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January 13 2024 Vennessa McConkey

How Childhood Trauma Affects Your Career

Tell me if you have been here before....

You are at work and your boss gives you some not-so-good feedback on your performance on a project. You have this overwhelming feeling of anger, like "How dare he? I worked my butt off on that project, and I was the one doing most of the work!". After bouts of anger inside your head, those come out in "not-so-professional" words to others in the workplace (aka gossip) and the anger festers inside of you. 

Ever wonder why you feel this way and act this way after negative feedback?

Typically, in my personal and professional experience, this is rooted in childhood abuse - when you were a child, something happened to you and you told a trusted adult. That trusted adult didn't believe you and didn't protect you; therefore, you started to stuff feelings and didn't tell "trusted" adults anymore about problems you were experiencing. 

Here's the thing: TRUST is literally a matter of life and death for a child. And if that child experiences abuse (physical/emotional/verbal), neglect, or substances in their home, they learn early that they can't trust people around them. This leads to not trusting colleagues, employees, and superiors (questioning all they do and say), and trusting them is pivotal in completing projects. 

And then, if you can't trust those in your workplace, what happens? Your career suffers (you become "stuck") and you are highly likely to burn-out because you are trying to do it all (which is what victims of abuse do to maintain some control). 

When you, as a child, experience trauma/abuse, you tend to not trust your own judgement. This lack of self-trust shows up as imposter syndrome. I've seen incredibly successful leaders who grew up in dysfunctional homes, come to me with feelings of "not deserving" their positions or further success. It's sad to watch, but even worse to experience. 

Unresolved trauma means you aren't bringing the BEST person God designed to the workplace, leading to career stagnation, burnout and lost opportunities. Especially women because they are, by nature, more nurturing and want to please and make a difference in the workplace - but forget to care for themselves. 

Think about this: HIGH STRESS SITUATIONS TRIGGER STRONG EMOTIONAL RESPONSES IN THOSE WITH UNRESOLVED TRAUMA.

Ever see someone at work just blow up? Or act like the person at the beginning of this post? Well, we spend most of our days at work, and where do we experience the most stress typically? At work. If your trauma is unresolved, a stressful interaction at work can be the catalyst of an outburst that can damage your work relationships and your perception as a leader. Nobody is proud of having a meltdown at the office...which carries over into our home-life too.

Resolving Trauma Is Possible

The path to designing the best YOU is paved with doing the hard, hard, hard work required to deal with your unresolved trauma. The first thing I tell my clients to do (outside of lab testing) is to identify their triggers. When you are reasonably upset in proportion to something that happened, that is not a trigger. Being triggered looks more like:

  • Feeling out-of-proportion anger, anxiety or stress. If a colleague comes to you and asks, “Are you OK?” after you’ve displayed a strong emotional response, don’t ignore that; explore it.
  • Actively avoiding certain things. If you’re consistently avoiding locations, people or situations that make you feel unsteady, that’s a sign you may be triggered.
  • You suffer from physical signs of stress and negative emotions. Stress-based illnesses such as panic attacks, fatigue, chest pains, gut issues, headaches, etc. are typically signs that you’re dealing with unresolved trauma (the body keeps score!).

Consider Therapy

The best thing you can do to work through unresolved trauma is to work with a trained, licensed therapist. While it may feel good to talk to your friends, they don’t have the training necessary to truly help, and healing your trauma is definitely something you want done right. Friends mean well, but can also project their own opinions and insecurities and experiences onto you.

Self-Care Is Not A Luxury

The new year is here, and many people have made promises to ourselves that we’ll do better in 2024. Make sure to be more intentional about self-care. Self-care isn’t just about bubble baths and massages. It’s about taking care of yourself inside and out. Add journaling, books, group coaching to help you heal and time for yourself to your list of resolutions.

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First

You can’t be your best self professionally or in your home, if you’re pouring from a cup that’s been cracked by trauma. It’s ok to have been through and going through what you are. You aren't broken and didn't deserve the trauma that happened to you, but it's important to acknowledge when you are not okay. In fact, it’s the only way you CAN get better both in and out of the workplace. 

If you are looking for assistance to leveling up your career but feel stuck because of health issues and past traumas, BOOK A CALL to see how we can help!

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