The crisp chill in the air is signaling the turn of the seasons. Fall is giving way to winter and at this time of year, as I go for walks in the midst of the colorful puddles of leaves given up by the trees, it is easier to pause.
To Pause. To Reflect and To Re-member.
As I do so, what is on my mind is the impact of the times we are living through. We have certainly been living through tumultuous times and collective trauma. A theme that continues to emerge in my talks and work with groups and in all my professional circles.
We are collectively tired, stressed, overwhelmed, covid-fatigued, zoomed-out and hanging on by thin mental threads. We are carrying the traumatic impacts that living through the era of a COVID-19 pandemic, heightened social action and responsibility for change, a global mental health crisis, climate change and ongoing virtual work has led to.
I am stuck here. Oscillating between the hope and despair of whether we will get to the other side of it all. But what keeps me grounded as I pause, reflect and re-member is what my research has taught me—that collective trauma, like individual trauma can be addressed head-on.
What we know about collective/organization trauma includes this. That it:
- Results from an event or accumulation of events (e.g. COVID-19 and all it’s ripple effects…)
- Has seismic impact (can rock our world…)
- Challenges core fundamental beliefs of organizational life (we have worked remotely or from home for 18 months…)
- Reduces emotional and overall psychological functioning of individuals and groups (global reports of increased mental health strens…)
- Can be inherent in organizational life (it comes with us to work, especially when we are working from our bedrooms and dinning room tables…)
- Is an unconscious element of group life (we’d rather be in denial/it’s too hard to talk about it…)
Navigating through this experience requires facilitating and leading for transformation out of traumatic and chaotic circumstances by working through three cycles of narrative dialogues:
- Understanding Trauma Narratives
- Connecting to Resonance
- Uncovering Possibilities & Igniting Transformation Narratives
In other words, first take time to surface, listen and unpack the extent of traumatic experiences in the dominant narratives, then connect people to their Resonance stories and finally support the strategic planning required to uncover possibilities and ignite transformation. In a recent session I facilitated, here are some examples of how participants were able to articulate the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic:
- People are isolated … and yet more digitally connect than ever before
- We are missing personal connection. There is less “belonging” in organizations
- There’s a lot of change.
- Fractured experience not being recognized; performance standards have not been adjusted
- We made middle class biased assumptions that all could easily pivot to a virtual world.
- Disconnected and the “great resignation”; people leaving workplaces for better working environments
- Tired of old paradigms; people are creating new futures for themselves and demanding more workplace support
- It is rife with complexity
- Disjointed but caring
- It is forever changed — flexibility is here to stay
- What does the new normal look like?
- Opportunity to create a new organizational life that is better, more human centered than before
- Connection matters more now
- It’s hard to be apart or that people are burning out, isolated or overworked
- uncertain, burnout, pivoting to new future
- It’s painful and ambiguous
- The employee has the power
- More isolated and fragmented
- It’s an 18 month long zoom meeting
- It’s a marathon not a sprint
In taking time to unpack the dominant experience, traumatic impacts are released because the internalized and isolating experiences of trauma are transformed to experiences of connection (I am not alone!). Healing occurs in this sharing and a sense of movement from stuck to unstuck emerges. Next, take the time to surface Resonance stories. A Resonance story is a personal account of a past life experience that deeply connects you to your identity and purpose. Resonance stories can entail verbal, written, symbolic, metaphoric or expressive forms and are the mediums through which Resonance is realized. Have individuals and groups uncover and share with each other:
- What is a story from your life (remembrance from childhood or recent past – to a person, a thing, a trigger with the quality of nostalgia) that deeply connects you to and signifies your organizational and life purpose?
This story sharing shifts people toward possibilities for transformation and provides an anchor to move forward towards the third cycle of planning and taking action for transformation. Here is a sampling of the impacts participants report of surfacing and working from their Resonance stories:
- There’s more to unpack! It made me feel less alone
- Connected wounds to present gifts and contribution
- Emotional release
- We’re responsible to get clear so we could be available to the world
- Reminder of purpose
- Realize how it is still in my body
- heart strings… connections
- Clarity, commitment
- Connection and hope!
- Part of my learning journey
- I felt connected to 2 strangers in a way that was powerful. It gave me more clarity around how I might make an impact.
- Powerful! Insightful!! Much needed!! Tears in our eyes!!
- Feeling seen and acknowledged
- Realized I still have strong emotions tied to this memory
- Each of us reflected on a way that covid gave us more time for something and the impact that had on us. Makes me wonder what would be possible for all of us if we could make more space and time
- Connected with our common humanity. Witnessed
- Put me in touch with the most traumatic time in my life and how it has made me who I am and how I am with others
- A safe space to be vulnerable. deep, vulnerable, resonant
- Energizes my commitment to the possibility
- Moved me from outside, in. Re-humanizing, Re-membering, Re-connecting
The power of sharing Resonance stories, which must be done in the context of trusted disclosure that allows for insights and meaning-making, is that it allows us to Re-member. The etymology of the word remember is from the Latin rememoror, meaning to call to mind…and also memor, which means to be mindful. I love this, because it aligns with my research and practice experience that people who operate from Resonance are mindful of who they are, how they are connected to others and what their contributions are to the world. When we operate from Resonance, we are able to pause, reflect and re-member…put the pieces of memory back together and anchor again to what is most important.
Against this anchor, planning for change and transforming trauma becomes possible and easier, And when we are stuck, we can go back to Resonance for anchor. As one of the participant responses note, to transcend collective trauma to healing and transformation, we must move from outside, in. Re-humanizing, Re-membering, Re-connecting…
How might you use these ideas to transcend the traumatic experiences in our organizations today?