• Rebecca Letterman

Thoughts From This Therapist: Trauma is a Spectrum Not a Scale

The works in this series will always be the opinion of the writer (me, Rebecca). Therapy and healing is not a one-size-fits-all box, so keep that in mind when reading. Everything in this series will come from my experiences both as a therapist and patient. I hope it gives you insight into different perspectives, and gives me a place to share thoughts on topics I feel are important. Enjoy!



NOTE: This post is discusses trauma. As such, it may be triggering to some folks. Keep that in mind when deciding to read— there’s nothing wrong with putting it down and coming back later.


Today I would like to share with you my theory on trauma being a spectrum not a scale. I will explore what I mean by this and how different people can respond differently to the same events. I wish to explain where these thoughts come from and how shifting your perspective of trauma can help you and those you love. My goal is to normalize talking about trauma no matter what it is.


One of the sayings I hear a lot in therapy and in my personal life is “well this person has it worse so I shouldn’t complain”. Another is “this situation is not as bad as what (insert name here) is going through”. Both of these statements and everything similar to them are very frustrating for me because they invalidate our experiences.


Another thing that I find frustrating is when people talk about Big T(Trauma) and Little t (trauma). I know this is meant to help determine the impact a trauma may have on someone and to normalize talking about things we may not normally consider to be trauma. Yet again I find it very invalidating of one’s experiences.


Because trauma is about one’s perception and response of the event/situation/experience I believe that you cannot necessarily break them down into little and big. What may be little for one is very likely to be big for someone else and vice versa. Therefore I believe that trauma is a spectrum and not a scale.


The trauma spectrum is much like the color spectrum when I picture it. There are no numbers to rate which is higher or lower in a “this one is more damaging than that one” kind of way. Each mark on the spectrum is just different from the rest. One end of the spectrum is not better or worse than the others; they are just different. Some may appear more severe than others; but again this depends on the individual reactions.


I often find myself talking through different experiences and reminding others about the trauma spectrum. Another big part of this spectrum is that each person has their own spectrum they are working with. All of us have a trauma spectrum and that is what determines our reactions to certain events. It is also why we may react differently than others because our experiences are very different.


In having these conversations with my kids early on I used the examples of someone breaking a nail and someone losing a family member. For some individuals breaking a nail is traumatic while for others of us it’s daily life. For a lot of people losing family members is traumatic while for a few of us losing said family members helps heal our trauma. It may not make sense and that is okay because everyone is different with different experiences.


When we are able to take a step back and look at trauma as a spectrum we can help ourselves validate our own experiences while also validating the experiences of others. Using a spectrum model for traumatic experiences we are able to acknowledge that each person has their own unique experiences and reactions to what happens in their lives. We are saying “it is ok to feel however you are feeling and have whatever reaction you are having because of what you went through.” This is supportive and kind and accepting of everyone’s different experiences.


Viewing trauma as a spectrum helps everyone feel validated. This view also normalizes being alright with not comparing ourselves to others because we all have our own unique experiences.



What are you thoughts on the spectrum vs. scale idea? Do you have any questions you would like answered? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know by leaving a comment below or tagging us on social media (@therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram and @llctherapeutic on Twitter).



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