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The Trauma Experience: What is Trauma?

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

Psychologist DR. ESSLIN TERRIGHENA defines trauma.

Trauma is the reaction we have to a deeply distressing experience that outweighs our coping abilities at the time and thereby overloads our system. While often primarily characterised as an emotional experience, this reaction also has cognitive, physiological and behavioural elements. For example, if we experience a car accident, we may feel shocked or fearful, while at the same time our bodies release adrenaline and other stress chemicals (physiological), our mind may go blank (cognitive), and we may be frozen at our wheel, unable to leave the car (behavioural). If not processed fully, residual trauma may impact us in various areas of our lives, including relationships and work. In some more severe cases, the intense trauma reaction experienced during the traumatic incident may be triggered time and time again even years afterward.

We differentiate Big T Trauma and little t trauma. Big T Trauma involves exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence either directly or vicariously. Little t trauma, on the other hand, involves exposure to other types of highly distressing experiences or threats to safety. These days Big T Trauma is relatively known and most typically associated with conflict zones, attacks and assaults, and life-threatening accidents. In contrast, little t trauma is still often swept under the carpet or considered less impactful. However, little t trauma can have detrimental effects on mental health and wellbeing and deserves as much attention as Big T. This is especially the case for repeated exposure to little t or exposure during crucial developmental years in childhood.

For more information or to book a consultation with psychologist Dr. Esslin Terrighena, please contact (852) 2521 4668 or

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