Episode #42: Understanding the Personal Impact of Trauma
We have not been taught to recognize the impact of trauma on our individual and collective well-being. This episode explores how trauma can translate into individual behaviors. You might be surprised what you learn.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
I want to start today with a listener review from @Mrstrox: “I find Booth’s insights to be amazing and completely relatable.” THANK YOU @Mrstrox for taking the time to leave a review! When you take the time to rate and review the podcast, you help other people find this content.
Speaking of finding content, this episode has been hard to find. And by find I mean. . . hard to unearth and bring to the light. I am both excited and terrified about the next phase in my journey both personally and professionally.
For a number of months, I have been seeking more specificity in who I want to serve through my business and how I want to serve them.
Anyone who has started a business or run a business knows that our understanding of even our own ideas and our customers’ needs evolve over time. At the same time, I generally encourage entrepreneurs to just begin. Don’t wait until it’s perfect. Don’t wait until they have everything figured out. Because honestly, life and understanding and business iterations are constantly evolving. Just when we think we “know it all” we arrive at the opportunity to reach higher or dig deeper.
I also encourage entrepreneurs to build the business that supports them on their own journey. What have they learned so far on their path that can provide value to others? But also, how do they not stop there? How do they build a business that reflects that they themselves are learning and growing every day?
You have heard me talk about trauma. About PTSD. But I haven’t really told you how or why I found myself riding the crashing waves of PTSD.
Honestly, this part of my life isn’t something that can be unpacked in one episode of this podcast. I’m not ready for that. And there’s a good chance that if it is overwhelming for me, then it is overwhelming for you too. So, I will try not to overwhelm either one of us.
At the same time, it has become increasingly clear to me that the problem I am now most passionate about helping to solve is the impact that trauma is having on our workplaces, organizations, communities and the world.
Trauma is often misunderstood, belittled, or completely ignored. When we don’t understand something, it is easy to point at someone else and call them a snowflake. I can assure you that the false separation that we deploy between ourselves and other people--most demonstrably when we are stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, burned out and afraid--is not serving us or our healing as human beings. It is not serving our homes, neighborhoods, communities, workplaces, generations, or global well-being.
We often think of trauma as a single-point experience caused by a seismic event . . . war, terrorism, sexual violence, an active shooter taking innocent lives, and so on. These are traumatic events for the people who are there --hurt, injured, witnesses, survivors, family members, community members--and sometimes all of us; particularly when we can see ourselves in the shoes of the person who was the victim of the trauma.
But there are other forms of trauma too . . .not always as obvious, sometimes insidious. Sometimes trauma is a series of events that happen over time with a single reinforcing message . . . you are neither seen nor safe here . . . in this family, in this world, in this community, in this neighborhood, in this workplace, in this healthcare provider’s office, and so on.
You are neither seen nor safe. Your life is in danger. Your value, questionable. Your chance of survival, low.
So how do you respond when your brain integrates these signals and messages in response to trauma?
You live in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze. I talk a lot about the profound negative impact on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being when our bodies are flooded with stress hormones and adrenaline over time. But how does fight, flight or freeze play out in terms of behavior(s)?
Well, you could choose to become invisible. Because if no one can see you, they cannot hurt you.
You could choose to harm yourself. Because at least you can control that, and maybe if you go ahead and punish yourself, you will be safer somehow.
You could disappear from your body. There, but not really there. Present, but absent. Emotionally flatlined. Numb to the outside world. Numb to your aching mind, body and heart.
You could cope. With drugs, with alcohol, with sex, with shopping, with Netflix or scrolling or working.You could become a drug addict, alcoholic, sex addicted, shopaholic, gambling addict or workaholic.
You could become an endurance athlete. Proving to yourself over and over and over again that YOU can push your body beyond its limits, and somehow that makes you less susceptible to the demons that are propelling you forward from the inside.
You can become bulletproof. Impenetrable from the outside. Dead on the inside. And here, I am linking my blog in which I talk about my own experience with trying to live bulletproof.
You can perform and earn and perform and earn some more. More titles, more certificates, more degrees, more awards, more applause.
And you can still feel empty inside. Ambivalent.
Suspicious that if people really knew you the dark side of you, they would take your awards away and lock you up somewhere. That you will be abandoned. Cast out. Shunned. All alone. And since we are biologically wired to depend on human connection for survival, we would be literally and figuratively left for dead. And if that is the case, perhaps, you should just give in and let yourself be swallowed into the abyss that is churning inside of you. Perhaps you should do the dirty work so no one else has to. Where is that self-destruct button anyway?
A while back, @holisticallygrace posted “Socially Accepted and Rewarded Responses to Trauma” on Instagram. The list goes like this:
PerfectionismOverachievingRestricting food, undereatingExcessive exercisingPeople pleasingPowering throughNot taking breaks or vacationsPrioritizing career over personal lifeBeing a “yes” personChronic workaholismOverschedulingFunctioning on few hours of sleep
Um, wow. Just wow.
THIS IS TRAUMA. THIS IS HOW WE ARE RESPONDING TO TRAUMA. Pushing ourselves to the brink of destruction, toward actual chronic and possibly terminal physical, mental, and emotional illness, destructive addictions and coping mechanisms that are more dangerous than the pain and fear we are desperate not to feel.
I had a conversation with someone not too long ago and in it, one of us said . . . “all roads lead to trauma.” For some of you, that may seem like an absurd statement. Impossible. INCONCEIVABLE! (with nod to The Princess Bride). And for others, this statement may resonate as hauntingly true.
I fall into the latter category. The longer I do this work, the more people I work with, the more stories I hear, the more convinced I am becoming that one of the most dangerous, most foundational cracks in our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, organizations, communities and the world is our current lack of awareness of the profound impact that trauma has on everything that we say and do as human beings coupled with limited deployment of strategies and solutions to start to bridge this gap.
I will talk more about ACEs in a future episode, but the data already exists that ties adverse childhood experiences to poor life outcomes in terms of disrupted neurodevelopment; social, emotional and cognitive impairment; adoption of health risk behaviors; disease, disability, and social problems, and; ultimately, early death.
I AM NOT GOING TO SIGN OFF TODAY WITHOUT TELLING YOU THE GOOD NEWS. TRAUMA CAN BE HEALED.
Individuals can be healed. Families can be healed. Workplaces can be healed. Communities can be healed. And when we take the time and invest the resources to heal our individual and collective trauma(s) we will increase our positive life outcomes in every dimension you can imagine.
More to come . . .
Thank you for listening today. And, if you haven’t already, please hit subscribe and remember to rate this podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. When you subscribe and rate, you make it easier for other people to find this content. If you write a review of the podcast, I will share it on air in a future episode.
I look forward to being back with you next time!