When I was 41, I left an abusive relationship. It’s not what you think. It wasn’t intimate partner abuse. I left a friend, former boss, and spiritual guru after 13 years of manipulation, exploitation, and extortion through labour trafficking.
Over the years I’ve tried to raise the alarm about abuse in the workplace and unhealthy leaders parading as righteous visionaries.
I’ve had so many people tell me I can’t talk about that – business advisers, supervisors, coworkers, mentors, coaches.
I get that it’s an uncomfortable topic, especially for business people, who just want to achieve success and not have to worry about the greater social impact of their accomplishments.
I started to get excited with the introduction of Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility to the mainstream. I thought people would be willing to engage about character then. Not so much.
When people started talking about Mental Health in the workplace I thought, now we’re getting somewhere. And yet that topic is still an aside – an addition – often left to the individual to self-manage. It’s not an integral aspect of most people’s consciousness and certainly does not receive equal consideration in business and HR theory.
When the concept of Trauma Informed Practice hit the mainstream, I thought, oh yeah, now we’re getting somewhere. Now we’ll be able to talk about the incidence of unhealthy relationships in business contexts and inspire responsibility, accountability, humility, and positive change. But no, trauma informed is mostly still just given lip service, without substantive personal reflection on the part of the people claiming to model it.
Recently I’ve connected with a wider international community of social innovators who share my vision and passion for all of us to actually develop a trauma lens to inspire recovery and prevention for the benefit of all of us.
You see, I’ve known all my life that people hurt people when they haven’t addressed their own hurt. It started with my mother. For her it started with her parents. It continued on for me at the hands of teachers, post secondary professors, and employers, until it came to a head with a false spiritual leader.
Recent research identifying trauma as brain injury has helped me understand just what has been going on with me and in my relationships all my life, and throughout our history.
Alice Miller, a famous psychotherapist who wrote many books from 1978 – 2010, spent the latter decades of her life recording the effects of our historical cultural childhood norms on subsequent adult populations.
In her famous book The Drama of the Gifted Child she begins with “Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery of the truth about the unique history of our childhood.”
She continues, “In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth, a truth that may cause pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom.”
She cautions, “If we choose instead to content ourselves with intellectual ‘wisdom’, we will remain in the sphere of illusion and self-deception.”
She explains, “Without realizing the past is constantly determining their present actions, (most people) avoid learning anything about their history. … They are driven by unconscious memories and by repressed feelings and needs that determine nearly everything they do or fail to do.”
She encourages, “We become free by transforming ourselves from unaware victims of the past into responsible individuals in the present, who are aware of our past and are thus able to live with it.”
People who don’t deal with their own issues invariably impose them onto others. Inauthenticity and disconnection from our true selves – pain and all – enables us to act hurtfully towards others, both intentionally and inadvertently.
Of course, no one is perfect. In fact just the other day I snapped at someone who parked in my driveway because my stress response was activated after having repeatedly been subjected to disrespect and boundary violations from someone else recently. I shouldn’t have snapped, and I will apologize and accept accountability for my actions at the first opportunity. But many of us live in the same heightened arousal state as a result of years of accumulated maltreatment as sentient human beings.
We bring our trauma to work with us.
Some of us are short tempered and suspicious. Some of us are disconnected from our humanity and operate as automatons. Some of us are so hateful or empty we take whatever we can without a single care of the impact on others. Many of us just go to work hoping to have an issue free day where we can do our jobs and make it back out the door safely without being psychologically assaulted. Many of us hope we can make it through the day without revealing the pain we live with and spilling it onto others.
Whatever strategies any of us use to get through the days of our lives, if we haven’t addressed the pain of our past, we are likely subjecting others to it unconsciously.
As Dr. Gabor Mate says, “Trauma isn’t what happens to us; it’s what happens within us as a result of what happens to us.”
I talk about trauma as being the result of our not getting our needs met, and therefore perceiving a threat to our survival.
As an Early Childhood Educator, I learned what developing humans need to thrive. That knowledge helped me be very successful in my business and teaching careers as I served my clients and learners.
As I ramp up my counselling practice, I am thankful to have that foundation and the added insight that new research into trauma and neuroscience provides.
All humans, young and old, need safety, security, belonging, esteem and opportunity to achieve our potential. We need respect, and effort from our fellow travelers. We need connection not just to others, but to the planet and the universe as valuable members with vital contributions to add to the whole.
Unresolved trauma impedes us from being able to receive our needs and to meet each others’ needs.
As a community of leaders across diverse sectors of society, those of us connected through Linked In have the opportunity to help heal ourselves, each other, and our societies when we understand trauma and its impacts, and basic strategies for responding to and supporting each other with dignity, empathy, compassion and humility.
We’re all in this together. We have been forever. And we will be as long as there is a forever.
Over the last year I have connected with others who bravely speak about the need to address trauma as a social transformation initiative around the world.
I’m so thankful I’m no longer alone in this vision. Those who told me I couldn’t talk about trauma just didn’t see what I saw. All indications I observe across society now tell me many are starting to catch up.
It will be a great day when we actually do have #TraumaInformedCanada #ACEsAwareCanada #ResilientCanada where #Empathy #Compassion #Generosity and #Humility are common responses to ourselves, others, and nature across #TraumaPreventiveHumanity.