Living and Breathing Hope
I wanted to feel better, that’s all.
That’s all, and it’s everything, isn’t it? For as long as I could remember, I longed for experiences of myself, and of life, that felt different.
I wanted to feel better (safe, secure, at ease) in my skin.
I wanted to break the legacy of addiction and violence in my family.
I wanted to be a good enough mother.
I wanted to feel safe inside of relationships with other people.
I wanted to feel alive, not slightly distanced from myself and life. Hell, I wanted to be able to feel, not freeze.
I wanted to know how to feel joy.
I wanted to trust myself, and life.
I wanted to make a meaningful contribution through my work.
I wanted to feel the wholeness that I knew, without a doubt, was at the core of my being.
This, and more, is my life today.
When I talk about trauma, I get excited — why? Because what I know is that surfacing, and bringing light, to the effects of trauma is not about giving up or being a victim — it takes incredible strength and vulnerability to open to the truth and own it. Ultimately, naming and healing trauma is about living, and breathing, hope.
No one talks about how the long-term effects of trauma can linger and prevent women from shining light in the world and making a powerful contribution. But it does — it’s at the heart of so much suffering and pain for women who long to do meaningful, life-changing work. However, as Dr. Dan Siegel says, “We have to name it to tame it.”
We are at a point in our collective story that we are really ready to recognize the impact that toxic stress and trauma has had on us individually and as a society. It wasn’t until a wise therapist I hired in my 20’s named trauma as the root cause of what was keeping me from what I wanted, that I felt truly empowered to heal. It wasn’t until I named trauma as having an impact on my work that I was able to unravel the residual effects of said trauma and truly begin doing the work I know I’m here to do.
Naming our wounding is an act of living and breathing hope.
For anyone who knows me, you know I am a perpetual optimist. I believe in myself, I believe in the goodness of humanity. I believe in our capacity to heal and to rise and to create in powerful, meaningful ways. Inside of my optimism is also a deep understanding that to be the women we are here to be, we must have the courage to turn and face our demons. To reach the full expansion of our light, we must be at ease in the dark. We must be willing to do the hard work of healing — not fixing, but healing.
And, when I say healing, I mean being truthful with a capital T and in that truth, being exquisitely kind to oneself in embracing the full catastrophe of being a fragile, and strong, human (not indulgent, not destructive, but truly kind and loving in a fiercely protective way). I mean doing the hard work of knowing yourself and what you need. I mean honoring the evolution of being who you are in every moment. I mean healing as continuing to be honest in the ways you show up for you, your life, and your work.
The only way out is through
I say this all. the. time. To my daughter, when she is struggling with a tough math problem or a challenging issue with friends. To my clients, who are struggling and want to get to the good stuff NOW, thankyouverymuch. I say it to myself when I am really wishing for things to be easier. The only way out is through. To stay with ourselves is the deepest healing. It is the path to hope.
The long-arm of trauma for many women in business is the confounding barrier it creates that says, “Go no further or you will be hurt — or worse.” It is terrifying. It makes no sense. It is the tender edge, it is the place where fear is amplified beyond what seems normal. It is the space where women often turn back, giving into the overwhelming sense that they simply cannot go any further.
At the same time, we are told in personal development to JUST DO IT. That it’s simply outdated beliefs that need to be addressed or fear or karmic energy patterns or whatever. This isn’t bad information. It can be all those things AND, if (as a woman who is experiencing the residual effects of trauma) you are unable to get over it, or think a new thought, or heal the karmic pattern or take a different action — shame ensues — often unintentionally adding a new layer of traumatic impact, unconsciously affirming that moving forward is too dangerous.
Let’s Take a Different Approach
Not every woman who has experienced trauma experiences long-term effects, however, it is worth it to stay curious and ask the question — do you believe that your nervous system on high alert, or trauma, is playing a part in how you (or your clients) are, or aren’t, living life? Building a business of meaning?
If the answer is yes, I invite you to use these questions as a place to begin and, as an important consideration if you have clients who seem unable to move in the direction of their dreams. Consider that it isn’t a personal failing, but instead the wisdom of the trauma-body keeping your clients (or you) safe.
- What will it take to create a sense of safety? Establishing a sense of safety and presence is vital for women who have experienced trauma. Running a business will, at least for the first few years, be activating a sense of being in danger — it brings up fear of failure, financial concerns, it amplifies any wounding we have around using our voice. The opportunities to feel terrified are vast and endless. So creating a sense of safety, grounding and being present to what is happening right here and right now is incredibly important. Routines and practices of self-care are not a “nice to have” they are necessary for women who have experienced trauma to be able to feel good and thrive. Cultivating safe relationships in which to be supported in expressing what is true is paramount. Devising consistent and stable systems and foundations will help to soothe the frayed nervous system.
- How can I be unfailingly on the side of non-harming? To push yourself, or a client, beyond the comfort zone when trauma is a factor is, simply put, harmful. Moving more slowly, and with incredible compassion for the trauma that might be activated, is the fastest way forward. This includes monitoring internal language and the way that we speak to, and about, ourselves (or watching for dismissive or harsh words in your clients about themselves). Moving at your own pace, or the pace of your client may seem incredibly ineffective by societal standards. However, the pace that society moves at and insists on is inherently traumatic for most people already. For those who have body psyches that respond with fear more readily — move slower than slow. Not only is it affirming to acknowledge the impact of trauma with kindness, but it’s healing, and it creates a foundation of strength, authority, and success to move at a deliberately slow pace.
- What strengths can I draw on? I suspect that one reason it’s so difficult to talk about trauma is that it goes against what I call our cowboy conditioning — that stiff upper lip, “I’m fine”, boot-strapping, mentality. I get it. However, what I know for sure is that every woman who has experienced trauma is incredibly strong and has amazing internal resources that are moving in the direction of safety, healing, and vibrancy. It is so important to remember the strength that you possess and the innate instinct for healing that you have shown throughout your life. So it’s possible to talk about the impact of trauma, and at the same time acknowledge your strength — not just acknowledge it, but call on it. To recognize and honor the strength you possess and to build on it, to utilize that strength as you move forward in new ways.
You are invited: live and breathe hope, sister.
I’m not a therapist and I don’t play one on TV, but I am committed to making a meaningful contribution to creating the world I wish to live in. Naming, and working intentionally, with our individual and collective wounding is a pathway to living and breathing hope. I want to live in a world where more people are celebrating the strength of experiencing post-traumatic growth. I want to live in a world where our organizations (micro, small and large) aren’t being impacted by toxic stress and hidden trauma. But mostly, what I want is for you to shine. For you to feel empowered to move forward at your own pace, into the fullness of who you are — beyond the trauma.
I would love to support you in your own vision of living and breathing hope, my sister.
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