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WHAT IS TRAUMA?

We all carry psyche-trauma to a certain extent.

We see the signs of trauma all around us – people living on the streets , people with addictions or mental health problem, knife crime by young gangs, and members of the armed forces returning from warzones. Although trauma is associated with each of these groups, they are rarely encountered in the coaching room. Yet many who come into coaching, both clients and coaches, including those who appear highly successful, are traumatised. The symptoms may be less intensive than in the examples above but none the less have a negative impact on individuals and those around them.

The primary cause of trauma is early childhood experience, including during the in-utero period. Using the term correctly helps us understand the impact of trauma on our bodies, our emotions, and our thought patterns. Importantly, it also provides a way to think about what is happening in the ‘here and now ’ for clients and coaches and how that might be connected to the ‘there and then’ of the past. When coaching clients say they want to change, shadows from the past may be part of what is preventing that change happening or may be driving the change wanted in unhealthy ways. 

 

Carrying psyche-trauma is part of the human condition – it is the extent of the fragmentation that varies from person to person. Thus, we all have a survival self and strategies we developed to cope with situations we could not handle at one point. The survival self will predominate more for some than others. It will also be more predominant if the environment in the ‘here and now’ mimics conditions in the ‘there and then’. It is a continuum with the survival self being highly predominant at one end of the scale and the healthy self being highly predominant at the other.

WHAT IS TRAUMA?

Trauma does not refer to a specific event. It is not the cause but the consequence of experience. The word trauma comes from the Greek word for wound, and it is thus the ‘wounds’ we are left with. Or as Natalia Rachel says: "Trauma is when a past experience of threat (that is over), is living and breathing in us now. It may affect us physically, emotionally, and relationally. Trauma is not a past event or relationship. It's how we are affected by it." 

Trauma results from experiences that are – or feel – life-threatening, and when there is no escape. The threat is such that the normal fight or fight response of the stress system ‘overheats’ and is thus unable to function. Instead, a freeze and numbing response takes over.

This sequence of responses has a lasting impact on our network of internal systems: emotions, nervous system (stress hormones), neurological neurological (brain development, memory, thought, perception) and bio-physiological processes. That is, it has a lasting impact on how we feel, experience, and respond to others, and how we think about and relate to ourselves and those around us. Our cognitive, emotional, and body systems are changed as part of the trauma. Trauma is a neuro-physiological-emotional networked process; it occurs within the body systems.

If an event is traumatizing or not very much depends on the context and our emotional resilience. Critical for our resilience are whether (as a child), we've had our three core emotional needs met: healthy boundaries, emotional safety (our nervous system being able to co-regulate with others and us learning to self-regulate our nervous system), feeling loved in our emotional and physical body. As a child, we are dependent on our parents or caregivers for our core needs to be met. However, as adults, we can learn to cultivate these resources and capabilities inside of us.

SOURCES

•Vaughan Smith, Julia. Coaching and Trauma: from Surviving to Thriving: Moving Beyond the Survival Self (Coaching in Practice Series). 2019

•Rachel, Natalia. Why Am I like This?: Illuminating the traumatized self. 2022

•Alex Howard, Creator of Therapeutic Coaching and Founder of The Optimum Health Clinic and Conscious Life: https://www.alexhoward.com/

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