Hey There, thanks for tuning into the Confident Careerist Podcast. I’m your host Teena Evert Founder and CEO of CLAIM THE LEAD and today I want to talk about the topic of trauma that still seems to be a bit taboo and misunderstood by many people.
My hope is that by increasing your awareness of trauma you’ll be more compassionate towards yourself and others who may be suffering from its impact.
When we increase our trauma awareness we have a greater chance of healing. The process of healing trauma can lead to greater self-confidence, self-esteem, and resilience.
If you didn’t listen to the last 3 episodes, you’ll want to go back and check them out…
Now back to today’s topic on Trauma. I have been studying the impacts of trauma for over 20 years. I started to explore my own trauma history and get professional help to heal about 15 years ago. No matter how much I wish that there was a vaccine for trauma so that individuals and communities can be immune to it, that will never be the case.
Trauma is prevalent and the impact is great. We must become aware of the trauma that is happening all around us and in our own lives in order for healing to begin and recovery to be possible.
The impact of trauma in my life was not obvious at first. I didn’t have any outer scars or wounds to show or a tragic story to go with them. My scars and wounds were internal, hidden under my skin, and locked deep into my bones.
My trauma showed up in my self-limiting beliefs, severe self-criticism, and a deep disconnect from my authentic self. These patterns of behavior were how I learned to survive the emotional pain of early attachment wounds, intimate partner abuse, and toxic work environments.
The emotional wounding stayed hidden and out of view for others to see as I secretly beat myself up on the inside. I struggled to feel like I mattered in the world and I questioned if feeling truly loved and accepted was even possible.
I didn’t like to feel my feelings or draw attention to myself in fear that it would set me up for instant judgment and criticism, which felt life-threatening to my trauma self. Therefore, to stay safe, I played small and avoided being seen and heard. Instead, I beat myself up with harsh words, negative thoughts, and self-limiting beliefs as I pushed forward trying to fit into a world that felt scary, uncertain, and unpredictable.
The harsh ways that I coped became the norm for me. I didn’t recognize the impact it was having on my ability to grow and flourish until I started to get overlooked for promotions in my career and in social engagements with my peers.
I felt invisible. Being invisible helped me feel safe to a point, but the lack of recognition and missed opportunities to grow personally and professionally led to a decline in my mental and emotional health.
My desire and commitment to live a better life, free from the depths of emotional pain and mental anguish, sent me on a long journey of self-study and healing that continues to this day.
It will be a journey that I will be on for the rest of my life and will most likely include both tragedy and triumphs, stormy seas and calm waters, lots of debris, and new growth.
Part of my healing journey has been to support others on theirs. It’s super rewarding to witness the transformation and resilience that is innate in all of us.
WHAT IS TRAUMA?
Trauma occurs when we are faced with situations that take us out of a sense of safety and existence in the world.
Trauma is an emotional response to experiences that overwhelm an individual’s capacity to cope. Think of trauma early in life, including child abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, and disrupted attachment, as well as later traumatic experiences such as violence, accidents, natural disaster, war, sudden unexpected loss, and other life events that are out of one’s control, can be devastating.
There are a number of dimensions of trauma, including magnitude, complexity, frequency, duration, and whether it occurs from an interpersonal or external source.
Not everyone will experience trauma from the same event. A person has a trauma response when the event is physically or emotionally threatening or harmful.
The more trauma that an individual experiences, the more stressful experiences are felt as traumatic, especially with childhood trauma or multiple adult traumas.
What I’d like to emphasize today is the impact of trauma, the awareness of trauma, and strategies you can implement today to strengthen your resilience.
THE IMPACT OF TRAUMA
The impacts of trauma show up in the body, mind, emotions, and spirit and
can be constant or intermittent, short or long-lasting, and
A common adaptation to trauma is to feel like you have to attach to some sort of certainty and control because uncertainty and a lack of control meant danger or even death.
We see signs of trauma all around us.
When even daily stress begins to overwhelm our ability to cope, we are no longer operating from a state of health, we are struggling in a state of survival, fueled by fear. Excessive self-doubt and uncertainty lead to anxiety and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Trauma occurs when a person cannot withstand high levels of stress. Common survival strategies are to dissociate from the experience, become numb, and withdraw emotionally and cognitively from the reality of what’s happening.
This fearful state causes a person to cut off or disconnect emotionally to keep the pain well-hidden so it can’t escalate. It’s a way to survive, but at a cost, because ultimately, it diminishes our life energy and blocks the vital connection to one’s passion, purpose, and meaning.
There’s a sense of being frozen in time, yet the body still carries emotions, memories, and bodily sensations from the frightening experience.
During times of extreme stress, our inner world can become dominated by survival strategies that become overactive when a person is unconsciously afraid or when the deeply hidden trauma is triggered.
Triggers can happen in similar situations, relationships, personalities, and environments or we can fall victim again through the perpetration of another where we lose all power to rise up and advocate for ourselves.
There are three instinctive responses to trauma, fight, flee, and freeze.
These responses can cause an inability to make decisions, high reactivity to people and situations, showing continuous disinterest and motivation, significant negative self-talk, and disorganized actions – you start going in one direction, then suddenly change your mind and this becomes a pattern that sabotages one’s ability to move forward.
There can also be high alertness (hyper-vigilance), or being in constant motion (hyper-aroused) or flat like there is no air in your tires (hypo-aroused), non-responsive, stalled or stuck, and not feeling energized or internally motivated.
Healing Trauma is NOT about focusing on “What’s wrong with you?”
It’s about understanding “What happened to you?”
It’s important to remember that the healing of trauma can bring new possibilities. Resilience is the ability to have choices, navigate to new resources, and reestablish a sense of safety.
Being Trauma Aware is understanding your trauma triggers and having the skills to self regulate so you don’t get locked into a state of being overwhelmed.
It’s about creating strategies and action steps that are feasible so you can proceed and reach your goals.
When we are operating from a survival level, we’re not able to make clear decisions, identify with what’s in our best interest, and stay motivated to follow through with what we intended. It’s difficult to plan beyond the day when we’re in a state of high alertness or hyper-arousal.
It’s as if you’re hiking on a trail and always looking at your feet because you don’t know when you might step on a snake, rather than looking ahead to where you’re going and enjoying the landscape around you.
Imagine that you have 100 units of coping for the day. If you then have an experience or experiences that overwhelm your ability to cope, you have used up all of their coping units for the day.
A person who has experienced trauma or who is struggling with mental health issues may use up 70 units of their coping strategies just to get going in the morning in a productive way. Self-care is a challenge, we disconnect from our functional and emotional needs, and our personal boundaries become compromised.
Gaining insight into how these survival strategies occur in your professional life can help you become aware of important areas for healing and personal growth.
Positive change starts with awareness of the issue or unstable behavior pattern. Self-knowledge provides opportunities for change.
Here are common survival strategies that can show up in your professional life and have a negative impact on your career because they prevent you from being able to thrive and flourish.
▻ PERFECTION AND WORK INHIBITION
- You desperately desire perfection.
- You’re indecisive and prone to procrastination.
- You can exaggerate the adverse effects of any error or misjudgment.
- You believe that working hard itself would bring success, but it’s not working.
- You’re unable to forgive those who you feel wronged by.
- You’re highly critical of yourself regardless of how many accolades you receive.
▻ WORK COMPULSION
- You have an inner compilation to overwork with an inability to rest.
- You land demanding jobs to feed the urge.
- You lack life outside of work, avoid time at home, and may feel you have no choice but to work very long hours.
- You rarely get pleasure from achievements and are prone to control yourself and others associated with high anxiety and fierce competition.
- If you take some time for self-reflection, you may discover deeply rooted feelings of emptiness and helplessness and shame.
- You’ve developed a pattern of prioritizing everything but your own personal growth and well-being because you’re just too busy to fit it in – and as a result, change is unlikely.
▻ WORK DIFFUSION
- You experience chronic dissatisfaction with your life work.
- You feel a chronic lack of fit between yourself and your work role.
- You feel unable at times to slow down and self-reflect on what you want.
- You often feel very confused about ambition, passion, and goals.
- There is frustration that stems from an inability to express who you are in your work; you think you’re in the wrong job, wrong profession, and business.
▻ WORK DISILLUSIONMENT AND DISABILITY
- There’s an inability to mobilize your inner resources to engage with work that’s meaningful to you.
- You feel apathetic, lacking in energy, and a victim attitude, resulting in episodic or permanent withdrawal or absence from work, depression, or avoidant.
- You’re engaged in work drama and exerting a tremendous amount of energy trying to fix toxic situations outside of your control.
Repeating the same behaviors over and over and not getting to where you want to be is a definite sign that nothing will change except a decline in your well-being and greater dissatisfaction in your work-life or personal life and perhaps both!
Change isn’t always easy, but learning to work smarter by letting go of old survival behaviors can make your life a lot easier, more balanced, and happier.
So what strategies can you start doing today to strengthen your resiliency and support healthier coping behaviors?
Here are some super quick things you can do that will make a significant impact. They will strengthen your resilience and support healthier coping behaviors so you can bring your best self forward.
- Take 15 seconds for a Self-Awareness Check-in. Ask yourself how you are feeling emotionally, then don’t try to change it, just notice and stay present with any sensations that you feel in your body. Do this at least 3x a day to increase your capacity to be fully present with how you’re feeling at that point in time.
- Take 30 seconds for a brain dump. Write down everything that you’ve been thinking about or worried about in the past 24 hours. Then look it over and prioritize the top 1-4 things that you want to address today. The vast majority of neuroscience research talks about the concept that it’s really difficult for people to process more than four pieces of information, thoughts, concepts, at once. Once we have more on our plate than that, it’s really hard to think through those and make decisions. As a result, we start to make mistakes, shut down, and not be able to make informed decisions.
- Take time for self-reflection. At the beginning and end of your day, carve out just 2-3 minutes for self-reflection by asking yourself these questions. What is my intention for today? What did I learn about myself today? What am I grateful for?
- Understand your triggers. These are the types of things that are going to trigger you and unsettle you and get professional help around building healthy coping strategies.
- Grounding Exercises
- Hands-on knees, press into the floor with one heel and lift the other heel up as you press the heel down, firmly press your hand into that knee.
- Place your hands on the outside of your knees really gently press out with your knees and in with your hands and take a breath.
- Cross your arms in front of your chest and tap your outer upper arms, switch the cross of your arms and repeat.
- With your feet on the floor hip-distance apart and sitting upright with a long spine, place your hand on the top of your head and press down while pressing your feet into the ground to meet the pressure of your hand pressing down on your head. Take 3 deep breaths, release, relax, repeat.
Practice these consistently and you will begin to experience positive change in your life in how you manage your time, energy, and relationships with yourself and with others.
If you need extra support please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Recovering and healing from trauma is not a path to travel alone. Learning how to navigate adversity and strengthen your resilience is essential for long-term, sustainable health, wellness, and success.
Until next time,
Live Well and Be Confident