I attended the meeting of a professional association recently and talked with an attorney I’ve known for about 10 years. It was my first time to see him since COVID began.
Since March 2020, 75 people close to him have died. One per week for a year and a half. Seventy-five people.
Clients, friends, colleagues, people he knew from church and volunteer activities.
That’s a heavy burden to carry.
How could anyone experience loss like this and not be affected?
This man is an expert in his craft, and yet on the inside he’s carrying around the grief and shock of all these losses.
He’s not alone.
Many of us have experienced grief, shock, trauma, and sorrow over the past two and half years.
Trauma survivors are all around us
They are our employees, teammates, friends, bosses, yoga instructors, youth sports coaches, and neighbors.
You may have even been the victim of a trauma.
Last month, a nonprofit friend was shot at while witnessing a crime. Thankfully, the bullet missed and went into his empty passenger seat instead.
Like the attorney, how could he experience this and not be deeply affected?
Trauma is ubiquitous in our society. In The Body Keeps the Score, psychiatrist, author and researcher Bessel van der Kolk gives the shocking statistics. One out of four Americans reports having been left with bruises after having been hit as a child, one out of five was sexually molested, one out of eight has witnessed severe domestic violence, and a quarter grew up with alcoholism or drug addiction.
We are interacting with people every single day who are carrying around some sort of trauma. It can be different for each person.
These traumas affect their lives and their performance. If you lead a large team, it’s pretty much guaranteed that someone on your team has experienced trauma, and it affects how they think about themselves, how they act, and how they interact with others.
How do we manage the burden of trauma as leaders?
I wish there were an easy answer. I’m still learning about trauma and how to help those who have experienced it.
For me, it begins by becoming more aware of just how prevalent trauma is. I’ve developed a new awareness of the types of trauma people experience, how it affects them years later, and how it affects their work performance.
I’ve developed more emotional intelligence, compassion, and empathy.
I’ve heightened my awareness around the idea that we’re all just doing the best we can with the circumstances we’ve been given.
Whether your circle of teammates and employees includes a survivor of gun violence, a child of an alcoholic, or an experienced attorney who’s lost 75 friends and clients, there are people around you who are carrying a heavy emotional burden.
Suspending judgment, holding them in high regard, and approaching them with compassion, empathy, and curiosity is a good place to start.