To have ongoing success in business, you need to have a mind that is adapted for success: clear, creative, adaptive, resilient, and always ready for the unexpected. It’s not difficult to imagine how a traumatic event can impact this peace of mind. An overly harsh parent, a tumultuous divorce, the loss of a loved one, or being part of the 9/11 disaster may all prove to be difficult to get over and are, therefore, distracting, disappointing, depressing, or anxiety-provoking.
While you might imagine that “trauma” is a personal thing and unrelated to business success, remember that the brain you have at home is the same one you take to work. You might be able to switch off your conscious thoughts, but the impact of trauma is largely unconscious. In 2016, business futurist Bob Johansen explained that untreated trauma will have a major impact on the business environment, especially for those who were 23 years old or younger in 2019.
That’s why addressing trauma is an important business concern — it can impede your progress. Below are a few common instances in which I have seen trauma impact my clients’ businesses and how facing those traumas helped them find success.
Examine Your Regrets
In my coaching and clinical practice, I often hear clients complain that they are not making headway with their business goals. It’s not for lack of effort. Even diligent, focused, determined individuals spend much of their time spinning their wheels, feeling frustrated that they are not reaping the rewards of their successes.
Many people do not realize that unconscious goals compete with conscious ones. Although you might be determined to succeed, in reality, your brain might construct a barrier to this unconsciously. Sometimes, our own regretful actions may be traumatic when they are unaddressed.
So examine your regrets. Write them down. Then, plan to manage them in the most effective ways. Sometimes, that involves seeking forgiveness. Most often, it’s about forgiving yourself and learning to move on. While discussing your regrets is sometimes helpful, it is not always necessary. Couples therapy can help you decide about this.
For example, I once saw the female partner in a couple for several years before she started to talk about her infidelity. When she did, she was surprised to find feelings of regret, sadness, and even disappointment with her spouse. As she became more comfortable with her range of feelings, she found the motivation to deal with rejections in her business and found the confidence to make slight adjustments that allowed her to build and sell her business for a handsome sum of money.
Identify Generational Trauma
Extensive research demonstrates that trauma in parents might be passed on to their children. Although parents might try their hardest, their pain, sadness, and discontent might be stressors that can even change their children’s genes. Even when parents appear to be normal, their trauma can be felt by their children, and their children appear to be broken.
The impact of trauma might also be passed on through multiple generations. In a study of mice, trauma was passed down to the fourth generation. Depressive-like behaviors are passed on to the offspring until the third generation, and glucose dysregulation and risk-taking are passed on until the fourth generation via males. This effect of passing on the trauma has also been seen in humans.
Identify traumas of earlier generations. Violence, abuse, genocide, or poverty might have taken a toll. Then, ask yourself whether any of these aftereffects exist in your life. Do you startle easily without reason? Do you get up anxious for no reason? Often, we neglect to benefit from integrating loved ones because their pain threatens our well-being. As a result, we distance ourselves from them.
For instance, a female client of mine had a mother who had been abused as a child. This had also occurred in prior generations. She took this in but insulated herself in a cocoon of sensibility. However, not allowing her anger, fear, and sadness to be integrated into the rest of her emotional power or “apparatus” took away the inner coherence that she needed to have peace of mind.
Over time, she learned that her negative emotions would not kill her and that she didn’t have to act on her anger. Instead, she found a way to integrate this by talking to loved ones and eventually deciding to be in therapy. When she did, she suddenly started to have insights that allowed her business to boom.
Free Your Mind
Many people who want to succeed at their jobs cannot identify their traumas. They have constructed an internal narrative that they had normal childhoods, and they just feel stuck. However, what they do not realize is that subtle parts of our psyche are made of up symbols, metaphors, and snippets of memories that psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion called beta elements. These elements can be arranged intrapsychically in ways that prevent forward progress.
In the brain, the hippocampus — the long-term memory integrator — can integrate these symbolic fields. When it does, it’s as if your brain takes a huge sigh of relief and you can move on. However, even when there is no history of trauma, these elements might be left floating around. The image of a teacher screaming, the feeling of loss after your first rejection, and the smell of pineapples that reminds you of your grandmother’s death might all coalesce to form a formidable barrier.
While therapy can help with this, you can also help these elements come together by building periods of unfocus into your day. In my book “Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind,” I describe various ways you can build mind-wandering into your day. To get a start, try free association through expressive writing. It will help your mind unearth those hidden symbols so you can make contact with them, think about them, and put them back in your mind, out of your way.
An entrepreneur I once saw did this for three months and had a major breakthrough in his business. It came unexpectedly, but when it did, he fired a team member who had been slowing things down and hired someone who was more on board with his business goals. This new member helped him execute on his plan by freeing up his mind from trivial things.
Of course, healing trauma is not as straightforward as these method outlines may imply. However, my firm belief is that businesses are more likely to succeed when trauma is hypothesized, acknowledged, explored, and dealt with.
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