Let’s Talk Trauma: Part I

Let’s Talk Trauma: Part I

Let’s Talk Trauma: Part I

There is a lot of talk about trauma these days. It’s a big topic, and as our understanding of trauma evolves, so does our ability to heal and transform it.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to take a closer look at what trauma actually is, how pervasively it shows up as an obstacle in relationships without partners even realizing it, and what you can do about it.

The experience of psychological trauma occurs on an individual level, but its effects ripple out into our relationships and our communities. Trauma is NOT the event that happens to you, but rather it’s the internal wound that develops as a result.


“The essence of trauma is disconnection from ourselves. Trauma is not terrible things that happen from the other side—those are traumatic. But the trauma is that very separation from the body and emotions.” ~Gabor Mate

Trauma is the emotional response to a distressing or life-threatening experience. An event often becomes experienced as trauma when there is no witness to your pain, no one with whom to confide, or the event overwhelms your ability to cope in that moment or over time.

The most common and easily understood examples of this are what is often referred to as “big T trauma,” such as having fought in a war, rape, molestation, a car accident where people were injured or killed, overt racism, and domestic violence.

Then there is what is often referred to as “little t trauma,” which is the emotional response to wounding that might be less obvious, but still very painful. This type of trauma usually occurs over time. Examples of this type of trauma include emotional abuse, neglect, bullying, medical illnesses, subtle racism and divorce.

The overarching effects of trauma upon individuals, families and society finally gained national attention when the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was published in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The researchers collected data from over 17,000 Kaiser members over a 2 year period exploring how childhood abuse, neglect, and household challenges affect later-life health and well-being. (For more information about the ACE study, click here).

ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use problems in adolescence and adulthood. ACEs can also negatively impact education, job opportunities, and earning potential. However, ACEs can be prevented.

Relational Impact:

The benefit of this extensive study of childhood adverse experiences and the impact on one’s life is that a great deal of attention has now been given to those who score even a “1” on the ACE assessment, indicating they are at “intermediate risk for toxic stress.”

Given that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are common (about 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported they had experienced at least one type of ACE before age 18, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs), the likelihood of trauma – big T or little t – affecting you and your partner in some manner is fairly high.

While the news might sound grim, if you or your partner have been affected by previous trauma, you do not have to be defined by it. Trauma is something that can be healed. Relationships can be healed.

Next week, we will address how to identify when trauma shows up in relationships and how to differentiate between a ‘trauma reaction’ vs. a present-day upset. Stay tuned.

Tip of the Day:

If you’d like to watch an exceptional documentary about the effects of trauma, check out this link: The Wisdom of Trauma ~ Can our deepest be a doorway to healing? with Gabor Mate. (It does require a $7.99 donation.)

If you have any questions about trauma and its effects, please feel to email us and we will do our best to address in the next couple of broadcasts.


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Ashley Taggart, MFT and Phylis Wakefield, PhD are both psychotherapists in Sonoma County. Ashley specializes in working with couples and relationship issues, and Phylis specializes in relationship issues, parenting issues, addiction and trauma.