well being. I work with my clients on an individual basis to determine when and if they are ready to uncover painful experiences from the past.