3 Ways Your Unprocessed Trauma Might Be Negatively Impacting Your Business
Trauma will always be unresolved if we don't become aware of it first.
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Note: I am not a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. I cannot diagnose or treat people. I am not an expert. I am simply a trauma survivor that has spent time, money, and energy to learn as much as I can about my own experience and am now on a mission to help others that struggle. If you’re suffering, please seek professional help.
Trauma is more common than I used to realize. Far more people than I ever understood have dealt with incredibly challenging personal experiences that change the way they view the world and, what’s more, react to it.
We also often associate the word “Trauma” with the experiences that represent the most extreme examples - violence, abuse, rape, assault, etc. This is classified as big “T” Trauma. The kind of trauma that is most likely to result in PTSD. But there is another kind of trauma, a far more prevalent type that is classified as small “t” trauma. This is the more nuanced, subtle, and, often, longer-lasting trauma.
This is the trauma that results from being bullied, neglected, or ignored as a kid. It’s the trauma that comes from chronic illness or severe health challenges. It can also come from toxic relationships -- marriages, familial relationships, and even work environments.
This is the stuff that is absolutely hard, but that isn’t necessarily life-threatening. It can cause a trauma response, but the experience might have come on so slowly or lasted so long, that we don’t even see how it changed us, or worse we think we should just get over it.
This is the trauma in which we are likely to play the game of what Brene Brown calls Comparative Suffering. Telling ourselves that compared to others, our experience wasn’t so bad, so we can’t complain.
It’s not surprising that collectively, as a society, we fail to recognize the prevalence of this experience and its impact. After all, one of the most common reactions to trauma is, often without realizing it, to attempt to:
deny its existence.
To push it down.
To squash it.
It makes sense then, that we would minimize its impact on the world. And in a way, it even makes sense that some people would dismiss those that try to draw attention to its prevalence or even to their own experience.
As a result, we’ve reached a point where the word itself feels loaded with meaning, conflict, and disagreement as we repeatedly have been taught to mock any who mention it or to somehow believe they are merely over-fragile snowflakes that do not deserve our respect or attention.
Believing that others are childish or weak for expressing their own experience makes it easier for us to deny our own.
And I get it. For years, I struggled to understand that some of the experiences from my past had created classic trauma responses in me. It wasn’t until I experienced my own unequivocal and rather overt trauma (being violently attacked by my dog) that I began to understand the word and its complexity far better.
For the first time, I understood what it meant to be “triggered.”
What perhaps has been most eye-opening for me throughout the experience however was the way that one trauma uncovered layers of long-denied others. And once I started looking, I couldn’t stop. Not just for the experiences themselves, but the many ways that those experiences impacted how I move in the world, how I see myself, and how I see others.
And this, this impact and our reluctance to talk about it, let alone examine it, I am realizing, has a far greater effect on our world and even in our businesses than I previously realized.
So how does your past trauma impact your business?
Your personal trauma is going to impact you and your business in a unique way, but as I’ve delved into this topic, I am spotting some patterns that I’ll describe below.
Now I want to be clear...I am not a therapist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist. I am not medically trained to diagnose or treat these issues. I am simply sharing what I’ve learned from my experience and what I am seeing in the entrepreneurs whom I speak to and work with.
1. Hyper Self-Sufficiency
Recently I was speaking with a coaching client and she said something that stuck with me.
“I just need to do it all myself without asking for help. It’s my personality.”
The refusal to ask for help and the urgency to do everything on your own isn’t a personality trait. It’s a learned behavior and a very common response to trauma.
Trauma often teaches us that the world isn’t a safe place, that we can’t rely on others to help and support us, that we’re on our own. And we adopt that mindset into everything we do.
And there’s a good side to it!
It might be part of the reason why you became an entrepreneur in the first place. It’s part of why you’re so resilient and able to think through or solve even the most complex and intimidating problems.
It’s why friends describe you as “strong” and “determined”. But it’s also holding you back from progress.
If someone else could help you take a big leap forward, would you reach out to them?
Would you ask for help?
Or would you take 2-3x the time and effort to do it all on your own?
Being able to ask for and accept help from others is one of the most critical strengths in growing your business. Being an entrepreneur, even if this is your second or third time doing it, is a wholly new experience. You have never built this business before. You have never sold this specific idea to this specific audience before.
Being able to seek out advice or even hire people to complete certain tasks for you can save you incredible amounts of time, money, and energy. Not to mention this type of collaboration can allow you to expand your vision for what’s possible.
2. Saying Yes to Everything and Everyone
The flip side to not being able to ask for help is offering your help to everyone else, being a people pleaser, putting everyone else’s needs before your own.
Often the trauma we experience is one that leaves us craving the approval and attention of others. If you were neglected as a child, or in a toxic relationship (either as a child or adult), you may find yourself constantly worrying about the opinion or approval of others.
This too has a positive side to it. When we’re subtly taught to focus on the needs and wants of others, it makes us deeply empathic and intuitive people. We are often able to anticipate the desires of others before they do. This makes us damn good at understanding our customers’ wants and able to deliver stellar results for them.
The problem, however, is that it can become all too easy to get distracted from what we want, from our vision for our business and our future. If we run a service business like consulting or freelance, we might wind up doing work that we never wanted to and don’t enjoy.
This is the stuff that leads to burnout and a genuine crisis in your business, as you wind up moving in a direction that doesn’t serve you or your goals.
Being able to create a strategic vision for your business and have the self-determination to stay the course can be challenging, but it’s the secret to seeing success in the business you’re building. Yes, it’s important to be adaptable, but it’s equally important to know what you want and be focused on its success, despite the desires of others around you.
3. Struggle to Commit to a Direction
Do you feel like you’ve pivoted your business a million times?
Or maybe you keep having a new “aha” moment about the direction your business should take, only to realize an even better path a few days or weeks later?
As I said above, being adaptable is an advantage, but it can be very easy for those riddled with self-doubt to struggle to stick to a plan. They keep convincing themselves they’ve found something even better when what they’re really doing is undermining their chances at success.
Committing to a single direction, a single niche for your business, or goal for your life and career means trusting yourself that you’ve chosen the right path and trusting the world that this path is even possible.
Often when we’re recovering from, or still dealing with, trauma, we lack that sense of trust in ourselves and the world around us. This lack of trust leads to distraction because we’re constantly looking for signs of danger and quickly pivoting or adapting to stay safe.
The problem here is that entrepreneurship is, at its core, a risky enterprise. We can spot danger, failure, or uncertainty in every corner and if we don’t have a clear vision and commitment to what we want and the goal we are pursuing, we will give up and shift course far before we get there.
This leads to the all too common feeling of spinning our wheels. Trying a million things but not seeing the traction we know we are capable of.
If this sounds familiar, don’t give up hope. What this means is that the struggles you are facing come from a learned behavior as the result of these traumatic experiences in your life.
And that means that you can unlearn them, too. It means you are not doomed to always suffer these same challenges and forever feel like you’re doing everything yourself, regularly overwhelmed by your commitments, or spinning your wheels from lack of traction.
I see you. I’ve been where you are. And though still I am constantly learning new lessons, uncovering new aha moments, and feeling like I am taking another step into my power, in the last 6 months, I have progressed further in creating the life and business of my dreams than I have in the last decade. You can too. I promise.