We often hear people saying that we shouldn’t “should” ourselves.
But with any rule, there are exceptions. I believe a well-positioned “should” is powerful. As a practitioner in the helping profession, I’m going to be bold and suggest that we “should” all know something about trauma.
“Trauma” is a very broad term, with most of us being affected in some way or another, often without realising. And, we will absolutely meet other people who are affected, too.
For me, learning about trauma and how it had impacted me personally in my first 27 years was like reading an overview of the operating manual for my human self that they forgot to give me at birth.
Suddenly, so many things started making more sense in relation to how I experienced life.
And in the years since, I’ve been able to create a lot more intentional change, feeling like a me-er version of me with every layer that’s been pulled back.
Here's why I believe we can all benefit from understanding the basic nature of trauma:
Trauma affects how we feel, think, relate and perceive and carry tension and stress in our bodies.
Our exposure to trauma in childhood is strongly correlated with physical and mental health issues later in life (you can read more into the research around Adverse Childhood Experiences (“ACE’s”) and determine your own ACE Score here - please be cautioned - expect the 10 questions used to determine your ACE Score to be confronting).
Understanding our personal trauma gives us the opportunity to address it and become more empowered and resilient humans in the process.
Understanding what trauma looks like in others enables us to be more compassionate family members, partners, friends, colleagues, community members and leaders.
When processed in an appropriate way for the individual, we may realise post traumatic growth that may not have otherwise presented itself to us had we not done the work.
So back to trauma itself - what is it exactly? In an effort to avoid a book-length email on what is an extremely complex topic, simply put:
‘...trauma occurs as a result of emotional, physical or psychological overwhelm - when the external stimulus presents itself as “too much, too fast, too soon."'
(Elementum Coaching Institute, 2021)
The source of the overwhelm may be a one-time (acute) event, ongoing (chronic), or multiple (known as ‘complex’, can result from a parent or caregiver leaving or dying, neglect, family disputes for example).
Less obvious varieties include exposure to chaotic or aggressive environments, general inconsistency/instability and punitive environments - where rules change based on the temperament of those in charge and performance is often valued over attachment and connection.
When we experience trauma in some way, shape or form, our miraculous human organisms adapt in order to cope. The coping, or “strategy” as I prefer to refer to it, is usually very effective to support us when the trauma is active, protecting us and enabling us to keep going. Much of this “programming” happens when we are in childhood. However when we keep using that strategy unconsciously into adulthood, which we do because that’s how we are wired, we are bound to notice that some behaviours and strategies are no longer helpful. That is in spite of them being biologically correct. Yes, the experts believe your system is reacting precisely how it was designed to (and anecdotally - based on what I see in my practice - I do too!).
And with this, we have just busted the myth of self-sabotage.
Self-sabotage is actually really misguided self-protection. Read that again.
Panic attacks, anger issues, lack of confidence, acting out, unhealthy competitive behaviours, perfectionism and people-pleasing... all of these things live in that tender place.
This all might sound pretty confusing and a bit glum, I know. But know that you are not powerless.
You are now more empowered.
By understanding how our human operating system works, we get to start recognising our triggers, building a tool kit of regulation resources that are more constructive than those old strategies, releasing any old stuff from the past that’s no longer helpful for us, reclaiming calm and clarity as a natural state and truly redefining ourselves.
It's a process of fortification.
“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose.”
- Michelle Rosenthal
The month of May is recognised as National Trauma Awareness Month. Even with all the great work happening in this field and awareness being created through such campaigns, most of us find our way through life being impacted by trauma, or seeing its effects in others, without even realising it. We just assume life is meant to feel this hard. But it doesn't have to be.
I trust that what I have shared today has helped you to grow your awareness of what trauma is, and I hope, give you a sense of hope and excitement for what is possible on the other side of appropriately processing integrating traumatic experience(s).
Or perhaps this doesn’t apply to you in any immediately recognisable way, but rather to someone you care about. Please feel welcome to forward this email on to them if that’s the case.
I hope too, that you will remember the concept of “biologically correct” responses. It’s hard to feel okay sometimes, and when we start to acknowledge that our nervous system (where our reactions happen) is attempting to help us, even if it seems dysfunctional, we can begin to have true compassion for ourselves.
Compassion as a concept is the very foundation for intentional change and growth. It creates a safe space where we can start looking at our more tender parts - the parts that hold the most potential for our transformation.
Let this be your invitation to begin if you haven't already. And in true Hero's Journey fashion, remember that you're allowed to (and recommended to!) ask for help along the way. You're not alone, even if it might feel that way sometimes.
Compassionately walking the path with you.