When I was about five or six years old, I was with my family in a New Jersey mall, perusing the aisles of a card shop. The next thing I remember, I could not find my family anywhere; they had left the shop without me. I remember walking outside of the shop in a daze, trying to figure out where they went. I eyed the entrances of the stores nearby as well as the walkways, but still nothing. My body froze, as if time slowed down. My throat tightened and my vision narrowed. I could only see what was immediately in front of me. I began to walk in and out of the adjoining stores, holding back tears as I felt a surge of panic come over my body.
I don’t remember how long I was lost for, but I eventually reached a shop, went in and found them there browsing items of the store. I casually walked towards them, fighting back my tears at the shame of being forgotten and left. I surreptitiously inserted myself back into the scene, as if nothing had ever happened. I think it was more traumatic for me that they realized I was never missing in the first place. Anything could have happened. I could have wandered into the hands of the wrong person. The thought of that was terrifying.
Unfortunately, this same trauma would be re-triggered through my teenage years. My mother would forget regularly to pick me up from appointments. Sometimes I would find myself waiting outside alone at night for her to come. As this happened, my body would move into a freeze. I would find myself hardly able to speak. Instead of showing concern and remorse, my mother would lash out in anger at me, like adding salt to a wound. Every time I was forgotten, it would take me back to being that lost child in the mall.
In the field of all the possible traumatic and God-awful things that happen to children, this may seem inconsequential. My point in sharing this particular story is how a trauma from childhood can so fundamentally alter the nervous system response for decades of life, and show up in our relationships and in our leadership.
Our bodies keep score of our traumas. Subconsciously, we will keep recreating traumas in our lives until we heal them. My storybook is filled with endless tales of abandonment, mostly from choosing friends and sometimes lovers with which the wounds would be recreated. So how did I start to mend this wound that does not seem to go away? First, some context:
Our brains are wired for safety, connection and respect. The nervous system will do what it knows to feel safe. And when we don’t feel safe, connected or respected, we adapt accordingly into a fight, flight or freeze response.
So the trick is to open ourselves up to finding a different response to our trauma. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
What I learned is that your body has to literally FEEL it. Your nervous system has to actually FEEL another option is viable. Else you will just default down a past response pattern.
In my case, my challenge was to pattern a different response than just to shut down and go into fight, flight or freeze. As an example, a friend of mine unexpectedly abandoned me when I was in a most vulnerable state with my health. My nervous system went on overload. The tears flowed. I wanted to hide. After days of self-consolation, I told myself, “this is partly my trauma and I have to own it.” And I did the following:
1. I changed the way I looked at what was happening. I told myself my nervous system was on overload and is doing it’s damned best to protect me from harm. What this reframing did was to cut out the shame of my response. It allowed me to embrace my biological wiring to respond to the trauma; even if it’s not the response I had wanted to have. In short, I had compassion for myself and the young part of me that was hurting.
2. I gave myself context. When you are a child, something can feel so traumatic because you lack the context to understand why it may have happened. As adults, we have the benefit of understanding context. In my case, I stopped internalizing other people’s behaviors to make it mean something about me. Instead, I started to understand it was more about them. This was transformative growth for me.
3. I got present to what I was feeling physically. In working with a somatic coach, I got help to become present to what I was feeling. One thing I noticed was that my gums would get sore – really sore, likely from the inflammation of whatever stress hormones were being released into my system thinking about the incident. As well, one of the defining things about my particular trauma is the loss of my voice. I am unable to talk or express myself in the moment. With her skilled help, we explored finding a more grounded feeling in the body, and then exploring how I might respond from the space and place of feeling grounded. It has been one of the most transformative moments for me in my own healing. 
4. I practiced. Practice makes perfect. When we are re-patterning new ways to respond to old wounds that get triggered in us, repetition is our friend. Perhaps the universe will keep recreating the wound for us until we get that response pattern as a strongly defined neural superhighway in our brain.
The legacy of our childhood traumas shows up in us as adults and consequently, as leaders. We may not always be aware of what part of our life experience comes into play in our present moments. Being brave enough to name and delve into our traumas and heal them can result in more freedom, better relationships and better leadership down the road.
 I do not write to insist coaching is the answer to healing all childhood traumas that show up in us as adults. Certainly there are traumas so grave that require very different types of long term therapy. Many of my clients work with other providers in conjunction with their coaching to assist them with healing past traumas.
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