Continuing in this series about the personality, we explore the concept of trauma in a person’s history and how that influences the personality. In this episode, we will discuss:
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How to Overcome Personal Trauma
Debra Maldonado, Robert Maldonado
Debra Maldonado 00:01
Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions.
Robert Maldonado 00:04
Debra Maldonado 00:05
I am Debra Maldonado, and I'm here with Dr. Rob. We are going to continue our personality series. What are we talking about today, Rob?
Robert Maldonado 00:17
Last time we talked about personality tests and a little bit of testing. Today we like to talk about trauma, and how it plays into assessment, how we think about it. What does coaching have to do with it? The decisions we had to make in developing our coaching program.
Debra Maldonado 00:43
We're going to talk about our approach to how someone can overcome trauma in their life, and also when it's appropriate for coaching and when it's not, how to navigate your way through it, whether you are a coach or someone who has experienced trauma. Check in with yourself and our recommendation for how to approach it in an empowering way. What is trauma? How would you define trauma?
Robert Maldonado 01:14
We can think of it as a spectrum. Because not all trauma is the same obviously, somebody that goes through a war, or is tortured in a conflict setting, that trauma is not the same as someone who perhaps loses a parent and goes through a difficult period in their life.
Debra Maldonado 01:36
Or gets bullied at school. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, if you want to check out their website is the nationalcouncil.org, they talk about how to manage trauma. Their research shows that 70% of adults have experienced some kind of traumatic event in their life. It's very common to have it, but what you were telling me earlier is that it's common to experience it, but not common to get help, like most people don't seek help.
Robert Maldonado 02:06
Unfortunately, that's important to understand, that as a nation, as a world, we need to have that conversation of what should people do when they experienced trauma, but often, the systems for helping people heal from trauma and go through therapies are not there.
Debra Maldonado 02:30
With the internet now, everyone's an expert. There's a lot of information about trauma, especially now, it's just seems like every time I go through my Facebook feed, there's someone who has an answer to it. We wanted to tell our approach to it. When you're talking about severe trauma, say, they were at a war or they witnessed a parent die in front of them, or something traumatic happened in front of them, or something happened to them, like severe abuse, that wouldn't be something that coaches would work with to treat. But it's something that we should all know about, we should all know that these things happen to people.
Robert Maldonado 03:17
From our perspective, that would not be an appropriate approach to helping somebody with severe trauma. There are very good therapies and people that specialize. They train really hard for years and years on how to help people with their trauma. Those are the people that should be sought out when someone is looking for therapy.
Debra Maldonado 03:46
One of the things we talk about with coaching is this idea that there's this line of normal functioning. The difference between coaching and therapy is that in therapy we're assuming there's some kind of dysfunction, a person has PTSD or even depression. They're not really functioning at that level, and the therapist’s job is to treat the mental illness, to get them to functioning. The goal is to get them to that functioning level. What we're doing with coaching is we're assuming that the person is functioning, they're coping, they could have had past experiences, worked with a therapist, they're now at this level. What we want to do in coaching is we want to empower them to reach their potential. There's a very different philosophy and a different stage in a client's development too. It's really good for someone to understand that. You're a coach and you're wonderful and you have so many talents, but you may not have the skills or the knowledge to bring them from that other place. Because coaching is unregulated, unfortunately, the danger is someone can make that person even more traumatized because they don't know what they're doing, they're not trained in understanding what's really happening.
Robert Maldonado 05:09
I definitely would say, as a student of the mind for many years, someone that is really able to work with somebody that has undergone a serious trauma would require specialized training. It requires some dedication even. I know many therapists who don't feel equipped to deal with trauma because it's not part of their training. They're trained in more regular everyday supportive therapies. Whereas for serious trauma, it would require specialized training.
Debra Maldonado 05:50
We're talking about severe trauma, we're not talking about an unruly household. Another thing too, I'd like to get your take on, is some people, in my experience — I've worked with people for over 20 years, some people have had really tough experiences in their life, they've been through wars, and they are very resilient, where other people have had a minor trauma, but it stops them. They can't really cope. What's that happens in a person, what variables are there that indicate whether they can— it's not really the level of trauma in some people, it's more the level of ability to cope with it.
Robert Maldonado 06:47
Like we've said from the beginning, it's always a brain environment interaction that we're looking at when we deal with an individual. One of the best approaches when there is a question of trauma, is to get a good assessment. It will give you that sense of where the patient is or where the client is, what their cognitive functioning is, how well are they dealing with their intimate relationships, relationships with their wives, husbands, family members? Are they able to function at work? Are they able to focus? Do they get that sense of meaning out of their life? If they're not, a good assessment will tell you where they're at. It really gives you a sense of what kind of therapy would be appropriate for that person.
Debra Maldonado 07:47
I was always self treating, all my life. I would just read books, in the 90s I started looking online, but my friends that were healers and doing all these workshops and dealing with it, not go to therapy. I mean I didn't have any severe trauma, it was fine. But in a way, I felt that there was still something wrong with me, I was still this damaged person, there's something damaged about me. I think one of the ways that we look at trauma is a lot of people think it's deep rooted pain, like a soul wound. Even if you've had severe— I'm trying to say that it's not a life sentence, you don't have to cope with it your whole life.
Robert Maldonado 08:56
It definitely depends on the severity of the trauma of course, and also the resiliency of the individual like you were saying because we all have different genetic makeups, different strategies for dealing with difficult situations. Some people are able to manage it fairly well and perhaps don't need therapy, they can go into coaching, whereas others might need that supportive therapy with people that are specially trained to work with trauma.
Debra Maldonado 09:36
If you're not sure, one of the things that you have to look at is I think the number one is how is your emotional life? Do you wake up stressed and in anxiety every day? Where is it that you can't function? Are depressed where you can't function, like either you're hyper and worried all the time or really stressed, or you have hard time keeping relationships, there's always a lot of drama. That could be an indicator that you really should get an assessment and get treatment for that.
Robert Maldonado 10:11
It has to do with a sense of self. But it would be the sense of self at the ego level, at our individual level, where we start to think of “Who am I? What is my identity in life, what is my role?” Often trauma will disrupt that sense of self. People have difficulty getting back to that point. They feel like there's something seriously wrong with me here, I can't seem to find that sense of self that I used to have.
Debra Maldonado 10:47
There's also this idea of safety. If you've had a traumatic event, all of us have been in a place where our safety was taken away. But if it was chronic in childhood, that person might have a hard time trusting others and even being able to deal with your own emotions. A lot of people that have had severe trauma are afraid of even feeling because they feel like they're going to go into a gully of mock and never get out. That ability to manage yourself. This is, of course, severe. If you're not having all those things, maybe there's another approach that you can take that might not be this heavy therapy, maybe it's something else. The world is traumatic, so we're all going to have some element of it in our life.
Robert Maldonado 11:53
That's a good point. The danger is that these kind of labels become a fad in a sense that everybody wants to jump on board and say “I'm traumatized as well” or “I’ll treat your trauma” because it's popular and fashionable, because it's the catchphrase of the day. Labels can be very powerful. We know from actual research that when a person is given a label, they become that because that's the way the mind works. It works on this identity, and when they identify as the victim or somebody who's been damaged by life, they tend to experience it. For the long term, they would have a more difficult path than if they found other ways to cope with their experiences.
Debra Maldonado 12:59
This a great segue to the eastern perspective, the eastern spirituality, the Upanishads. The teaching says that the true self can never be harmed, can never be damaged, can never be hurt. When we think about a trauma that happens in someone's life, or any kind of events that happens, it's happening on the ego level. We have to look at it from a bigger spiritual perspective. Maybe on a deep ego level there is a lot going on there. But where do you get that resilience from if you feel like you're just the ego, and you're dealing with this event, and it defines you and limits you?
Robert Maldonado 13:47
That was one of the questions we had to deal with in developing our coaching program. How are we going to deal with this question of trauma. Looking at the Upanishads, at this wisdom tradition, it essentially says the aim is not just to heal ourselves from the traumatic experiences of life, the aim is to realize that you are this higher self that they describe as pure awareness, meaning it can’t be damaged by experience. It is the observer of that experience, but it cannot be touched or injured in any way by any kind of experience. But of course, they explained that it is a process of realizing that. Our approach was if that’s the truth, and we can proceed from there that no one is damaged, they've had experiences that feel injurious to the ego mind, we can still proceed with the basic truth that their true self is unharmed by any past experiences. We can help them reach that realization themselves, that they are the true self and cannot be damaged. It is a process of course, that's where Jungian psychology comes in. It gives us an individual psychology of dealing with these past experiences, understanding them, and assimilating them instead of pushing them away, or neglecting them, where they actually become instructional, whatever we experience, even the hard parts of our lives, now they become ways for us to learn about the nature of our mind.
Debra Maldonado 15:54
I always see that whatever happened to you, the ego wants to protect you. It comes up with a defense around whatever happened, what's the leftover is really your ego’s defensive reaction to that. It's not actually the event that you're coping with anymore, it's the leftover of the conditioning that the ego created actually to protect you. It's a sign that you have a healthy mind because you had a mechanism. Maybe you're stressed out all the time but that's what the ego decided would be better than you just being like whatever. It's just overly trying to protect you. If we can have that approach of this defense is there but it was there for a good reason. You were already protected, the ego did such a great job because you're alive here, you're surviving, it found a way. Most of the time the ego makes a very fast decision of what to do in that moment, especially when something’s a surprise. So it may have gotten a little out of alignment but it doesn't mean that that event broke you. It means the ego protected you and so it's a healthy mind. Also this idea that if you just treat the ego, it'll never be fixed, it will always be something else. We need that understanding of the true self, whether we're working in a therapy environment with severe trauma or in a coaching environment, we're really seeing ourselves as from a deeper place. The only caveat I have to say, and I'm sure you would agree, is that we're not saying that “I'm spiritual, I wasn't harmed” and you push it away. It's not spiritual bypassing. I want to make that clear. We're not saying “Nothing happened to you." We know things happen to people.
Robert Maldonado 18:08
The process is very much about working with our past experiences. What have we gone through? What can we learn from them? Even the difficult stuff, or perhaps especially the difficult things teach us a lot about our own nature, they inform us. Those experiences become fuel for our growth.
Debra Maldonado 18:35
Our self realization, whatever happened to you, doesn't define you. Jung says I'm not what happened to me, I choose who I want to become. That's for everybody. That's not just reserved for functioning people, everyone can choose to transform and transcend those experiences, that life sentence, that label of trauma. It doesn't have to define you for the rest of your life. But it's like a dance. You don't want to just push it away, and you don't want to dive into it. It's like where can we find that balance, where a person can feel empowered, even if they went through a really tough experience and still be able to have that resilience and empowerment to create a life that most people wouldn't be able to do if they just stuck with that label.
Robert Maldonado 19:29
It's certainly one of the biggest challenges for us because we're approaching the mind from a different paradigm than the medical model, the materials logistic philosophy of science. We acknowledge science and the valuable information it provides about the brain and the body. But we know that's not the end of the story. From these wisdom traditions, we know there's a lot more to the human being than meets the eye. When we approach the mind from that perspective, it's a very different place that it takes you to, because we know consciousness operates on the principle of expectation. If you expect only to be healed, only to go back to normalcy, that's what you're going to experience because you've set it up that way in your mind, you believe that's what's possible.
Debra Maldonado 20:34
Do you think that sometimes people that have gone through an uncaring, neglected childhood and then finally get someone like a coach or a healer or a therapist that gives them that loving attention, it's like “If I stay in this pattern, I could continue to get that care.” Does that happen? “I finally got that care, I don't want to let go of my problems because then I won't have the care anymore. This is the first time someone ever cared for me." We're addicted to it in a way.
Robert Maldonado 21:08
Absolutely. We've been talking about the narrative, how we tend to work in this narrative way, we have a story about our life. When we identify with that story and think that's who I am, that becomes a reality. We're shaping and creating our reality through our narrative. When trauma becomes part of the narrative, part of the self identity, it's a very powerful thing because then it's hard to let go of it because it would be saying “I'm going to let go of my whole self concept.”
Debra Maldonado 21:48
It's like you're letting go of yourself in a way. It's like “I don't want to let go of that part of myself.”
Robert Maldonado 21:54
It has become part of the way the individual identifies as an individual, as a person, what Jung would call the persona. But Jung's model gives us an individual way of working with a mind because he does say that this personality is a type of mask. When you start to understand that, it makes sense. The things that happened to the persona are difficult and dramatic sometimes but they're not really happening to the true self. They're happening to this external self concept that we're creating.
Debra Maldonado 22:36
Which isn’t solid. I didn't realize this until I studied Jung. The self concept is not really solid, it can change. I'm the person who suffered this thing. You can carry that around for the rest of your life, and that's who you'll be, then you can't be anything else.
Robert Maldonado 22:59
It seems the persona was designed as a temporary focal point for the individual to proceed into life. But at midpoint, Jung says, you have to undergo a transformation, letting go of the persona and finding your true self. He called that the individuation. Our coaching model is based on that process of individuation. People that are ready to let go of their stories of the old persona, the mask, can undergo this transformation in a non clinical way. We don't have to wait until the person experiences some kind of breakdown or traumatic experience. They can do it in a more gradual supportive way through coaching.
Debra Maldonado 23:53
Instead of defining yourself about what happened to you, you start to create a new definition of who you're becoming versus this is what happened to me and this is who I am versus who I'm becoming.
Robert Maldonado 24:08
Yes and no, because the self is already fully formed. It's more like a revelation of the true self. It's already there but it's been covered over by the mask, just like an individual that's wearing a mask. Their face’s already there but it's covered over.
Debra Maldonado 24:35
Another thing I see too is, especially with parents, they usually take the brunt in these methodologies of trying to heal the trauma. The parent maybe has inflicted harm on the child but there's a lot of pressure on a parent to be perfect. We're not excusing the parents that were neglectful or maybe did things that were not nice. But if we hang on to that person has power over us for the rest of our life, we're really giving away our power to that person. It's not even about forgiveness, it's about being willing to say “I'm going to take responsibility for my life now. What happened to me was early on, wasn't my responsibility in a way because I'm a child or I wasn't aware.” But as we become conscious we can be more responsible for our life and who we choose to be around in the direction of our life.
Robert Maldonado 25:39
It's interesting that you were talking about how the mind reacts by defending itself in a way to protect us. One of the marks of people that have undergone childhood trauma is that sense of blaming, they blame others, they blame the world, and that becomes a part of their self identity.
Debra Maldonado 26:02
Is it a way for them to get strength?
Robert Maldonado 26:05
It would be a defense mechanism. It's a way of protecting themselves by saying “If I can't trust the world, I have to stay away from them, I have to protect myself.” And rightly so if they were still in that original environment where they experienced that. But now they're not. They're still reacting in that same way. They're holding on to their past experiences and bringing it into the present.
Debra Maldonado 26:35
Holding on to the blame is also holding on to the trauma, and not really feeling powerful. If you think about it, it's not empowering. I think people think “If I don't hang on to it, they got away with it.” I've seen that while working with people. If I became successful, if I have a healthy relationship finally, if I lost weight, even though I went through all that, it would be like that didn't happen, almost like sabotaging stepping out because we feel it's gonna erase all those things. It's really hard, I think, for a person to come to terms of why did this bad thing happen to me?
Robert Maldonado 27:21
It is difficult. If you think about it, that's what gives them that sense of safety is that they have these defense mechanisms. To let go feels very vulnerable to them. It feels like “I'm going to be in danger as I was in my previous environment, or my early environment.” But through the process of individuation a person can learn that thoughts cannot really harm you. Memories cannot harm you. They're important very powerful if we give them power, but as we proceed to make them conscious, to bring them into real awareness, they lose their power over us.
Debra Maldonado 28:08
What about emotions? Can they harm someone?
Robert Maldonado 28:09
Again, if we give them the power to harm us, they can.
Debra Maldonado 28:14
But we can, if you use pure awareness and are watching your body or your identity, go through them, but you're not diving into the wrestling with it, you're being more the witness. You can basically ride the wave of it versus be in the wave of it.
Robert Maldonado 28:33
A lot of it boils down to a misunderstanding. For example, depression. We know depression is difficult, it can destroy a person, it can drive a person to destroy themselves, to commit suicide. If we understand it is the mind’s signal to look inward, to take some time to self examine, and there's somebody to help the person do that, then it becomes a path inward. It's an opportunity for individuation, for really getting in touch with the inner self. But often because it's labeled as a disorder, a medicalized problem, the opportunity is lost because now all the individual can do when they buy into that medicalization is treat it with drugs or therapy. Then the aim is just to get back to normal functioning instead of to say “What can I learn from this experience of depression?”
Debra Maldonado 29:38
Now, we do want to get to normal, you can't go to potential without getting to normal functioning, so pass through that threshold, but you don't have to stay in that dysfunction. It's like you're drowning under the water and you're never coming up for air. It can have people dealing with these things for years or decades. Our inspiration today is make sure you get the right assessment, if you're in that severe category, educate yourself on your own path, understanding where you're at, and then find the appropriate approach for you, depending on your specific needs. Really look for professionals. Because if you try to self treat, or I feel like a lot of people just want that quick fix, like “I'm just going to go to this workshop, and it's going to clear all my traumas.” Is that healthy? You miss out on all the development and the discovery. There is a lot of gold in there that you can discover, and you're trying to push it out of the way so you can have a life. You don’t go on your way after you move this stuff out. It's the path to understand yourself.
Robert Maldonado 31:03
As far as how we deal with the question of trauma in our coaching, we let the individual choose, but of course, we inform them on what that situation is and what it means to have a difficult experience. We ask them where they are at, have they done previous work to deal with that? Do they feel they're ready to proceed forward instead of needing to go backward and deal with those things? If they say “I'm ready to proceed forward”, our coaching model is appropriate for them. If they're not, we can refer them to somebody who can help them with their trauma. As far as our training with coaches, we try to instill that idea that the individual cannot be broken. They can certainly have difficult experiences that need special care and special attention. But the approach is always “broken is an impossibility.” It's a state of mind that can occur at the ego level. But it's not a reality.
Debra Maldonado 32:22
From a self perspective, the trauma is more of a superficial wound than life damaging, life ending, lifelong struggle. But from an ego perspective, it's so big. It's like shifting your perspective about what is really happening. Why do I have these defenses? How can I be empowered to live the life I want, whatever happened to me doesn't have to define me and doesn't have to limit me. What a great topic today. Next week, we are going to talk about— I can't remember now. We'll have to wait and see what happens. We are doing a series on personality. We're excited to bring a new way to look at personal development in a more empowering way, feeling not broken, and also understanding psychology in a deeper way and understanding what you need, so you can get the life you want and create happiness and joy in your life.
Robert Maldonado 33:30
Thanks for watching.
Debra Maldonado 33:31
Take care and see you next week.