Trauma. It’s a word that you may see being referred to a lot these days. And maybe you’re not quite sure what it actually covers. In the past, people thought of trauma as being a massive, obvious, public, life event. Perhaps something that would be newsworthy. But we’ve learned that it is actually much more intimate and complicated than that.
What is Trauma?
My working definition of trauma is anything that happened that was too much for our nervous system to handle. Either we weren’t old enough, didn’t have the right resources, or weren’t supported in processing what happened. So it felt like too much, too fast, or too soon.
Regardless of whether the event was considered minor or major at the time, we weren’t able to process it through our body. So the trauma energy got stuck.
From that place, we formed a belief that is now getting in our way (even if we don’t consciously recognize it yet). For each of us, this belief, and how it shows up, can be different.
In this post, I’ll share my working definition of trauma and the impact that I see it having on my empath and highly sensitive clients. Trauma is sneakily limiting their business success as coaches, healers, and lightworkers. But personal healing is possible which benefits business too.
In The Wisdom of Trauma, Dr. Gabor Mate, whose work I deeply value, defines trauma like this:
“Trauma is NOT the bad things that happen TO you but what happens INSIDE you as a result of what happens to you.”
In other words, you experienced pain and interpreted that to make it mean something about YOU and the world.
Until you heal, you continue to carry that story with you, which keeps you feeling UNSAFE, and impacts every aspect of your life.
What is emotional trauma?
For most of us, when we think of trauma we think of things like war, death of a loved one, being involved in a crime or something quite dramatic and often very physical. Our definition generally doesn’t leave much space for emotional trauma.
Using the above definition of too much, too fast, or too soon, a whole host of things can occur in life that leave us with a feeling that would be called emotional trauma. Often this is referred to as “little t” trauma.
It can leave us feeling powerless. Out of control.
Importantly, emotional trauma is no less impactful than “big T” traumatic events. In fact, sometimes it can be more challenging to address because it is internal, personal, and often invisible to those around us.
There may be no external scars. People around us may not understand. So emotional trauma can quickly become internalized as some version of “there is something wrong with me”, which follows us through the years. Until we heal it.
Are you aware of the stories you may have internalized about yourself? What did you make a painful experience mean about YOU?
What are examples of emotional trauma?
Sometimes trauma is the seemingly “small things”, like our parents not responding in the way we expected as children.
There are many instances where people grew up in an unsupportive household that involved name calling, shaming, and a general lack of modeling healthy boundaries and emotional states. Or perhaps expectations always felt too high.
Often this leads our subconscious mind into writing a story that keeps us safe and able to function in daily life.
For example, one story may go something along these lines:
If I share something and I am not perfect at it, then people will criticize and laugh at me. So it’s safer not to share.
The more times a belief is solidified, the more strength it has.
Imagine then 20 to 30 years go by and every day your subconscious has found “proof” that it’s not safe to share unless you are perfect.
Then one day you start a business, and in order to start making sales you have to start sharing parts of you that aren’t quite perfect. To fix things, you think that you have to learn/do/be more to become perfect. Only THEN will it be time to share.
How do you think that will work out?
Of course, this is a simple example.
To find your own examples, pay attention to the patterns that keep repeating in your life.
It’s the stuff you’ve been writing about in your journal for years that keeps happening over and over and you can’t seem to move beyond (ie. two steps forward then three steps back, barely having enough money to get by, relationship issues, feeling like an outsider, feeling invisible, never feeling successful enough, etc.).
When you get curious about the source of your patterns and stories, quite often it will lead you back to trauma.
How trauma patterns show up in your body
In addition to creating limiting beliefs, you can hopefully see how these emotional traumas begin to layer upon one another creating a physical sense of UN – SAFETY in our nervous system.
What happens on a physiological level (until we heal this trauma) is that each time we get into a situation that our body recognizes as being similar to one that’s happened in the past, our protective strategies automatically kick in to keep us safe.
Even if this current situation isn’t dangerous, or is only a mild level of discomfort, our body is responding to the original experience. Coping mechanisms like fight, flight, or freeze, are triggered. These are symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system.
These powerful protective strategies most likely saved us and made many things possible for us when we were younger.
But as we age, those strategies end up keeping us stuck.
These strategies aren’t bad, but our body gets tripped up and can’t differentiate between what happened then (when the trauma was first experienced by our system) and what is happening now (likely in an entirely different situation, on the surface).
So the rolodex immediately goes to the DANGER zone.
In this triggered response, our brain is unable to immediately access resources like creativity, complex decision-making, open-mindedness, and intentional choice. Instead, we are in reaction mode, which is very restricting.
This is clearly not an ideal way to live and work. It feels like a struggle. But, rather than trying to cut out these protective pieces, we need to see them and bring them into the circle – integrating them into our bodies.
Why trauma can be especially problematic for HSP and empaths
As an empath or highly sensitive person, our capacity to encounter triggers and continue on our work trajectory is less than the other 80% of folks who are not highly sensitive or empathic.
Our cup just generally tends to be fuller since most of us are experiencing the full spectrum of agitators in the world that “normal” folk don’t even notice.
Things like the lights are too bright, the TV is too loud, there are too many people talking at the same time, or the energy of the different applications open on our computer is draining. Perhaps
there are too many options for us to choose from, or we’re being pressed for time. Or we’re not taking time to get up and move enough, allowing ourselves to become ungrounded.
Each of these may be small inconveniences to most folks. But to the highly sensitive, these can be debilitating additions to other stressful events. Add underlying trauma patterns to the mix, and we can quickly feel completely overwhelmed and unable to bring our best to a given situation.
Why is trauma showing up as a problem now (after all these years)?
Life’s stressors can become grand activators. Since stress is cumulative, things that might have been doable for us previously reach the point where it’s just not possible anymore.
Our window of tolerance has become smaller. That tipping point may feel like it hits quite suddenly, throwing us immediately off track.
Unprocessed emotional trauma can become internalized as “I’m not good enough”. So, depending on how much awareness we have in regard to our self-talk, this might be adding to our stress levels without us realizing it.
In this state of reduced capacity, the idea that we “should” be able to cope with what’s going on or we “should” be back to business as normal are rather unreasonable expectations.
Yet, most of us have been taught to push through anyways. Unfortunately, this dysregulates our nervous system even further, creating an unhealthy and unsustainable cycle.
Aspects of business that might trigger past traumas
As an entrepreneur, there are so many day-to-day experiences that can activate the trauma response. After all, self-employment requires personal growth and risk, taking us out of our comfort zone.
Even if we don’t consciously connect the dots to a certain activity feeling unsafe, unconsciously, our body does. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A. van der Kolk goes into depth on this topic.
Some of the business pieces that can be very triggering are:
- the comparisonitis that comes from seeing others on social media
- rejection around sales opportunities
- the sound of crickets when we put out offers
- coming up with prices and asking people to pay us for our work
- shifting from one-off sessions to creating larger packages
- conversations when a client is coming up for renewal
- saying no, whether that be to work that isn’t aligned to us or a client who already feels like they will be challenging to work with
- feeling like we have to “fix” every issue our client comes with
- over giving to clients
- lack of boundaries around work
As you read that list of examples, notice, what happens in your body when you imagine each instance?
All these things, plus a whole host more that I haven’t named, can trigger our trauma response all through our subconscious.
There is no way we can think our way out of this and it is extremely difficult to even see these patterns without the help of a trained professional.
In fact, for many of us, trauma has led us to disconnect from our body so much that we no longer even notice the sensations.
But once our trauma response has been triggered, then that coping strategy of procrastination (must do laundry), or avoidance (cue Netflix binging), or some other form of sabotage comes in.
The solution here isn’t to cut out those aspects of ourselves (or shame them). Instead, the solution is to LOVE those parts into integration.
How to heal trauma (what to do about it)
Integration is about embodying new ways of being. That’s why the first thing I do when I start to work with a new client is to create a space of nervous system safety.
NO healing can STICK unless we have that sense of internal safety in our body.
My work is about supporting clients to safely move out of their head and into their body. To:
- learn how to bring their nervous system back into a regulated state so they can make healthy decisions in the here and now,
- feel and acknowledge their emotions, without judgment,
- connect back in to notice the physical sensations in their body,
- make connections between those physical sensations and their stories,
- release from their body what is no longer serving them,
- choose new personal truths that are empowering.
It is a physical shifting of energy. An awareness of the pain, stories, truth, gratitude, and joy. And it allows clients to transform the trauma patterns that have left them feeling “less than” into a sense of deep appreciation and trust in themselves that they’ve likely forgotten a long time ago.
What is trauma informed care/coaching?
Having that safety piece ALWAYS top of mind is why it’s important to work with a trauma informed coach or healing professional. Additionally, it’s beneficial as an empath or highly sensitive person to work with a coach who intimately understands the ordinary pressures on your nervous system (outside of trauma).
Very often, the minute my clients start to feel safe, all sorts of memories and experiences start flooding back. Rather than tackling each of these directly, most often we look for a common thread within a current situation. This approach is much easier on the nervous system.
Without that trauma-informed background, you can be pushed too far, put your nervous system into further distress, and recoil further into self-protection. This completely defeats the purpose and could make things worse.
How I help empath entrepreneurs with healing trauma patterns
Many of my clients have tried talk therapy in the past, with varied success. They are both surprised and relieved to know that our work together to heal trauma does NOT require digging into the details of the past.
It is about moving that stuck trauma energy OUT of the body so they can move on.
My clients also benefit from quiet solitude, spending time in nature, and limiting external inputs (like news, mindless scrolling on social media, etc.) that are overstimulating to their nervous system.
Seeking support to get unstuck
Healing trauma and the stories that you’ve been believing about yourself for too many years takes commitment. It’s not easy. There will be tears.
You will need to get comfortable with some discomfort.
But if you’re ready to release the layers and make your way to the other side, I am here to hold a safe, non-judgmental, loving container for your healing work.