Resonance for Growth (and Healing)

From Jennifer Tankersley

One thing I have learned as a coach is how prevalent trauma is in our society, and how often leaders are operating from a place of compensation from that trauma. (I would define trauma as our response to an experience in which we feel powerless or lacking agency and can be the result of an acute experience or sustained, extreme stress).

Trauma shows up in our deepest beliefs (I’m not enough, I cannot trust others, etc.) and in our adaptive strategies (perfectionism, regret, self-doubt, etc). It impacts the way we are able to regulate our emotions and handle current stressors. Trauma also shows up in our bodies and how we carry ourselves in the world. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score, and Amanda Blake’s book, Your Body is Your Brain, are wonderful resources for further understanding how trauma literally reshapes both the body and the brain.

Being a coach is not the same as being a trained trauma therapist, but I am struck by how often trauma comes up in coaching conversations. It shouldn’t be a surprise: 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. What is striking to me is how often trauma is accessed not in the context of fixing something broken but rather in stretching and growing as a leader. Most of my clients are highly functioning, adaptive and successful leaders. Still, there is something that they would like to change or unlock.

Coaching is predicated on forming a resonant relationship between client and coach: one of mutual respect, positive regard, commitment and trust. Studies have shown that a resonant relationship enables transformational change and growth, but it can also be incredibly powerful and healing for someone who has experienced trauma, even if that trauma is not directly addressed.

Allowing for feelings like shame, vulnerability and fear to show up and to remain in connection and in conversation around those feelings (holding them with care and respect) can create the safety needed to recognize there might be something there to explore. It also helps the body and mind get into sync, in relationship, in a calming and validating way. Sometimes the client has already processed or done healing work around the trauma and we are integrating that work into their leadership journey, other times I have referred clients to trauma specialists to get that support in conjunction with the work we are doing.

As a coach it is my job to build resonant relationships with my clients, one where we both grow by being in connection with one another. That relationship, in and of itself, has the power to change someone’s life. You don’t have to be a coach to build that kind of relationship with another human being but as a coach it is a requirement. I feel honored that I get to hold that sacred space with the people I work with. I am proud of how many of my clients learn to hold others in that space in the process.