It would be wonderful if all our experiences were happy and joyful and nothing bad ever happened to us.
Of course, that’s a pipe dream; bad things do happen and we often get hurt.
Yet what if we could change how we experienced the traumatic or hurtful things in our past.
What if we could give them a new meaning that supports what we want to achieve in our life and business?
Have you ever experienced viewing something one way, and then in light of new information, completely changing your view and what that means for you?
Imagine you were walking down the street, minding your own business, and from out of nowhere a man barges in front of you and bumps your arm so you feel a momentary pain.
You might feel a mixture of emotions: shock, annoyance, perhaps a little fear, depending on where you are and how sensitive you’re feeling.
In that split second, you might have a whole script running through your head about how people should look where they’re going and be more careful.
Until you notice that the man is carrying a white stick with a ball on the end, and he’s moving that stick from side to side as he walks past you.
When he first bumped you, you didn’t know he was blind.
But once you realise that, your emotions soften and the story you were telling yourself changes.
The same thing happens with other things that are traumatic to us.
We humans do this all the time.
Human beings take meaning and form beliefs out of traumatic incidents
We can make any incident traumatic if we give it an unresourceful meaning.
These incidents can range from very fleeting, with no lasting damage, to a deeper more lasting effect that changes how we live our lives.
For example, in her first term at University, my daughter rang me one day in tears, telling me she couldn’t ring her doctor because I hadn’t paid her phone bill.
When I dug a little deeper, it emerged that she had dialled the doctor’s number and then received an automated message telling her she’d reached her capped minutes on her phone contract.
In pain with a severe sore throat, and unable to use her phone to call the doctor and get relief, she had then told herself a story: it was all my fault because I hadn’t paid the phone bill, and what a horrible, neglectful mother I am.
The facts told a completely different story.
It was a genuine error at the phone company that easily resolved itself.
Yet the meaning she gave to that incident caused her to feel angry, neglected and abandoned in that moment.
This happens all the time for all of us, without us being consciously aware of it.
We experience an incident, and then we create a story around what that means for us, and particularly in relation to the people involved.
We take meaning and form beliefs from everything that happens to us from the time we are very young and that continues throughout our lives.
Human beings like to live in a space that has a certain order or comfort zone
I call this the status quo.
When that status quo gets disrupted that’s when trauma happens.
So what is trauma ?
We assume that trauma is a sudden dramatic incident, like the death of someone close or being involved in a serious accident.
We think of lasting deep trauma such as childhood sexual abuse, or being a victim of war or witness to genocide.
That sort of trauma you can’t fix on your own, and you need professional help such as specialised counselling or psychotherapy.
As a coach, I can help with trauma, but there’s certain things that I can’t help with, and that’s when I’d advise someone to seek a deeper therapeutic support than I can offer.
Trauma doesn’t have to be dramatic and ‘obvious’ from the outside.
While there is “real” trauma in the world, and that needs to have proper respect and consideration, it’s not the only kind of trauma we can experience.
Anything in our life can be traumatic, and have a lasting impact, if we perceive it and remember it in a way that is not helpful for us.
We can make anything traumatic by the way we perceive it.
Trauma can be losing your job.
Trauma can be not having had the right support from your mother when you were growing up.
Trauma can be feeling like your father would have preferred to have a son.
Especially when we’re sensitive, or feeling ‘different’ in some way, we can be traumatized by events that others may not even notice.
This is the trauma I mean when I talk about ‘trauma’.
Ordinary Trauma happens to all of us.
From incidents that happened when we were young such as
- playground bullying,
- parental neglect, or
- moving home a lot as a child and struggling to maintain friendships
- workplace bullying,
- a relationship breakup, or
- not being able to conceive a child naturally
These, and many other incidents, can feel as traumatic to us as anything we might feel living in a war zone.
And it’s ok to say it.
“You have the right to feel traumatized by things that may seem like ‘nothing’ to other people, yet have had a deep and lasting impact on you”
And you have the right to seek help for that trauma – you don’t need to keep holding onto it.
The meaning we make from an incident determines its impact on us.
For example, if you were repeatedly bullied and teased as a child and you had no-one to stick up for you, you might make that mean that
- you’re not completely safe anywhere,
- it’s not ok to be different
- you must hide who you really are to fit in
As you grow up and become an adult, if you still hold those beliefs, then you might find yourself
- Not putting yourself forward for promotions at work
- Choosing a job or career that doesn’t draw attention to you personally
- Struggling to grow your business to the next level because you’re procrastinating and unwilling to stretch to a bigger arena of visibility
To understand the meaning we made, we need to go back and examine what actually happened.
Just like the story of the blind man bumping into you, and my daughter’s phone call, there may be facts surrounding what happened that you’re not aware of.
And when you know what those facts are, you can change the meaning you take from it.
And that changes everything.
When we understand the meaning we gave to a traumatic incident, we can change how it affects our life.
Our minds are amazing things, and we can revisit events and change their meaning through the power of memory and imagination.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) gives us a set of tools that allow us to examine in tiny detail how we perceived an incident, and to change the impact it has on us.
Several years ago a client came to me (I’ll call her Susan) with a classic case of how we can make huge meaning from a tiny detail in an incident that happened in our past.
Susan grew up in a loving, stable family, where she felt valued and cared for.
She had gone to law school only to please her parents.
She hated studying law but she carried on doing what was expected of her.
She buried any thoughts of doing what she really wanted, which was to go to art school and become a designer.
Throughout her life her mother’s disapproval weighed heavy on her heart.
She completed her law degree and went into corporate life, and all seemed well on the outside.
But on the inside, she felt ashamed that she hadn’t stood up for what she really wanted.
She constantly felt like something was missing and that she was hiding who she really was.
Eventually she did become a designer, she went after what she wanted but somehow she couldn’t make it work.
When she came to me she had launched her own interior design business, but was struggling to get it off the ground.
During one of our sessions, Susan recounted the story of an incident with her mother, when she tried to tell her mother she didn’t want to study law anymore.
She described a disapproving ‘look’ in her mother’s eye which said a thousand words.
She wasn’t aware of it, but in the blink of an eye, her belief system was telling her
- It’s not ok for me to do what I want in life
- If I tell the truth about what I really want, my mother won’t love me anymore.
- I can’t do what I really want if I don’t have my mother’s love.
That traumatic incident, and the beliefs she’d formed as a result, had affected her entire adult life.
These subconscious beliefs were what kept her from being successful.
Those beliefs showed themselves in her everyday actions.
- She was afraid to do marketing for her design business.
- She was procrastinating, and getting constantly distracted.
- She was wasting a lot of time and energy, for very little result.
Even though her design business was what she’d always wanted, she was sabotaging her own efforts because of what was going on in her subconscious.
Transformation can happen very quickly in light of new information
In changing the way an incident affects our life we need to know
1. What happened and who was there
2. What exactly you experienced
3. What you would RATHER have experienced if you could go back and change things
In one of our sessions, I took Susan back to that incident, and I helped her experience it differently.
I helped her to step into her mother’s shoes and see it from her mother’s view point.
I asked her to recount to me what was going on in her mother’s mind when she gave that ‘look’.
I enabled her to imagine the incident differently, AS IF her mother had been loving, and approving of her choice to stop doing law and pursue her passion for design.
I enabled her to imagine and experience what it felt like to receive love, acceptance and continued approval for doing the thing she really wanted to do.
And that simple exercise turned everything around within one hour.
In the beginning I described how we take meaning from everything that happens to us, and that some experiences can be unnecessarily unpleasant because of the meaning we give to them.
The meaning we give incidents can change when new facts come to light; such as with the blind man example, and my daughter and her phone drama.
I shared how what we understand as ‘trauma’ needs to be expanded; trauma is not just death, war and human atrocities.
What might seem like innocuous events to others, can be hugely traumatic for us because of the negative meaning we attach to them.
Traumatic incidents become a long term problem when we don’t get the chance to change the meaning we gave to them.
Yet when we understand the meaning we gave, we can quickly change that meaning in the light of new information (and that can come from our imagination!)
When we have new information, we can change how that incident affects our life, in miraculous ways!
That client ‘Susan’ actually exists and this is what she told me after that session.
“Letting go of the feeling of disappointment and frustration about my past was a huge relief to me, and that allows me to move forward in my new path, without being burdened by this.
It astonishes me how suddenly these feelings are gone!
I certainly wasn’t expecting this to happen!
Ann makes the whole process feel safe and easy – you can be yourself and just see what happens.
Thank you, Ann, it’s been an amazing experience – almost like magic!“
If you recognise yourself in this, and it’s something you’ve been struggling with, get in touch with me.
I can help you ask the right questions, and find the right answers so you can stop procrastinating and over-working, and finally get the relief that you’re looking for.
Your past does not have to hold you back.
You can turn everything around, and finally remove that barrier, so you can have the successful business you want AND a work life balance that meets your needs.
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