We have all experienced things that can be classified as upsetting, distressing, or disturbing. However, I frequently hear from people that they’ve experienced multiple traumas or even just one thing specifically that was very “traumatic.” Similar to calling someone Bipolar or OCD, it appears the term trauma is becoming grossly overused to describe an experience that is better accounted for as something that is upsetting or distressing. 

While I am a strong advocate of correctly labeling a person’s experience as psychological trauma when it is, I am also a strong proponent of not over-categorizing something as being much more serious or significant than it is. Trauma is a word that is reserved for experiences that are, in fact, distressing or disturbing, however there is also the necessary component that the amount of stress experienced exceeds the person’s ability to cope, as well as the experience being a threat to the person’s life, bodily integrity, or ego integrity.

Age Matters

Stages of life impact whether an experience can be categorized as trauma. For example, a child watching their parents frequently argue and threaten divorce may experience this as trauma since it threatens the safety, stability, and security of their home and caretaking. However, a functioning adult who witnesses another couple frequently argue does not experience the same level of distress as they are independent and self-sufficient, and are not relying on that couple for their stability and life-care. It is not enough to simply categorize all experiences that look the same as trauma, but instead, it is important to look at contextual factors, such as the person’s age, developmental level, level of functioning, etc. before discerning whether the experience is trauma. 

Why It Benefits You to Be Realistic

There is also, of course, significant value in not overly categorizing your experience as something that it is not.

If you are telling yourself that your experience was far worse than it really was, and that it was traumatic, this is likely to have an impact on how you feel and how you move forward from what has happened. There is a lot of power behind our words; if we choose to tell ourselves that something was far more catastrophic than it really was, this has a direct impact on our emotional processing and growth after that situation has happened.

It is important to be realistic about what you have experienced both so you can seek the right type of treatment and help, as well as so you do not unnecessarily experience distress greater than what is relevant to the situation. If you have in fact experienced a trauma, it is very important that you seek the necessary help in order to move through that experience in a way that will promote healing and decrease the likelihood of quality of life barriers. 


At Tampa Therapy, we are committed to providing a relaxing, healing, and non-judgmental environment to support you on your journey to mental and emotional growth and health.  If you want things to be different, you have to change them. This means being open-minded, committed, and recognizing the power you have in your life. We specialize in working with trauma and PTSD, and can help to define what you have experienced, as well as provide evidence-based treatments that can effectively address the symptoms you are experiencing.   Give us a call or email us today to start the process of making important changes in your life.

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