Burnout to Leadership

Ep#45 Working with trauma

September 15, 2022 Season 1 Episode 45
Show Notes Transcript

Hi everyone. My name is Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout to Leadership podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello, my friends, this is Dex, and I'm glad you could join us for this week's episode on trauma. It's gonna be kind of an intense and a personal one for me. And I don't know why, but those of you who can see this on video, I don't know why I'm wearing this jumper today, but that's obviously my trauma jumper, so here we go. Little T trauma, that we all have, and big T trauma, the kind that results in PTSD. That's what we're gonna talk about today. And let me just say right upfront that although I have read a lot of books about trauma and studies on trauma, and I've experienced trauma myself, it does not make me a trauma expert, nor am I licensed to work with trauma. So if you suffer from PTSD, for example, or the ongoing effects of trauma, please seek professional help or contact Lifeline in your country if you need to and see the show notes for links if you don't have them. So let's get into it. When I differentiate little T and big T trauma, I'm not saying this to judge or label so much as to explore how all of us experience trauma in our lives and respond to that trauma, or rather to those traumatic circumstances. And traumatic events, trauma itself, the trauma experience, is something that humans sometimes have the resources to manage, digest, and heal from. But sometimes we don't have those resources, and that's not our fault. It's just what it is. And if that happens, the trauma experience can affect us profoundly, and the experience and the re experience of it can colour our ability to live a full, open, and rewarding life. So there's absolutely no judgement here. My thinking, the way I've thought about trauma, might not work for anyone else, it might just work for me, I don't know. But I am gonna explain what I've understood about it, and why I use the shorthand of big and little T, most about

my personal experiences. I think about it this way:

Little T trauma happens whenever I experience a traumatic event or multiple events, and can generate enough personal or interpersonal safety to fully process and work through and let go of that as an active memory in my system. In other words, I can help myself move through the trauma healing process so I don't keep re experiencing it or having it triggered inside me, like an unhealed wound, as I continue on through life. I don't forget it, but I survive it and I learn from it and I strengthen my human capacity to handle adversity. Big T trauma, on the other hand, is something traumatic that happens at any time in life, either once or more than once, that we don't have the support to digest and process fully because we don't find that personal or interpersonal safety. It happens when, at the time of the trauma, there was no safe other to comfort, protect, and care for us and help us move through the trauma and cope with it. And when that happens, our mind pushes the trauma experience away, the memory away, until we do have the resources to deal with it. Then it makes sense, right? But then the big T trauma lives on in our systems,

our minds, and our bodies:

An undigested trauma. And we remain hypersensitive to similar environmental cues that remind us of it, like sound or smell or landscape or people. We are very hypersensitive to those cues going on into the future, and we become repeatedly hyper alert to danger when we encounter those cues. And those experiences, unless and until they're resolved, show up as PTSD or CPTSD. And if you don't know the difference between the two, PTSD occurs after single event trauma, and CPTSD, complex PTSD, is more associated with repeated trauma. And the way we work towards healing trauma memories or triggers, if you like, after the fact is generally speaking with therapy, where the therapist becomes our safe other and is thus empowered to support us to process, heal, and recover from the trauma. Now that's the theory as I've understood it. You're gonna find a book list in the show notes for this episode of books that can help you understand trauma more, and other resources. You'll also see that I've included some links to mental health resources and mental health advocates, because the stigma of mental health experiences can be a really big part of the challenge of living with any mental health issue. And I find that, frankly, rather sad. But I will stress again, please seek professional help for trauma and PTSD if you need to. Now, in terms of burnout, the reason I talk about trauma with you and the reason it also comes up with my clients is that so many of us have traumatic experiences and memories that colour the way we work, we live our lives and experience other people, the way we behave in relationships, how we react if we are in certain circumstances, and most importantly, the way we view and the way we talk to ourselves, our inner critic. If you have trauma memories from your childhood, well, as a child, most of us don't have the emotional maturity and resources to deal effectively with that. And so, if that's happened to you, you probably turned to your parents or caregivers for the support, safety, and comfort you needed. That is, if you felt safe enough to talk to those people. Even if you did talk to them, you might not have received the support that you needed, maybe because of your parents' inability to supply that, maybe their own childhood experiences of trauma came in, maybe they have unconscious beliefs about how to cope with it, or maybe just their levels of emotional presence and their ability to support you in that area were just not good enough. None of that is your fault, okay? It is not your fault at all. But it's also not useful to blame them, either, because their response is a learned response. It's how they were taught to behave in their childhood. And it's also not helpful to blame other people because whatever happened is in the past, you can't change it. If you blame people, you still can't change it, but you're the one who's gonna be poisoned and suffer from the blame, presumably, the other people are not gonna experience. So, I recommend that you take ownership and power over your current experience in relation to past events, no matter how challenging that may be. Just try a little bit to do that work because it's the only way you have of changing your experience now of feeling better, stronger, more resilient, now, of protecting yourself, now. And what I mean there is your experience of your past is created by the thoughts you're thinking about that past now, not what happened back then. So, you don't have to exonerate or condone what happened then, or your thoughts about it now are creating your feelings now. So if you want to change the way you're feeling now about adverse events in the past, you can do that by thinking new thoughts about them. That is the power you have. The past is over, you can try to let it go, rather than continuously recreating the pain of it with your thoughts and dragging that pain around after you. And that's not to say there's anything wrong with that, but you can work towards creating a new experience, try to limit the amount of power you're giving away to that experience or that person or those people. I am absolutely not victim blaming here. But if that's a real stretch for you to think about your past in those terms, and if you have, for example, lingering trauma or PTSD, therapy may be required to achieve those experiences I've just described. With the little T trauma, it may not. If you are striving to relinquish blame, judgment, anger, hate, bitterness, resentment, helplessness, all of that, in favour of looking at how you have survived, how you've become stronger, what you learned, how you can now support others better with your compassion and understanding the experience, if you could start seeing some of those out in your mind, you can transform your experience now, even though you couldn't back then when it happened. And some people in an advanced stage are able to take this further and strive to find acceptance and forgiveness. Still not condoning what happened or agreeing that it was okay, but just releasing it, releasing the pain of it, if that's possible. And when that is possible, when it becomes possible, you can create the maximum amount of power inside you to heal your own experience. Again, no judgment. What we're looking for here is, given that this happened in the past, how can I learn to live better now? How can I create personal power and resilience now? So let me use an example for a minute from one client who was severely limiting his career prospects and his daily engagement with his team and his enjoyment of work. He's a successful engineer, but he has dyslexia. When he came to me one day in a total sweat about being asked to chair a meeting, we unearthed what was bothering him about it. He was actually terrified of meetings and presentations and things like that where he might have to read things or take notes, and he was worried people might find out about his dyslexia, and so he avoided all meetings and any form of leadership. In his school years, he'd been shamed by his teachers and by his family as well for the way he read and wrote and spoke. And as I recall, he was also left handed and his teachers made him learn to write right handed. He was branded as stupid and backward, he was publicly ridiculed. And he was told he'll basically amount to nothing. And as for so many dyslexics, it was a very powerful experience. It made this indelible impression on him, and he never really learned to believe in his own abilities. And as for that meeting he was supposed to chair, by the way,

he was worried about being found out, really. That was his worst fear:

Fear of losing face or worse being criticised and judged or having it impact his job, which is interesting, 'cause the way he was thinking about it, it was already impacting his job. So we simply went back to his beliefs about himself, asking who had originally given him those beliefs, and if he really believe them now, if he wanted to believe them now, if he wanted to jettison. And if they were actually true anyway, in the light of the evidence of success in his career, then we just re invented his belief by his engineering professional leadership, and communication capacities, and he started rating himself by his successes and strengths instead of focusing on and only defining himself by this one old belief about inadequacy. And the after effect of this story is he got promoted to the most senior engineering position in his company very shortly after we had this conversation. So the process I've described is actually fairly simple and quick, and it can be used with many unconscious childhood beliefs that block our adult success. All it takes is bringing old beliefs to consciousness, submitting them to kind of rigorous inquiry about how true they are and whether we want to believe them, and then we just make a choice" "Okay, do I want to believe this now or not? Shall I discard and create another belief?", because we can do that now, once we bring them to consciousness. And notice that here, we've looked at a very potent traumatic memory that created a really big scar on this client's self esteem, his feeling of security, and being okay as a child. So that's actually a survival thing as a child, isn't it? We're very dependent on the adults around us to keep this going. Even so, it was what I might describe the the small T trauma in his case, because it could be addressed by coaching, and it didn't require psychotherapy to heal for him. He was able to heal it merely through coaching and awareness. A large percentage of us did not receive the unconditional love, acceptance, and approval that we wanted and needed as youngsters. Many of us were branded as deficient or defective in some way, maybe punish, discriminated against, rejected, or bullied, and that really cost us as children. And in some way, that really scales how we think of us as adults. Those wounds never completely heal. So if you have scars like this, don't let that be the end of your story. That's all I'm saying. Get whatever help you need to see if you can move past some of those limiting aspects of that traumatic response. If it's contributed to your burnout experience, which is not unlikely, come and talk to me. I'm gonna hold space for your whole humanity. I'm not gonna judge you; I believe in your capacity to grow as a human and to move past these things. And it might be that burnout recovery is available to you whether you have trauma or not, and the burnout is actually not going to be a part of your future. So that being said, I'm gonna get now, and I'm gonna talk a little bit about my own experience, which I find a little bit vulnerable and challenging. But anyway, I'm gonna be edified in this by a lot of courageous mental health advocates. I follow quite a lot of on Twitter, funnily enough, I don't know why, and a lot of their links are in the show notes of this episode as well. If you're seeking inspiration, I would encourage you to have a look. So I experienced big T trauma in my childhood, and it happened early enough in my life to affect my brain development as a child, so, that caused a lot of complications later on for me. And brain development and trauma, as you can imagine, is very weighted towards creating safety, it's weighted towards hyper vigilance, and it down grades social connection, particularly when healthy relationships haven't been modelled to the child anyway, which is what happened to me. So without getting bogged down in detail, I've experienced an abnormal amount of fear in my life as a consequence, and I find it hard to trust people. Slightly inconvenient. This kind of trauma, in the absence of a safe other to process it with, forms a lasting habit of the brain interpreting ordinary life as threatening. It's kind of exhausting, really, and frustrating for those people around me. I have done a lot of work over the years to mitigate my trauma patterns, to some effect, otherwise, probably I won't be here today talking to you. But it doesn't eliminate them, by any means,

in my case. And here's why I'm telling you all of this now:

Firstly, I want to de stigmatise and normalise the trauma experience. It happens to all of us in some degree. My trauma is not shameful and neither is yours, if you've experienced trauma. PTSD, for example, is the brain's completely rational response to a trauma experience you can't handle. It simply parks it for later healing, once we have the necessary resources. So, PTSD is just called trauma. Trauma is also a normal factor in burnout. If you know you have trauma at any time in life, it may well have caused you to be more susceptible to burnout, depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. And that's true for many of my clients. The trauma doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. It simply means your brain developed a coping mechanism for something traumatic that happened. It's adaptive. Trauma can be worked with one way or another, and it doesn't need to present a barrier to burnout recovery. For some people, trauma can be labelled as unfixable. I get it, but for me, for many traumatised people, there is hope. And it can be easier than you think. So today, that was a real quick primer on how I believe trauma affects us, and especially in burnout. It's a very tiny subset of what I've learned about trauma and how to work with it, because the whole thing would basically take many, many episodes to relate. But please do forgive me, if you don't agree with me, that's fine. I'm not an expert, I don't have all the answers, but I have witnessed in myself and in my clients ways to move past trauma and improve quality of life. So I've been very bold here and shared these ideas with you, in case you're stuck in your own limiting beliefs about what's possible for you given the life you've had so far. It's worth a rethink, and I hope this episode reaches somebody who needs to hear it. Thank you for listening today. Appreciate you being here as always. If you're in burnout, you must come and talk to me about how to recover quickly and sustainably and get back to your best performance, leadership, and of course, most of all, enjoyment inside work and out. If you're in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can look in to talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you, and let's make a plan to fix it.