California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris wants to screen every child, before they begin school, for trauma. Studies have shown that untreated childhood trauma can inhibit proper brain development and cause life-long health problems.

Dr. Harris offers her vision of what would follow the screening, “It could be it shows up in tummy aches. Or it’s impulse control and behavior, and we offer a care plan. Instead of reacting harshly and punitively, every educator is trained in recognizing these things. Instead of suspending and expelling or saying, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ we say, ‘What happened to you?’”

I see a direct correlation between childhood trauma and problems among coworkers. I think the number of people who experienced some form of trauma growing up is higher than what appears on the surface.

We typically think of trauma being caused by experiencing or witnessing some form of abuse, violence, or severe accident. However, there are many causes and levels of trauma severity. Chronic illness, parental strife, isolation, and even a well-meaning parent who lacks an understanding of their child’s sensitive nature can cause a degree of trauma.

When I was a therapist, I expected most clients to have had trauma in their history. After coaching business professionals for several years, it struck me how many of my clients had some kind of trauma in their past. They were, and are, high functioning folks who have achieved a lot. They are ambitious and want to contribute creatively. They often come to me because of a difficult to deal with boss or coworker, or because they want to become a stronger leader and learn better ways to handle issues with direct reports.

Trauma shows up in the nervous system and habits of thinking and behavior that are essentially a process of self-protection. When there is even a small trauma that has not been released from the body, it gets activated by circumstances or other people’s behavior. Fear is sparked in the body, and the mind starts trying to make sense of it by projecting meaning that isn’t accurate.

If the trauma history is not severe, a lot of the old conditioning can be dismantled through self-awareness, reinforcing self-competency, and working with tools that calm the body and the nervous system. And, by strengthening thinking and behavior that creates a sense of safety while promoting self-esteem and self-confidence.

Stay tuned for tips on calming the body and how to ground yourself.