If the vast majority of women have a #metoo story about sexual abuse, assault, or unwanted advances, how does that affect the growing numbers of women who are starting businesses today?
How does this common but all-too-personal trauma impact the success and health of female entrepreneurs?
I have been working with female entrepreneurs for several years now around money and mindset and what has become clear to me — as a therapist, coach, and, yes, a survivor of sexual abuse is that these highly successful and motivated women are creating businesses that show specific patterns of retraumatization in them.
I have seen first hand how the impact of trauma has created unconscious blocks and blind spots when it comes to having an emotionally as well as financially successful and sustainable business.
I have had a front row seat for the impact that this experience has on the life of the victim. There is specific research about how it impacts body image. There are studies about how trauma impacts relationships. And, there is ample evidence that shows that people who have experienced trauma more specifically sexual trauma are more likely to have substance abuse problems. One study indicates that upwards of 80% of women seeking substance abuse had some kind of sexual trauma in their background.
Women from all economic backgrounds, from different career paths, and geographical locations have lent their voices to the #metoo movement. Female entrepreneurs are not immune from the repercussions of these findings.
The following are some of the most common ways I see those blocks and blind spots show up for them:
- Need for approval without being satisfied once it is given
- Fear of being visible
- Fear of criticism and judgement
- Fear of rejection
- Diminishing accomplishments
- Deference to men or perceived authority figures
- Forgetting that the business they created is theirs and that they can change course if it is needed
- Poor boundaries with employees and lack of trust
We would be limiting ourselves to think that trauma only impacts people in the ways listed above. The real question is how couldn’t trauma impact the health and wealth of female entrepreneurs?
I found the answer to this question quite by accident one cold morning at 5am when I woke up with dread and realized that even though I had not started my day yet I already felt like a failure. When faced with the new day of working in and on my business I was feeling beat up, criticized, and I felt as if I was letting people down. I felt like no matter what I did it was not enough, I was in a severe deficit of self worth and ownership in my business.
What I realized is that I was feeling rather abused by my business. I then recognized that this feeling was a familiar one, and I quickly put the pieces together. I was feeling abused, because I had neglected to understand that when I started my business I had entered into a relationship. By not realizing this I quickly recreated the abusive relationship patterns that had experienced earlier in my life. I had poor boundaries for my time, I was slow to acknowledge any praise because I did not trust it.
I kept finding myself deferring to the THEY that would be disappointed in me or upset if I did not live up to some kind of impossible perfectionistic standard. I had to ask myself who the THEY I was afraid of was? Because ultimately this is my business and I get to decide who when and where.
The truth is the THEY was an old story, the shadow of past experiences. I did not go looking for a #metoo scenario in my business, but when it came into focus the impact was crystal, clear. I was then able to successfully help my clients who were also experiencing a recreation of traumatic events in their business as well.
The good news is that once I and my clients were able to get clear on how we may be recreating traumatic patterns in our businesses we were able to regroup and create businesses that are supportive as well as successful.
The statistics speak loudly as to the possibility that you, dear reader, may also be in this situation. There are steps you can take now to assist you in gaining clarity without judgement that can move the needle on the impact of these blocks and blindspots.
1-Ask yourself honestly and without judgement where you are feeling out of control in your business.
2-Get curious about when you have felt this way in your life prior to today.
3-Make a list of the ways you have overcome challenging situations or unhealthy relationships in your past.
4-Look at the these lists and see if there are some patterns or connections that you had not noticed before because you were not looking at your business as a relationship.
5-Be kind to yourself despite the revelations you may have. Allowing yourself to have curiosity and clarity without judgement will help you begin to shift any blocks or blind spots still hanging out in you business.
If you follow these steps you will gain instant clarity on how your #metoo experience or other challenging events could be impacting the health of your business. Remember, you are strong! Despite these experiences you have been courageous enough to stand on your own and start your own business. These insights will only make you stronger and more resilient in the decision you make for yourself and your business.
If you see yourself in this story and find that you need support in moving through these steps. There is no shame in that. I invite you to seek out a therapist if you have not already worked with one.
Not sure if you would describe your challenging experiences as trauma? Here is an article I wrote about the difference between little t and big T traumas.