The You in Us–how to overcome emotional trauma and elevate your leadership
The stories we tell ourselves can either liberate or enslave us. Whether we see it or not, our life is guided by a narrative that we either write for ourselves or is written for us by others. In Courage to Heal, author Brené Brown says that “when we work from a place that say’s “I’m enough”, we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”
For decades I let the opinions of others shape my sense of self. As a child I was queer, curious and creative – an easy target for bullies ranging from schoolyard drama to menacing authority figures who ordered me to conform against my will. “You’re hopeless, Stephen”, “you’ll never succeed”, “you’re gay”, “who do you think you are?” The constant barrage of criticism destroyed all innocence and self-confidence.
Like brainwashing, the poison of people’s opinions only has power over us if we agree. In my situation, it gave rise to a flaming inner critic, self-loathing, and debilitating imposter syndrome that paralysed me personally and professionally. I became a ‘master of denial’ and hid behind my ability to wing-it, and when things didn’t go to plan, I would blame my parents for their lack of developmental guidance and emotional safe harbouring. After all, it is much easier to point the finger than face our demons and take responsibility for who we are. Years later, I had a life-changing insight – if you own yourself, you can be anyone.
If you own yourself, you can be anyone
Oftentimes the best parts of us – our instincts, gifts and innate potential – become suppressed through emotional trauma. Whilst some trauma situations are more difficult to navigate than others, if we allow trauma to define us, we ‘pathologise’ obedience and give up on self-actualisation, resigned to a path of least resistance. I believe people do this because it is easier to deny or avoid painful feelings and the anxiety that often accompanies self-determination. In other words, we follow a path laid out for us rather than make choices of our own.
Every human being will encounter trauma at some point in their lifetime. From one-time, seemingly insignificant events, to ongoing relentless stress – trauma results in a myriad of self-destructive habits and beliefs if unresolved. If you’ve experienced an event that has you feeling helpless or out of control, or become aware of childhood trauma that is limiting your growth – don't minimise the events but rather, work towards putting the trauma into perspective and seek help from a trusted friend, colleague, or therapist.
Are you a shadow of who you really are or could become?
Through my own development, and the many people I’ve helped find freedom from self-sabotage, I’ve learned traumatic experience is often driven by avoidance of one’s core self, memories and emotions. In fact, a tell-tale sign you might be suffering from unresolved trauma is difficulty remaining present with self and others. As I’ve shared previously, being aware in the moment is key to disrupting negative thinking and patterns of behaviour that undermine us. Ultimately, we can let trauma define who we are, or find ways to process, reconcile and integrate it into our history and psychology so that it doesn’t hurt us anymore.
Here’s the thing: people’s opinions aren’t truth – they’re just opinions. The inner critic is a voice in your head you can learn to silence. Whether you house a self-defeating mindset, avoid taking action, hide from emotions, abuse drugs and alcohol, self-harm, or commit social suicide – the invitation is to open your mind and feel the love, the sadness, the excitement and the anger, and re-write the narrative for your life.
It requires an extraordinary amount of courage to face trauma and sit with the emotions as they move through us, because oftentimes it is very painful. Importantly, there is no fast-track to personal evolution – only time and stillness can help you access that inner being. The good news is you're not alone, and the authentic, powerful version of you will greet you on the other side of the experience.
Until next time,