Contributed by Tonya Jansen, LMHCP
Within my practice, I often have clients who minimize their traumatic experiences when comparing themselves to people they read about in the news headlines. It is always dangerous to compare ourselves to others because we will never be the best or the worst in a subjective category, but it is particularly detrimental when it comes to trauma. And there are two reasons why:
Research has demonstrated that trauma is cumulative. This means that repeated exposures to “Little T” traumas can have significantly greater symptoms over a person’s lifetime. Any trauma as a single incident is less likely to cause chronic mental health issues than repeated negative experiences. In short, one “Big T” may have the same mental health impact as multiple “Little Ts”. A “Little T” trauma may have more impact upon an individual than a trauma that occurred years earlier. Failing to address the emotional suffering of any traumatic event may lead to cumulative damage over time. Older people are naturally more likely to have a history of “Little T” trauma because they have lived longer, therefore creating more vulnerability to trauma-related symptoms. Trauma exposure has a cumulative effect on anxiety, depression, suicidality, psychosis, dissociation and other trauma symptoms.
Let’s put together an example of this. If you have experienced an absent parent, bullying at work or school, and serious illness in life, it is valid to connect your mental illness struggles with your life experiences. You cannot set your experiences beside another person’s trauma and determine which person is more “worthy” of trauma-related symptoms or therapy. Minimizing the emotional suffering of any event does not remove the cumulative damage that occurs over time. Your story matters.