Vocation and Trauma: Are you a tinned pear?

Why do you do what you do?

Someone in need of rescuing?

Research suggests that many drawn to vocational roles, particularly those who work with children and vulnerable people, seek to make things better on many levels. They want to change the world. People don’t take on vocations for money.

They might also be, unconsciously, attempting to heal their inner child. Some who work with children harbour unprocessed trauma from their own early experience which compels them to make a difference. Yet, because they have not yet fully integrated their early pain, they can behave in ways that sabotage their efforts and joy.

What takes place is projection. We see children we perceive need help and driven by emotion, we try to fix it. This can lead to problems for ourselves, and get in the way of taking effective action for those in need, because we are not meeting the other’s needs, but our own. All of this happens from a well-intentioned yet unconscious place.

Are you harbouring trauma?

Your trauma overwhelms you with strong and often disabling emotion leading you to act in two main ways (to loan from Brene Brown):

You shrink: Grow small, lose your voice or;  

You puff up: Grow big and over use your voice. (Read into this fury and aggression!)

I imagine anyone who works with children could immediately identify children in their immediate care who fall into one of these. But I am referring to adults.

Shrinking and puffing up both stem from a place of fear and a lack of self-love; they are often symptoms of trauma. Both steal your agency and rob you of your power to affect a positive change. Trauma is a psychological, emotional response to an event or a profoundly distressing or disturbing experience. It can be one single, intense event or a sequence of (what some might regard as) low-level emotional abuse—anywhere where power is taken away and where there is no-one to help you cope. Only you will know if you have a track record and repeated pattern of messing things up, dealing with things inappropriately and causing problems for yourself.

I have walked that walk.

I fell into the too much voice category. Furious, wild and angry. Back then, many people would not have seen a broken child, but a fierce wild cat. I forgive them for giving me a wide berth. This way of being, protected my inner child (tick) whilst sabotaging my life, relationships and career prospects at the same time. This approach neither healed nor enabled me to flourish. It’s still there, but it is not, often, out of control.

Bring it on! Image by ArtTower from Pixabay

I was a tinned pear. I use this analogy to describe how we can lock away our potential and protect it with a hard outer shell. Locked in, we kid ourselves we are safe. Of course, we aren’t. And hiding away isn’t what we were born for. (It’s the theme of this site).

Pears for heirs is a phrase that describes wisdom that takes an age to ripen; pear trees take a notoriously long time to grow. The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build, and it has taken some 20 odd years of reflection and healing to fully integrate my younger self and regain some real power (which of course, everyone knows, is not about over assertion, aggression and control). You don’t suddenly arrive, either. It’s a gentle unfolding and becoming, leading to a meaningful and happy life. And like the Taj Mahal, some place wonderful.

So how do you release your fruit?

Uncovering potential will be different for everyone. Reflection and curiosity for what you are feeling and what is at the root of it is a start. An emotionally aware friend can help you unpick it.

You can only tend to what you are aware of.

Where is that feeling coming from? Look deep. Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Some trauma, however, is buried deeply (it has to be to drown out the pain), and conscious reflection might not be enough. You will not be able to use rational thought to get at material hidden within your unconscious. If this is true for you, these are methods I have tried over the years. Although each one has helped on the journey, I couldn’t tell you which one was the most useful. Probably a mix of all of them:

  • Counselling, coaching, mentoring
  • Dream analysis (some understanding of psychoanalytical theory and useful references to dream symbols are essential here).
  • Art and photography- it is said no-one noticed the mists on the Thames until Turner painted them.
  • Exploration of metaphor and archetypes – what do you associate with and why?
  • Poetry

Symbolic thought

Conscious thoughts use logical language; Unconscious, symbolic. Image by DAMIAN NIOLET from Pixabay

Except for counselling, which is relational, the other methods can be done alone, but require some knowledge of symbolism and how symbols have evolved for humankind. The unconscious mind doesn’t speak in rational, logical thought. It comes from a place deeper and more ancient:pre-language. Knowing how to interpret its voice comes from reading, thinking and knowing where to look. Having something concrete and creative, outside of your head, helps enormously. It distances you from the intensity of your feeling and gives you somewhere to focus it. This is the power behind mandalas. See:https://sacredtinnedpears.com/index.php/2019/12/28/dreaming-of-a-holy-family/

Read, think, paint, draw, discuss, move – whatever draws you – be curious about why it draws you and what you are feeling; what is it telling you. Glennon Doyle calls intense emotions doorbells that deliver you a precious package. You can either ignore or send back. Or, you can unwrap and unpack it. When you do, you reach something golden.

Anything that’s worth doing, does not come easily

It can be a painful and long journey, but you regain control and agency over your life with each step. It is freeing not to (always) be hijacked by intense feeling. I say ‘always’ because no-one’s perfect and I still have to work hard to manage triggers. But on the whole, I lead an excellent, joyful life.

When you end self-sabotage, you become more effective at your goal. I am still committed to making a difference for children, but my hurting, inner child, no longer drives me. Although I do not doubt that all parents cause inadvertent annoyance to their children, I don’t think my own will repeat the cycle. I don’t think. It’s important not to be too sure; stay awake and aware, because that is where you have the power to change things.

PACE* yourself. If you are familiar with attachment theory, you will recognise this.

It’s beautiful inside.

Do you recognise yourself or a colleague?

As a school leader, I occasionally come across adults who resonate with my inner child and others I suspect are protecting their own. The 60s saw a call for teachers to undergo psychoanalysis before being let loose in the classroom. I think it is still worth considering, or at the very least, providing proper support for those who may be harbouring unprocessed trauma. CPD needs to look broader than professional expertise – we have to remember the person inside.

I wish you love and blessings. If you are drawn to your vocation to make a difference, the world needs you and your experience. Put it to work in an effective way by tending your own wounds first. And build a joyous, full life for yourself in the process.

Keep PACE: practice playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy…within yourself.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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