Earlier this year I had the privilege to work with an amazing woman to help her increase her visibility, influence and contribution at work. It became obvious straight away that this woman was highly intelligent, well read and could easily teach me a thing or two about meditation, spirituality and personal development.
Meeting her made me think this coaching trajectory would be a doddle. All I would have to do is to remind her of what she already knew and she’d be off.
Turns out I was totally wrong.
Anxious, lost and disconnected
What became apparent over the first few sessions was that the eloquent and self-aware part of her I would meet in our coaching calls, disappeared in stressful situations. And it left my client anxious, lost and disconnected from the wealth of tools at her fingertips.
Once she had calmed herself down again – which could take hours, even days – she could see the situation for what it was, but in the moment she froze and retreated inwards.
Now it’s very common for us to get triggered into different parts of our personality all day – every day. Your perfectionist might be triggered by a negative comment, your hyper-achiever might be triggered by your friend sharing she just got promoted, and your victim might be triggered by the pile of washing waiting for you.
This by itself is not really a problem. As part of our coaching together we focus on identifying your triggers, the parts they affect, and then help you to pause before you react and practice new, more empowering behaviours and responses instead. The first 10 times you will fail miserably, the next 20 times you will get slightly better and after a 50+ times your new way of being will start becoming second nature.
What this requires however, is for you to have access to your Higher Self, your Mature Adult Part, in the moment when you get triggered. In the pause between trigger and action. It’s in this small space that your Higher Self can calm and reassure your triggered self and take charge instead.
But what when stress happens and your Higher Self seems to disappear and leave the proverbial building? When something cuts the connection to your Mature Adult Part and none of its wisdom, innovation, empathy or clarity is available to you in the moment. And you’re once more triggered into an automatic response of fight, flight or freeze?
What is that something? Trauma.
Trauma is not what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you. Trauma is that scarring that makes you less flexible, more rigid, less feeling and more defended.
If you’re new to the topic of trauma I highly recommend you to look up Gabor Mate and The Wisdom Of Trauma. Before coming across him and Tara Brach I had assumed that trauma only affected people with truly traumatic experiences like war, rape or natural disasters. Now I know that trauma affects all of us – to a larger or lesser extent. And that trauma is the natural consequence even of a ”happy childhood”.
Gabor goes on to explain: “The origin of the word ‘trauma’ is the Greek for ‘wound’. Trauma is a wound. How I think about it is that if I wounded you, if I cut your flesh, the healing would involve scar tissue forming. If the wound was great enough, you’d get a big scar, and it would be without nerve endings so you wouldn’t feel, and it would be much less flexible than your normal tissue. Trauma is when there is a loss of feeling and there is a reduced flexibility in responding to the world. This is a response to a wound.”
Loosing access to your prefrontal cortex/”mature brain”
Going back to my client mentioned above, her ”wound” had indeed been deep, i.e. the early trauma she had suffered had affected her brain function and therefore her access to the part of the brain where our Higher Self/Mature Self resides. Under stress her brain switched to the reptilian and mammal parts, unable to return to the prefrontal cortex, and left her fearful, stuck and helpless. With no access to the cognitive tools we shared in our coaching together.
Once it became apparent that something bigger than the usual saboteurs were keeping a hold on her thinking and behaviour we started looking for alternative therapies for her. Bessel van der Kolk’s book ”The Body Keeps The Score” was an insightful guide to a range of different treatments available.
The journey towards healing
The last time we caught up she was sporting a huge smile and her eyes were sparkling. Besides plenty of further reading (she highly recommends Complex PTSD: From Surviving To Thriving by Pete Walker for any of you who resonate with her story) she started Kung Fu, talking therapy and somatic experiencing. Kung Fu, whilst triggering flashbacks of her violent father at times, now teaches her how to defend herself. The talking therapy helps her making sense of her past experiences, including the role of her mother, and the somatic experiencing allows her to finally release stuck emotions and energy to access more and more well-being.
Whilst she’s obviously doing better already she is well aware that reducing her hyper-vigilant and growing her ”good part” will be a complex and long term process.
Will it be worth it?
Absolutely. For herself, for the generations before her, and the generations after her.
In deepest gratitude,
Visionary Collective Leader Azkua
At Azkua we are on a mission to turn businesses and organisations into a force for good. And we believe that it is professional women like YOU, who will be at the forefront of this transformation. Purpose driven, caring, grounded and influential women.