The awareness that as we lead and follow we are surrounded by hearts that are in various transitions of a “healing journey” is important. We all know that empathy is key to being an effective leader but we can add that its vital to being a good human!
A while back I had a team member who was diagnosed with an illness that shook her life up and her health began a downward spiral. Soon I felt overwhelmed as I didn’t know how to manage the bundle of varying emotions that came with her heartache and pain. The team assisted with her work load where needed but her pain was loud and sat as a tangible presence amongst us. Balancing handling her heart and well being and the hearts of the rest of the team was a steep learning curve. We were in it for the long haul. Somehow, we would make it through and help where we could. Some of the solutions included practical steps such as camping outside HR to address the fact that her medical cover would no longer be sufficient (this actually then ended up as payoff for the whole team as staff benefits were re-evaluated). The rest of the steps were rarely clearly defined. They mostly comprised of finding ways to support a heart that was angry, confused, frustrated and a mind and body in pain. The team were such superstars as rarely did they ever complain as we maneuvered through the landmines of varying emotions within her and ourselves. We all had to emotionally mature and learn to sit with pain. We learnt that any “lashing out” was rarely about us but more about the her pain speaking. Over time, she began accepting the diagnosis and began to ever so slowly realise that somehow, she was right where she needed to be to begin to heal. She was in a safe place.
Pain has a peculiar language and trauma even more so. As leaders, it is our job to be attentive to the heart signals being transmitted by our team members. This can only happen when we intentionally choose to offer the “gift of presence”. Sacrificially choosing to work on our empathy and listening skills by always choosing to listen to what is not necessarily being said.
I had never looked up the actual definition of trauma so here we go; according to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster”. Medical News today goes on to further explain: a person may experience trauma as a response to any event they find physically or emotionally threatening or harmful. There are several types of trauma, including:
· Acute trauma: This results from a single stressful or dangerous event.
· Chronic trauma: This results from repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events. Examples include cases of child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence.
· Complex trauma: This results from exposure to multiple traumatic events.
· Secondary trauma, or vicarious trauma. With this form of trauma, a person develops trauma symptoms from close contact with someone who has experienced a traumatic event
The article goes on to list what a person experiencing trauma may feel: anxiety, depression, numbness, guilt, hopelessness, irritability, denial, anger, fear, sadness, shame, confusion…”
Personally, I identified with the hopelessness in dealing with the long term, chronic trauma that resulted in and from sleep disorders and fatigue. Hopelessness is an extremely intangible but very real entity. It sits deep within your belly. I see it in people’s eyes quicker now. Pain recognizes pain. So, as we all to some level have experienced some form of trauma, I thought to jot down some things that have helped disperse the clouds of hopelessness, anger or despair that try to hover above and steal our joy and dreams.
1. Create “You” Time: I always come back to this. Create time to acknowledge, process and be. Whether through journaling, reading, walking…whatever it is. But as you process the pain, process the blessings too. A gratitude or thanksgiving list is always a good thing to jot down or verbally process as you take your stroll. This focuses the heart on the good and positive in the midst of the dark cloud that hovers above. Over time, the dark cloud begins to diminish, or at least seem less foreboding. Burying your head in the sand and pretending what you are feeling is not important is utterly useless. Playing possum won’t work either as the threat is internal and never goes away.
2. You Do You: One of the worst things you can do is compare your journey to another’s journey and how they “bounced back so well from their situation”. Putting on the “I am fine” mask all the time doesn’t help either. You’re not fine and that’s okay. Your human. Find safe spaces and people where you can lay down the mask and open your heart and begin to deal with what lies within. You do you boo.
3. Community: Identify those who bring life and those who suck life out of you. Allocate more time to the life givers, joy bringers and positive folk. Slowly weed out the rest. Time is too precious to hang out with negativity. If your work space is immensely draining, allocate time for “refreshing your soul”. Doing something that brings some level of joy or peace to your heart.
4. Be Real: Over time you have created coping mechanism to mask the pain and the issues from the pain. Do you hide in your work, drown your sorrows in inappropriate relationships (whether real partners or on screen), binge watch Netflix, binge drink, over eat, over sleep, overindulge in energy drinks to keep going? Whatever your potion, the journey to reducing its daily dose needs acknowledgement and accountability.
5. Dream Again: Whether through simple vision boarding, chatting to a close friend / safe person, journaling; Give yourself permission to dream again. In the midst of the internal chaos and “shatterdness” , your dreams still lay within, buried alive under the rubble of pain and disappointment. Begin to gather strength and permission to dig to find them.
6. Grow Spiritually. We are spiritual beings, allow yourself to go on a journey to find out why you were created, for what purpose and explore who God, the one Creator is to you. This brings hope as you begin to behold the reality of your uniqueness. That you are a one of a kind creation, created for such a time as this. This means you are prepackaged and specifically wired to exist in this time, in this world and that you carry solutions within you for this generation and generations to come. Growing spiritually strengthens you from the inside and begins to deal with the shaky foundations of your identity that have been shattered over time.
7. Take Time Out: Depending on the level of trauma experienced, please understand you cannot pretend nothing has happened and just move on. Get help! Seek out what works for you; one on one therapy, group therapy, online support groups, books, healing centres. I went away for one year to heal, learn and grow. Leaving my job was the best decision I made, and the hardest.
8. Get support: Find a friend or relative who can walk with you in the journey. I say journey, because it’s not a short stroll. Intentionally setup catchup times to chat. Chat on your fears, regrets, disappointments. Someone who can allow you to “just be” whilst allowing and encouraging you to “become”. Someone who can also pull you up from the comfortable pit you wish to slide back into when things feel overwhelming.
9. Find Fun: Intentionally seek fun out. Laughter and play heal. Find your fun! As adults, we forget to play. What did you love to do? Do you need to sign up for a painting class, join a hiking group, go for a coffee regularly with positive fun folk? Whatever it is. Find it. Do it.
The only reason my body shut down and I had to take time out from “normal” life was because I hadn’t addressed the signs as they popped up along the years. You don’t have to do this the hard way like I did. Though I know it still worked out awesomely, as I got to learn and grow; there’s a simpler way – Honour your body and soul and “live for an audience of One”.
Leading with integrity means being honest with yourself. Any unhealed trauma is a time bomb. If self-aware enough, you may get to choose when and how it explodes.