Thursday, October 19, 2023

How To Transcend Trauma

Recently, I've been privileged to speak via Zoom with a number of those directly impacted by the Middle Eastern conflict.  It's been a dramatic reminder of how strong people can be, even when they feel overwhelmed and broken.  Most of us have been through a life event that has had traumatic impact, whether it be the loss of a loved one or an episode of threat and violence.  One of the real challenges of trading financial markets is that, if we don't exercise sound risk management, we can experience losses so great that they overwhelm us--personally, as well as financially.  Whenever an adverse event threatens what we value, the result can be stress and even trauma. 

As the group on Zoom reminded me, the above situations are different from what is happening now in the Middle East.  A traumatic event typically has a beginning and an end.  Once it's passed, we can focus on coping.  What do we do during a violent and scary war that has no foreseeable end?  How can we cope when we have no control whatsoever of what will happen today, tomorrow, and next week?

The eye-opening reality is that the people I'm speaking are, indeed, coping!  Yes, they cry and, yes, they feel unable to act at times, but they are doing what they can to be there for family, friends, and those they work with.  We sometimes fall into the trap of believing that being strong means being unemotional.  That's not at all the case.  Being strong is being empathic:  standing far enough from one's own concerns at times to feel with others and for others and share our experience with them.

The inspiring people on the Zoom call have helped me realize that transcending trauma involves three C's:  caring, connecting, and creating.  Caring means that we feel for others; connecting means we reach out to others; creating means we do for others.  It can be as simple as thinking about someone struggling, reaching out to them, and making them a meal.  The three C's take us for a time out of our own struggles and help us truly act from the soul.  

Amidst the loss of control that we feel during wartime, caring, connecting, and creating provide us with experiences of doing things that matter.  The most powerful thing we can do to transcend trauma is to gather the determination to not let events control us and to do things that make a difference.  Trauma is ultimately about powerlessness.  Transcending trauma is about finding islands of power in the midst of uncertainty.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Margie and I recently visited the World War II internment camp at Terezin in the Czech Republic.  There we heard about and saw the horrific conditions of the prisoners:  the overcrowding, the brutal punishment, the lack of health care, the death of friends and loved ones, and of course the constant fear of what would come next.  What was amazing was how the prisoners transformed a small living area into a place of worship where they could gather; how they were able to find materials to draw, write, and create artworks; and how they managed to support each other.  Caring, connecting, creating.  Even in a setting surrounded by death, they were able to affirm life.

I've come away from Terezin--and from my Zoom meetings--not confident that trauma won't happen, but reassured that, if it happens, I will have the role models and inspirations to transcend challenge and uncertainty.  All of us are likely to go through painful loss--in markets, in relationships, in our health.  As long as we can hold onto our humanity as caring and creative beings, we will be able to transcend--and eventually become role models for others.  

Forty years almost to the day, I was caught the wrong way in volatility and blew through my trading account, triggering far more than a loss of money.  Today I hit my high water mark amidst growing volatility.  

We can transcend.

Further Reading: