How To Turn Trauma Into Success

Trauma impacts success by making you doubt your self-worth, question your decisions, and feel a lack of confidence. Trauma and adverse childhood experiences make you lose self-trust and doubt yourself.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma can describe any number of experiences. From a toxic family where criticism and sarcasm were the norm or where emotions were not expressed, to emotional neglect or physical abuse on the other end. 

Trauma can happen anytime during the lifespan. 

You’re Not Alone: We All Have Trauma

We all have trauma to some degree. Most people don’t even realize it. In some way shape or form, something shitty from your past has made a lasting impression on you. 

Here’s an example, let’s say your feelings were ignored as a child. Whenever you showed a strong emotion, like anger, joy, or excitement, you were told to quiet down. You felt like you weren’t acceptable whenever you followed your natural inclinations.

So you end up feeling as though you can’t trust yourself. This leads to feeling like you have to look outside of yourself for approval, for permission, and for your worth. 

How Trauma Impacts Success

Trauma creates a perfect storm of negative expectations in people. 

  • Expect other people to be untrustworthy. 
  • Lose trust in yourself.
  • Have negative self-worth. 
  • Lose confidence. 
  • Feel shame in who you are. 
  • Experience intense sadness and anger. 
  • Feel defeated by setbacks and stressors.
  • Fear trying and failing.
  • Feel helpless or hopeless. 
  • Have more worry and anxiety. 
  • Don’t feel deserving of good things. 
  • Have a heightened stress response. 
  • Have difficulty sleeping. 
  • Lower immune function. 
  • Increased physical illness.
  • Expect good things to be taken away from you.
  • Experience a high degree of impostor syndrome.
  • Feel like failures are a bigger deal than they are.
  • Fear what other people think.
  • Fear being successful or “too big for their britches”
  • Feel like other people talk behind your back.    

Basically, if you’ve experienced trauma in your childhood you tend to believe that the world isn’t as safe as other people feel it is. You tend to be hypervigilant for things to go wrong.

This means that you may be more cautious than other people, fearing risks and failure to a high extent.

It might also mean that you’re impulsive and say “f** it” and take unwise risks because you feel you don’t have control of your life. 

When you’ve experienced childhood trauma you feel like you’re not in the driver’s seat of your life. Everything feels a bit more extreme to you than to the general population. 

Success can be tricky for people who have had childhood trauma, toxicity, and emotional neglect.

How Lack of Success Develops From Trauma

Childhood trauma strongly impacts a person’s future success. This is because it tends to create a set of beliefs as a child that become almost invisible as an adult. This is why people who have shitty habits say things like “that’s just the way I was raised” or “I can’t help it, it’s just who I am”. 

When a kid experiences trauma they develop “adaptive behaviors” that are meant to protect them. These behaviors work really well in their environment.

For example, they might learn to push down their personality and silence themselves so that their parents don’t get angry at them.

As a child this was super useful because it kept their parents off their back.

As an adult it means that they’re passed over for promotions, afraid of public speaking, inauthentic in their relationships, or fearful of what other people think of them. 

The behaviors that were once adaptive as a child no longer work for them as an adult. 

It’s almost like they’re still wearing the clothes they wore as a child, not realizing that they’ve outgrown them and that the clothes look ridiculous. Instead they just say “I’m ugly” instead of just changing their clothes. 

Yes, changing your behaviors and thoughts is difficult. Yet, without changing those old patterns you’ll always be holding yourself back from being successful. 

How to Turn Trauma Into Success

You can turn trauma into success through Post Traumatic Growth.

Post Traumatic Growth is when you experience growth after trauma and come to a new understanding of yourself, the world, and other people.

This results in positive personal change and an increased ability to succeed.

  • Don’t ignore the trauma. As long as you ignore it it will continue to influence your ability to succeed.
  • Reach out to others. Get guidance to make sense of it. Connection helps minimize shame about the trauma.
  • Find Meaning In The Trauma. Stay open to seeing yourself and the world in new ways.
  • Keep optimistic. Stay positive about the possibility of change.

Craving Stability

People who have experienced childhood trauma also crave stability. They crave security and feeling as though they can anticipate what will happen. 

This might mean that you crave to have control and certainty. Or you get more upset than most people when things go wrong. 

This is because those formative experiences make you expect more shit to hit the fan any second. So you basically clamp down and fear that something bad will happen, especially when things feel chaotic or overwhelming. 

That’s the basics of what trauma does. It creates a pattern of behavior that worked at one point in life but is no longer adaptive as an adult. It can in fact make you feel more reactive to stress, overwhelm, and chaos as an adult.

Unfortunately, as an adult this might make you assumes that “this is who I am”. You can become hopeless and give up and feel like you just have to have more control over your situation (which ends up creating a whole other bag of “oh crap”). 

The other option? 


Growth From Trauma

Now, you may think that if you’ve had any degree of trauma in your background you’re screwed. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from the case. 

In fact, an experience of trauma in your life can actually set you up to be more successful. It can help you deal with the uncertainties of entrepreneurship or life’s natural ups and downs more easily than other people. It all depends on what you take from the trauma and how you use it in your favor. 

People respond to trauma in really different ways. Some people get shut down and mired in the difficulties outlined above. 

However, other people rise above the fray and use their trauma to become their best self. 

It all comes down to post-traumatic growth. 

What Is Post-Traumatic Growth?

It’s like the old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. 

Post-traumatic growth is when you experience positive psychological change in various areas of your life as a result of trauma. 

You might experience: 

  • Increased personal strength.
  • Improved self-worth.
  • Increased intimacy in relationships. 
  • Discovering abilities and strengths you didn’t know you had. 
  • A greater sense of spirituality.
  • More gratitude. 
  • A shift in priorities or values. 
  • Seeing new possibilities in life. 

Psychologists Lawrence Calhoune, Ph.D., and Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D. developed the concept of Post Traumatic Growth in the mid-’90s. It’s all about how people are able to create positive growth after the psychological struggle following adversity

“People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life,” says Tedeschi.

Resilience Versus Post Traumatic Growth

Post-Traumatic Growth is not the same as resilience. 

One of the most important skills someone can cultivate to be successful is emotional resilience. 

When you’re emotionally resilient setbacks don’t take you out for the count. You don’t experience failure as life-altering. You’re able to change your mind and refocus easily rather than being caught up in worry and anxiety about what went wrong. Most importantly, you stop holding yourself back out of fear of taking risks and self-sabotaging behaviors that hold you back from the success you desire. 

Although becoming more resilient after trauma is an example of Post Traumatic Growth, the concept of Post Traumatic Growth is much bigger than resilience. 

Resilience is your ability to bounce back after something happens. Cultivating this skill is undoubtedly super useful when it comes to success. Especially as it relates to potential failures you may encounter along the way. 

Having difficulty bouncing back doesn’t mean you can’t grow post trauma. If you can change your way of being after a trauma or take the time to make sense of trauma from the past you’re experiencing post-traumatic growth. 

An already resilient person won’t necessarily be rocked by the trauma and so won’t experience Post Traumatic Growth if they experience new traumas as an adult.

This is because the person doesn’t have to seek a new belief system in order to make sense of the trauma, says Tedeschi. Less resilient people will struggle with the experience and reexamine their world-view as a result. 

When it comes to childhood trauma, this reexamined worldview happens when the person decides to work with a professional on the trauma and come to a new understanding of themselves and the world as a result. 

By working on the trauma from childhood the individual becomes more resilient and more capable of coping with any chaos that might rear its ugly little head down the road. 

Who Experiences Post-Traumatic Growth?

Tedeschi estimates about 50-75% of those experiencing traumatic events experience post-traumatic growth. 

What’s really cool is that growth tends to stick around. It persists. It continues to make a difference in the person’s life forever. Few people lose the growth they gained through reexamining their worldview after a traumatic experience. 

Women show more post-traumatic growth than men, but the difference is small. 

Is It Ever Too Late To Turn Trauma Into Success?

Although children under 8 are unlikely to have the mental capacity to experience Post Traumatic Growth, those in early adulthood and adolescence are more open to that kind of growth. This is why it’s so important for you to understand the trauma as an adult. This paves the way for post-traumatic growth which infinitely multiples your capacity for success. It essentially nullifies all of the potential roadblocks that trauma causes on the road to success. 

Post Traumatic Growth can continue throughout the lifespan depending on the individual’s willingness to change and adapt their worldview. That means that you can continue to drop those old shitty habits, thoughts, and behaviors that have held you back. 

It’s never ever too late to start. 

In fact, finding benefit from trauma is most successful when the trauma is 2 years ago or older. However, beyond 2 years post-trauma more time does not necessarily mean better outcomes.

Growth And Distress Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Although Post Traumatic Growth can come with a whole slew of positive outcomes, it’s not without its own challenges. Addressing trauma can be challenging work. And no one is suggesting that we should seek out trauma in order to experience Post Traumatic Growth. 

Trauma is hard. Feeling like your emotions don’t matter, experiencing abuse or going through challenging times sucks. Let’s just be frank. 

Post Traumatic Growth gives you hope after you’ve experienced trauma or recognized the impact of adverse childhood experiences. The potential of Post Traumatic Growth can help you begin to see that you’re not stuck, that there is hope, and that things can change if you’re willing to put in the work. 

No one is suggesting that the process is easy or that everything will be rainbows and you’ll be shitting unicorns when you experience Post Traumatic Growth. The reality is that both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Growth can exist simultaneously. Much like being emotionally healthy and experiencing fear or anxiety can and do coexist. 

Health Benefits of Post Traumatic Growth

A metaanalysis, which is a look at a whole bunch of studies that looked at Post Traumatic Growth, detailed out the health benefits of “benefit finding post-trauma”: “

When someone goes through the process of Post Traumatic Growth they’re more likely to have lower levels of depression and a greater sense of positive well-being.  

Optimism may predict who experiences growth after trauma with optimists more likely to experience PTG after adversity according to the book The Happiness Hypothesis. This is probably because optimists tend to have positive expectations in general. Or, as Haidt hypothesizes, it may be their greater ability to make sense of things whether through writing or other means according to Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions.  

Yet realists aren’t totally screwed. Some studies show that those who have the fewest expectations about the future in general (so neither optimistic or pessimistic) were actually more likely to experience positive growth after trauma. 

How Can You Turn Trauma Into Success?

There are two traits that make it easier to turn trauma into success. Both openness to experience and extraversion are associated with post-traumatic growth. 

People who are more open tend to be more willing to reevaluate their belief systems. They tend to be open to new perspectives, new ways of seeing things, and are open to changing. 

Extroverts are more likely to reach out and connect with others. Connection is the antidote to shame.  

Shame dissipates when it’s exposed to intimacy and connection, as Brene Brown discusses in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. Through vulnerability, we’re able to realize that we’re not alone and feel safer in reexamining our experiences. 

When we have a willingness to reach out to others, this is when growth from trauma happens. 

Shame thrives in isolation. Many people who have experienced trauma in their lives feel tremendous shame about the experience. They may also feel guilty talking about how they feel because it makes them worry about imposing on others. They could also feel like talking about it goes against how they were taught to cope as a child. 

This is when speaking to a therapist or other specialist in trauma can be extremely helpful. Once you make sense of the trauma and reduce the shame involved then you can be open to the growth that can occur afterward. 

This is true of childhood trauma and trauma experienced as an adult. 

Don’t Ignore The Trauma

As long as we try to ignore the trauma it will continue influencing behavior. 

This is why people continue to do things they know aren’t good for them, but that they don’t understand why they keep doing them. This is why people think “I’m doomed to be like this forever”. 

The beauty if if you’re willing to look at it in the face, you can remove its power over you. 

It’s only by having the courage to look into the dark places within us, the past traumas, that we can then spring forward and feel free of them. 

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Fred Rogers

Once traumas have been processed there’s a wide open road of potential growth that can occur. This is why many people go through radical changes when they experience the death of a loved one, an unexpected divorce, or come to terms with past abuse. They’ve taken the time to reevaluate their lives, examine what’s most important, and shift things to becoming more in line with who they truly are. 

Research shows this can indeed be the case. 

The most exciting impact from trauma is the gift of courage. The courage to live life on your own terms.

  • Start that business.
  • Go back to school.
  • Move to a new country.
  • Take flying lessons.
  • Change your outlook on what’s possible in life. 

It’s learning to take those leaps.

Many successful people have turned trauma into success.

You turn trauma into success too.

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