Living with trauma can be a debilitating experience, leading to feelings of fear, anxiety, and helplessness. It is important to recognise the unique challenges posed by traumatic experiences and childhood trauma to find ways to effectively support employees to heal and move forward.
Trauma is caused when the individual experiences some type of distress without resolution and is more common than organisations realise. It leaves a lasting impact – an emotional wound that can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and the ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships.
Emotional wounding is the internalising of painful experiences that can negatively impact an individual’s capability and wellbeing in the workplace. The ability to process painful experience in childhood determines how resilient an individual is when coping with day-to-day work pressures. Emotional wounds can be caused by any number of things, including physical or emotional abuse, trauma, neglect, or bullying. Even the death of a pet or experiencing parental divorce, starting school can also be situations that create emotional suppression, leading to unresolved emotions. These types of experiences can lead to feelings of shame, fear, vulnerability and even a lack of trust in others which hampers an employee’s ability to feel safe and secure at work.
According to research published by Mental Health Foundation, around 1 in 3 adults in England report having experienced at least one identifiable traumatic event. But everyone lives with some type of trauma without knowing. It’s not uncommon for an individual to state that they don’t have any trauma because they don’t recognise something as trauma. The longer the trauma is circumvented, symptoms get progressively worse, and this weakens performance capability and wellbeing over time.
The cycle of maladaptive behaviours due to past emotional wounding tends to create inflexible and myopic tendencies. Employees are less agile as they struggle to adapt to rapid change and show a tendency towards defensive behaviour that feeds into a culture of fear and distrust. Emotionally wounded employees may default to making impulsive decisions based on their own personal values instead of taking a more balanced approach to benefit the team, their organisation, or their customers.
Employee adaptability in a high-pressure environment
The world has changed dramatically in the past twenty-five years. Mobile phones and 24/7 access to online mode make it harder to switch off and take a proper break. New forms of technology consistently emerge to help us to complete tasks more quickly and optimise our time management. Many people experience that the pace of life is getting faster. This acceleration of life adds more pressure, stress, and tension. It’s a very different experience driving at 50 miles per hour on the inside lane compared to 70 miles per hour in the outside lane. The faster you live your life, the more stress and tension you attract.
Many individuals are juggling the effects of rising inflation, the cost-of-living crisis, returning to work and changes in consumer behaviour. There is a shocking rise in people’s mental health issues with 76% of employees reporting moderate to high levels of stress. (Stress Statistics UK, 2023 Data – Champion Health)
When an employee experiences a life-changing situation, particularly if that situation is unexpected then managing their life often evolves into feeling out of control and overwhelmed.
The vital component to employee resilience and wellbeing
Imagine an empty glass. If you leave that glass under a running tap, it starts to overflow. Employees’ emotions are continually flowing into their system. Emotional dysregulation is a common challenge because when their metaphorical glass is full and overflowing, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or sink into negative emotions. It can become difficult to make decisions in a balanced way and consider all available information. In a permanent state of fight or flight, employees maybe unable to think clearly, leading to rash decisions without considering potential consequences. In fight or flight the amygdala, responsible for emotional regulation quickly signals a threat and there is a reduction in certain neurotransmitters’ ability to function as emotional brakes. The prefrontal cortex that helps the amygdala to see stressful events with more context, is turned off. A individual’s emotional reaction to normal day-to-day pressures is intensified and may inadvertently trigger a deeply buried emotional wound.
This has an adverse effect on performance.
Trauma – today’s wellbeing blind spot.
Many people are unaware that they’ve had a traumatic experience because of a belief that ‘trauma’ is something dramatic and life changing. Big traumas are obvious and easily identifiable because they leave the individual feeling helpless, without control and powerless. Yet trauma and emotional wounding happens to everyone.
|COMMON SYMPTOMS OF TRAUMA|
|Frustration/anger||Exhaustion/fatigue||Unable to make logical decisions|
|Depression||Edginess and agitation||Lacking confidence|
|Stressed||Aches and pains||Critical/judgemental/controlling|
|Isolated||Unhealthy addictions||Emotional instability|
|Self-beration||Racing heartbeat||Micromanagement style|
|Shame||Unexplained aches /pains||Risk adverse or reckless|
|Overwhelmed||Digestive problems||Disconnected/lack empathy|
|Life feels ‘hard’||Sweating||Impulsive reactions|
When an employee’s younger self has unmet needs
It’s normal that an adult has experienced events in childhood that they have not fully processed or integrated into their adult self. They may not appear as a big deal to the adult reflecting on their life, but for the younger self, the event was difficult, painful, and hard to understand. A young child may be eager to share their ‘9 out of 10’ spelling test. If their supportive mother responds with: “That’s wonderful, which one did you get wrong?” the child may believe that they need to be perfect to win more approval from their mother. This may create a belief about not being good enough.
To most people this seemingly innocuous moment doesn’t appear important, yet it can tarnish their sense of self-worth and diminish their confidence as an adult. This may translate in a work context to imposter syndrome because the individual has an unhealthy obsession for a need for perfection and their imperfections mean, they are not competent for that role. They focus on what’s wrong rather what’s right about situations and worry about making mistakes. This struggle with feeling good enough often creates imposter syndrome.
A little boy of four may stumble and fall. When he starts to cry his dad, might say something along the lines of “Come on son, pull yourself together, big boys don’t cry.” The little boy learns to push down his emotions because he wants to earn his father’s approval. In that moment of his father’s reaction, the little boy’s distress has not been resolved and the child learns that it’s not ok to be that part of himself that feels distressed. He has been scolded for expressing how he authentically feels. To maintain his relationship with his father, he rejects that part of himself that feels upset, believing that this emotion is unacceptable and buries it in his subconscious. The little boy has learned to suppress emotion to maintain a connection with others and in doing so is rejecting part of himself. As an adult in a leadership role this may cause a lack of emotional intelligence and a sense of discomfort when faced with emotional reactions from others.
The root of workplace behaviour
During the initial seven years of a child’s life, the infant is functioning in a hypnogogic, highly suggestable state when they observe, record, and download information about their environment. This conditions their attitude, beliefs, mindset, and behaviour. Their care givers have also been programmed by their care givers and so an inherited cycle of inner conflict is passed on through the generations.
Many emotional wounds are carried by the child within. These wounds are like weeds growing where they are not wanted, competing with that which is wanted. This creates tension, blocks, or contractions within the heart, mind, and body. The individual develops an identity, an ego, based on who they think they are constructed from their personal story. In the same way that a garden covered in weeds, chokes the growth of the flowers and plants, past conditioning limits the ability to realise true potential.
The child learns coping mechanisms to deal with emotional wounds and often remain unconscious in the adult. A need to be the best and win at any cost may have been the way that a child gained more parental approval. An adult’s need to comfort eat under stressful conditions may have been conditioned by the way a parent soothed them as a child when they were upset. Even with an awareness regarding one’s self-sabotaging behaviours, they become incredibly difficult and time-consuming to change consciously or with will-power. The reason for this is that the emotional wound has been experienced and felt by the younger self that has become separate to the adult.
How to heal emotional wounding
To quickest way to process and release past trauma and resolve emotional wounds requires an awareness of the younger part of the individual that is ‘stuck’ in an old memory. The younger part feels and experiences situations differently because their need at that time were unmet and prevented resolution. Re-visiting a childhood memory as an adult changes the memory because it brings to life the experience of emotional maturity. This knowledge can be used to empower the younger part so they can process and learn from their experience. All events are categorised in a person’s subconscious using linked emotions. If the first event of a group of events that share the same emotion is discovered and resolved, all subsequent events sharing the same negative emotions are neutralised. This type of deep self- development has a life-changing and transformational impact on an employee’s mindset, behaviour, and performance.
The following questions provides a framework that helps an individual begin the journey of healing their emotional wounds:
- What issues are you experiencing that you’d rather not have?
- Which of these are causing you the biggest problem?
- Why is this issue a problem?
- What is likely to happen in the next year if you don’t address this issue?
- Who else is your issue affecting?
- When you think about this issue, how does it make you feel?
- What have you done previously to resolve this?
- How does this issue protect you?
- What other areas of your life are you experiencing the same issue?
- What recurring patterns are linked to this?
- What’s this issue an example of?
- How often do you listen to and trust your intuition?
- How much do other people affect your energy?
- How have you dealt with intense emotions in the past?
- What’s your biggest fear in relation to dealing with this issue?
- What would you lose if you didn’t have this issue?
- How does this issue serve you?
- What is it about this issue that you have never told anyone?
- What’s the best outcome, the benefit you’d gain from resolving this issue?
- On a scale of 1 – 10 how committed do you feeling about resolving this?
“Until you make the unconscious, conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung
The connection between childhood trauma and employee wellbeing is an issue that demands greater attention in today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment. Ultimately, organisations that prioritise the mental health of their employees will not only witness improved wellbeing but also reap the benefits of a more resilient, productive, and harmonious workforce.
Following a trauma in her late teens that made legal history in 1978, Nikki has three decades delivering thousands of coaching sessions for different organisations. Her cutting-edge techniques are blended from neuroscience, quantum mechanics, cellular biology, and quantum healing systems.