The Unseen Impact of Trauma

When your team does encounter conflicting priorities between personal issues and business deadlines, consider what could be going on that contributes to job performance. There are many ways in which we are triggered by a comment from someone. Or a disagreeable body gesture from another. There are infinitely greater stressors we face that need to be met, so take a step back to consider how fast-paced life is now more than ever before. 

The reality is that the fight or flight response is there to protect us. Without it, we would not have evolved as the human species we are today. From our time as cavemen, we would not have survived and evolved into our current existence without that amygdala protecting us from the threat of everyday life we have today. We would be extinct already and replaced in the ecosystem.

No one wants to experience an amygdala hijack. Do they? Why would you want to experience all that comes with it unless you might be a thrill seeker? I admit, I love roller coasters and a similar feeling is had when experiencing the rush of adrenaline that goes along with such rides. Yet, when it comes to my day-to-day, seeking thrills is not my first focus. Relaxation and calm are what I desire most.

The contemporary lives we lead now are no match for what our ancestors, cavemen faced with animals ready to pounce on them at a moment’s notice. Yet, we still react to that prehistoric, roughly almond-shaped mass of gray matter at the base of our brainstem, that alerts us of lurking danger. The difference is that danger now comes in the form of someone losing their temper with us, causing us to respond aggressively. 

The coworker insists on talking to you when you are trying to concentrate, which triggers you to shout back at them. Consider your reaction when someone on the subway bumps you yet again when your fuse is already short, the weather is hot, you’re tired and frustrated and you’ve had enough! Then you lash out. Or the way a person is looking at you or something about them reminds you of the time you were molested or attacked. A flood of memories overtakes you and your reaction may seem foreign to others who do not share your reference to a violent act in your past.

These are some of the ways we experience that moment when our cognitive function is overridden and we react in such a way that could be avoided. Suppose we had another way to stop or reverse the fight or flight response and choose a different path.

Recognizing the impact of trauma in the workplace is crucial for fostering a supportive and inclusive professional environment. Employees’ mental and emotional well-being directly affects their productivity, engagement, and overall job satisfaction. Ignoring the effects of trauma can lead to or compound difficulties in the workplace.

Leadership positions come with added responsibilities and stressors. Trauma can have a profound impact on leaders, affecting their ability to make decisions, manage teams, and maintain a positive organizational culture. Leaders who experience trauma may also face challenges in balancing personal well-being with professional obligations.

Some of these areas affected by trauma include:

  • Decision-making – Leaders are expected to make timely and effective decisions, and trauma may hinder this ability, resulting in missed opportunities.
  • Team dynamics – Leaders may struggle to provide the necessary support and guidance to their teams.
  • Organizational culture – Leaders are the face of the organization and their behavior guides the culture of the organization.  They may portray an image with unintentional consequences.

An individual who is striving for a leadership position may lack confidence or even unwittingly sabotage their chances at a role and become baffled by their own behavior.  A coach, therapist, and self-exploration provide valuable insights.