SUCCESS in most businesses is due to teamwork, not individual performance. Does your workplace or community organisation have brilliant people who are really good at their jobs but have endless relationship problems with others? Are there some staff members who, at times, don’t seem to be focused, or are distant, withdrawn, bossy or unnecessarily angry?
Many poor adult relationship and mental health problems can be traced back to one key source – unresolved childhood problems or childhood trauma. Adults who have not properly dealt with the fact that they were made to feel powerless as children will often exert power over others at home or in the office. You will find any school bully has problems of their own.
There are many other ways people cope with unresolved childhood trauma, such as by being compliant, a martyr, or by not trusting. Many workplaces usually have staff members who are battling mental illness or drug and alcohol problems.
Research shows that 94 per cent of amphetamine users and 92 per cent of heroin addicts admitted to trauma. About 80 per cent of alcoholics admit to being abused. Research also shows that 80 per cent of people with depression have suffered some form of childhood trauma. The cost of this unresolved trauma is not borne only by the individual but by the people around them and the organisation they work for.
The Heal for Life Foundation works with adults and children who have suffered all forms of childhood trauma including abandonment (often from one parent leaving the home when the child was very young), neglect, as well as emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Medical science has now established that the brain is plastic. It develops and sets behaviour patterns from our earliest childhood experiences. Childhood trauma has a great impact on the developing brain and the brain cannot simply get over that trauma. The good news however, is that independent research undertaken on our programs shows that people can be helped to heal from their trauma so that they can change their behaviour at home and in the workplace. The Heal For Life foundation has helped more than 5000 people since it started.
Independent research, using validated national health measures, shows that more than 69 per cent of surveyed guests attending Heal for Life programs could be considered to have a serious mental illness. After six months this figure has been reduced to 34 per cent. Participants have highly statistically significant improvements in pain index, vitality, social functioning and emotional functioning over the same period.
Almost 60 per cent of participants describe the Heal for Life program as “life-changing” and 33 per cent as “very positive”. The simple act of helping people to safely acknowledge their own pain often allows them to be able to see how they hurt others. With the right tools, people can start to re-wire their brain and their behaviour.
I have several young women still volunteering for our organisation who came to us as teenagers. They had been told they would never be off medication and they would be on permanent sickness benefits for the rest of their lives. (No wonder 65 per cent of everyone who comes to us has contemplated suicide.) Those young women are now studying at the University of Newcastle.
It is easier to write someone off as a bad performer, a poor team player or a lost cause. What a desperate, hopeless message. Governments still give the bulk of funding to management of mental illness, rather than healing from it. If, as a community, we begin to understand the concept that we can heal, then we can help our workmates, employees and neighbours in a different way. To really change, people need to decide that they want to change and they need professional, research-based help.
Childhood trauma is not an excuse for poor behaviour but it does give an insight into such behaviour. Rather than simply medicating or “performance managing” symptoms, doesn’t it make sense to try to resolve the actual problem? If we did that, we could have a much better functioning workforce and society.
By LIZ MULLINAR, Founder, Heal For Life Foundation