The word “trauma” gets thrown around a lot but what does it really mean and how can it affect you? I recently had something come up for me that exposed some trauma I hadn’t dealt with, so this seemed like a relevant time to talk about childhood trauma.
What is Trauma?
The Oxford Dictionary defines trauma as “A physical injury or wound, or a powerful psychological shock that has damaging effects”. The Greek word quite literally translates to “wound”.
One week before my birth, my mother turned 18 years old. Her mother had died, and she lived with two brothers and her father who knew nothing of her pregnancy. She was young and had no nurturing support. Despite wanting to keep me, my mother felt that adoption was her only option.
At six weeks of age, after being put up for adoption, my medical records read: “a perfectly healthy baby went into a coma”. The parents that had been lined up for my adoption couldn’t take me home and I was left with the nursing team to recover.
Was that trauma at six weeks of age? Yes, it absolutely was. Although my brain wasn’t fully developed, the amygdala (whom I call the CEO of all emotional content) certainly was. While my pre-frontal cortex was still developing (along with other parts of the brain) and I was unable to comprehend the full story, my amygdala kept a score of how I felt being left alone.
Impact of childhood trauma in later life
I was fortunate that the nursing “sister” (now called a NUM) organised an adoption to friends of hers. A beautiful older couple who hadn’t been able to conceive a child themselves. I grew up with parents who taught me how to live, love, be kind and generous and all my foundational values came from them. I loved them very much.
How did that early trauma impact me as a developing adult?
Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. speaks in his book “The Body Keeps a Score” (2014) about the imprint of non-conscious emotions being stored in our bodies. These emotions can surface throughout our lives.
At 20 years of age, I discovered that I had been adopted. My surfacing emotions were ones of abandonment and needing to find my place in the world.
I have done a lot of work around this childhood trauma and still occasionally find myself triggered unexpectedly. It’s impossible to know how many decisions I’ve made or reactions I’ve had that were related to this event without me knowing it when it hasn’t in fact been part of my daily conscious thought.
If you or your employees have unresolved childhood trauma, perhaps that could explain some situations that have arisen in the workplace? As a leader you are not expected to resolve such unexpected reactions or behaviours, just to have an understanding that their behaviour may have been prompted or triggered by an internal, unconscious thought.
Is unresolved trauma holding you back from unlocking your brain potential?
Your childhood trauma may not resemble mine at all, however, increasing your self-awareness and taking notice of your “blocks” in life is something I urge you to do. It can unearth things that have been holding you back from releasing the emotion around it. It could be life-changing for you!
If you are experiencing unresolved issues, I highly recommend contacting Sal from Creative Therapies who is a trauma expert and can help you deal with your own childhood trauma. Sal has helped me and I do not consider myself ‘abandoned’ today.
For more information regarding healing your childhood trauma, I highly recommend this fantastic article by Psychology Today.