What does trauma have to do with success?
You may be asking yourself, “what does trauma have to do with success?” As it turns out… quite a lot. Let me explain.
Our success depends to a great extent on how we respond to the challenges, opportunities and life events in our day-to-day lives. And our experience of trauma has a significant impact on how we are able to consciously and unconsciously respond to life around us. In other words, if you are like most people, your success in life is being strongly impacted by the trauma that you’ve experienced and how you are coping with that trauma.
Hard trauma or soft trauma
Now you may be scanning through your memory banks, flagging memories of especially harrowing physical accidents and other life-threatening events—like a car crash or a physical assault—and wondering how those experiences might be impacting the way you are responding in your life. And it’s true that this type of event-based or hard trauma can leave lasting physical and emotional scars that alter how we respond later on in life.
But, there is actually a much more common, oftentimes overlooked form of trauma, called soft trauma. Most everyone has experienced soft trauma in one way or another and it can have a powerful impact, as well. Soft trauma is formed when a person experiences a consciously or unconsciously perceived life-threatening dynamic or environment over a period of time. This may arise from emotional abuse, parental neglect, abject poverty, systemic racism or sexism, environmental toxins, or growing up in a violent family or culture to name just a few potential factors.
Whose trauma is it in the first place?
It’s not even necessary to experience the trauma first-hand. We can be powerfully influenced by a trauma experienced in our family lineage—called transgenerational trauma—or in our communities, that when unresolved, can cascade down through the system impacting other members of the family or community.
How trauma patterns are formed
And whether these potent traumatic experiences are conscious or unconscious, hard or soft in nature, they get hardwired into our physiology, altering the neural pathways of the brain and body, forming behavioral patterns that tend to repeat themselves over and over in our lives.
How can you tell if this is happening to you?
Most all of us have experienced some sort of trauma in our lives, it is a natural part of being a human being. And though, of course, most of us would choose to avoid trauma if possible, responding to trauma and challenging experiences play an important part of our learning and growing. This process serves an essential role in our surviving, thriving and evolving as a species. The important question is—how are you responding to the trauma? Are you feeling and releasing the trauma and the accompanying emotional and physiological responses through your body and being or are the traumas getting stuck as physiological and psycho-emotional patterns—or trauma patterns.
9 Signs that you are going into a trauma pattern
So what are some tell tale signs that let you know that you are going into a trauma pattern? Here are some physiological and behavioral cues to watch for:
- Shortness of breath
- Racing heartbeat
- Difficulty focusing, especially on near details (both visually and cognitively)
- Chronically tight muscles on the posterior side of your body (i.e., calves, hamstrings, lower back, neck and between shoulder blades
- Heightened, persistent anxiety
- Disproportionately outsized responses to the circumstances in your life
- Repeating the same strong physiological and emotional response again and again in life even when the circumstances do not warrant the response
- Jumping to conclusions about the people or circumstances that you are engaging with rather than seeing their true nature and/or intentions
Though each of these signs is not necessarily in and of itself a reflection that you are going into a trauma pattern, if you find yourself experiencing 5 or more of these on a regular basis, you are probably shifting into a trauma pattern.
How might this be impacting your success?
Shifting into the survival mode of fight, flight or freeze is essential for when you are in real danger, but when you are lapsing into these survival modes as part of a persistent pattern it can have a detrimental effect on your decision making, how you show up and how well you interact with others.
Here are some specific ways chronic triggering of trauma patterns may be impacting your success:
- Being in a constant state of emergency dulls the senses and makes you less discerning when you are facing true danger and making key strategic decisions.
- Causes you to see everyone and everything as an adversary or threat which leads to outsized, unhealthy responses to situations, conflictual relationships, and a closed view of what’s possible in a given circumstance.
- Lessens your ability to see the gift, opportunity or benefit in a situation.
- Makes you less present, engaged and responsive to the life circumstances you are facing.
- Eventually makes you more exhausted and less capable of performing at optimum capacity, once you’ve experienced the rollercoaster ride that your stress hormones take you through when you are chronically experiencing fight, flight or freeze.
- Causes you to be less resilient and responsive to challenging situations by wearing you out physically, emotionally and mentally.
- Creates difficulty in seeing “the forest through the trees” (e.g., getting tripped up over details/unimportant minutiae and not seeing the bigger picture).
What are 5 things you can do about it?
Of course, if you are having severe anxiety or PTSD symptoms then you should consult a trained healthcare professional. That being said, we can all benefit from a practice that supports our body and being to release stress and trauma patterns so that we can cultivate a greater state of balance, connection and flow in our lives.
Here are some important first steps:
- Take deep breaths – One of the first things that happens when you go into a trauma pattern is you hold your breath. Deep breathing resets your physiology and shifts your nervous system out of a sympathetic survival response to a more relaxed parasympathetic state.
- Practice mindfulness – Gently relax into the present moment and allow yourself to connect and become aware of your own body and being.
- Embrace your feelings – Rather than suppressing or denying what you are feeling, allow yourself to hold space for whatever emotions bubble to the surface as you relax and connect with your body. Your physical and emotional being is incredibly adept at finding a state of balance and flow; allowing space for your emotions supports this natural coming to wholeness.
- Give yourself your deeper need – Ask yourself, “What is the deeper need here?”, so you can give the traumatized part of you what it needed in the first place. One
- effective way of doing this is to imagine the adult side of you giving the younger traumatized part the love, acknowledgement, safety, etc. that it is deeply craving.
- Cultivate gratitude – Every night before going to bed write down what you are grateful for from the day.
Developing greater awareness around your trauma patterns and cultivating a daily practice of these basic self-care techniques can greatly reduce your stress levels, release debilitating trauma patterns, and open you to the full expression of your brilliance and gifts out into the world. Here’s to your success and those you serve!
James Woeber is a best-selling author, international trainer and consultant who for the past 25 years has helped thought leaders and socially-minded entrepreneurs to manifest their greatest dreams and serve as powerful change agents in the world. As a master trainer and facilitator in family constellation work and energy healing he supports individuals and organizations to thrive through personal, transgenerational and systemic trauma.