The experience is well captured in a searingly candid piece from the Guardian journalist Deborah Orr when she wrote about her own emotional issues:
“People tell me I’m “intimidating”. I’ve been told that for all my adult life. I’ve accepted it without understanding it, sometimes explaining what a shy child I was, how endlessly susceptible to bullying, in every context I ever found myself in. I’ve always been too scared really to question how it could be that other people saw me so differently to how I really felt (I even intimidated myself). I told myself it was just because I was someone from a working-class background in an upper-middle-class milieu. Anything to protect me from my secret shame – that I found everything intimidating. I find it hard to show that I’m hurting …Anything rather than acknowledge my debilitating fear, of the world and the people in it. I’m an idiot. Or I was.”
These common experiences have their roots in early development and childhood relationships. Our trauma biography may be multiple, such as is often the case with people who are unable to sustain employment for long or have recurrent problems with work. For many of us, however, the impact of our earliest experience is hidden from many in the outside world, showing itself at times of stress or through other recurrent survival behaviour.
We meet the trauma in the client and ourselves through our survival self and strategies ( concept described by Prof Franz Ruppert), our defensive systems. We meet it in the anxieties and difficulties in stress regulation, in relational problems with others and with work, in over-work or work avoidance, in the many distractions we get caught up in, in emotional pain, in aggression (overt or passive), in victim attitudes and in rescuing. Also in all those drivers described within Transactional Analysis including “I must be strong”. The survival self and strategies while developed to prevent us feeling deep emotional pain, do not help us live a full, healthy life. They bring exhaustion, illness, unhealthy habits (poor eating, smoking, drinking, drugs) and ultimately failing performance especially when in a job or context which is continually stimulating these survival strategies.
The nature of trauma and its impact on the individual and on their ways of relating is much misunderstood. We have found no coaching books with ‘trauma’ in the index and only a few therapy books that deal with the impact of early trauma on work behaviour. And yet we know how widely prevalent psychological trauma is. Inevitably we meet the trauma in the client and in ourselves at times in our work. How do we experience that and what do we do about it in the coaching?