“Everything Rises and Falls on Leadership”, John Maxwell
Nurses have been born into a collective trauma. Parents, teachers, mentors, were born into a collective trauma field that has been inherited through the ancestors. Our healthcare providers, our college professors, healthcare organizations where we work have been born into and created in a collective trauma field. What the culture thinks is normal is how we have learned to live with “symptoms” of unintegrated trauma. Nursing, as a profession, is known for “Eating Its Young”. I experienced this as a new graduate with a BSN, oriented and mentored by Diploma and Associate Degree nurses at the bedside, and continued to experience bullying throughout my career by nurse managers.
Symptoms of unintegrated trauma are many, including “blaming”, “othering”, anger, anxiety, and depression. Chronic diseases have been found to be directly related to stress in a body’s nervous system chronically in fight, flight, freeze. Consequences are increasing suicides, violence, child abuse and domestic violence. This state is taking a toll on nurses and all healthcare professionals. Symptoms of trauma eruptions are most evident in healthcare, more appropriately “sick care”. Recent statistics indicate a decreasing life expectancy.
Awareness is the first step in trauma informed leadership.
At the beginning of the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, along with handwashing, my message has been to “rest and digest”, with breathing, recovering from fight/flight, maintaining a healthy immune system. The healthcare system, the net caring for hurt and sick people, is itself very sick, with a compromised immune system. The Law of Dissipative Structures, a Nobel Prize-winning systems theory, demonstrates that the energy going into a system that is in chaos, is not flowing out of the system, and builds to the point of disorder. Very similar to the nervous system’s immune response, and the cynefin storm. As with all things during this unprecedented time of COVID-19, a new era is emerging on the threshold. What will the new healthcare paradigm look like? Healthcare! Healthcare is self care, and “we-care” and is becoming the new “medical model”.
Making a positive difference in people’s lives is the most fundamental element of being a leader. Nurses on the front line, the clinical experts, will be the leaders in the new healthcare paradigm. Nurses are the leaders in trauma informed care. Nurses must be heard, they must be seen, and developed as the leaders they know they already are. Trauma informed leadership begins with acknowledging each individual’s responsibility to respond. The ability to respond. A leader who is present, grounded, connected, experiences compassion, and transparent communication creates the space for voices to be heard. Voices must be heard, and systems transformed as a result of asking questions and listening. Systems in chaos will reorder at a higher level of coherence, growth, and learning. Trauma integration. This is where trauma informed leadership will make the impact on the new era of healthcare, as healthcare is reordered and transformed following the Law of Dissipative Structures.
Trauma Informed Leadership creates a higher level of group coherence, building up an organization’s immune system, building a culture of authenticity, compassion, and awareness. Authenticity, as we see each other, and feel each other, we experience a shift in our nervous system. This felt-sense shift is the physical embodiment of compassion. Trauma informed leadership will also be the space for frozen energy to be released. With released energy comes creativity, an expansion of the capacity to understand and serve others, with compassion, where miracles occur.
“As leaders, we are called to raise our awareness of the multifaceted nature of trauma and understand its impact on us, our teams, and our work in the world. Awareness is the first step in a cultural shift from trauma-inducing, to trauma-informed and, finally, trauma-integrating organizations”, Thomas Huebl