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A powerful discussion on how people experience trauma, how the world can redefine trauma and how to move through our own trauma as leaders to help others.

If you enjoyed this episode today, be sure to hit the follow button on the player (• • •) and share it with your friends and colleagues. ~ Big Love, April

In this episode, we’ll discuss defining trauma, the trauma triangle and how to show up for others as a leader

00:00 – Introduction
01:28 – Trauma defined as an abrupt separation of self  
02:43 – Leader as a way of being 
03:57 – Showing up fully for others 
05:24 – Being present to yourself first 
05:51 – 3 ways people show up when experiencing trauma 
09:23 – How culture creates trauma 
11:14 – Leadership program for kids
14:09 – Trauma triangle: victim, surviving, thriving
19:31 – Breathwork classes
20:12 – Trauma as a gift

Originally broadcast in May 2020 during the Lead From Within Global Leadership Summit at the onset of the global pandemic. My purpose for republishing is that the value of the conversations with leading experts around the globe is still relevant and will continue to be a touchstone for empowering business and community leaders with innovation and compassion during challenging times.

Thank you for tuning in to the leader lounge community podcast. If you enjoyed this episode today, be sure to hit follow and share with your friends and community.

Loretta Cella bio

Loretta Cella holds a Master of Leadership from Royal Roads University and has been a certified ICF coach since 2007. From grassroots charity work globally to working on provincial, federal and municipal projects as a change and organizational development consultant, Loretta is no stranger to supporting people from all backgrounds and ages to lead healthier lives both in and out of the workplace. She is a seasoned public speaker, and passionate about raising people’s potential and being immersed in diverse cultures, and the outdoors. In addition to her formal education, Loretta has been practicing body therapy breathwork for four years and has recently taken two training modalities and integrated them into her client practice. As an independent mother of 1 and having been rescued by a dog 9 years ago, Loretta spends much of her time outdoors enjoying the beauty of the Sunshine Coast, BC.

Links to additional resources

Loretta Cella on Instagram: @lorettacella 

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April Qureshi (00:02):
Hello, and welcome to the leader lounge community podcast, where influential leaders bridge the gap between people and performance. I’m your host, April Qureshi on today’s episode of the leader lounge. I’m speaking with Loretta from Level Connections, global leadership coach and consultant. And we’re talking about how people experience trauma, how we can redefine trauma and move through it as leaders to help others

April Qureshi (00:30):
Welcome Loretta.

Loretta Cella (00:31):
Thanks so much for having me April. I’m excited to jump into this powerful conversation and discussion that you are launching out in the world.

April Qureshi (00:40):
Yeah. And so today we’re talking about, understanding how trauma affects our leadership and how we can take a conscious approach to, prioritizing wellness in our business and our lives. And so Loretta, I’m curious how, how, tell us how people experience trauma.

Loretta Cella (01:00):
Yeah. So I look at trauma probably a little bit different than most people do. I think that, we have a very, broad perspective of, , of trauma and it’s often sensationalized by media. So we, when we think about trauma, what’s the first thing that comes to mind, like how about I post it right to you? What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about trauma.

April Qureshi (01:20):
I think car crash, honestly like that just, you said media and I thought car crash. So yeah. Yeah. And I think that that is a metaphor, right?

Loretta Cella (01:28):
Yeah. Right. So we think of like car crash, we think of death. We think of like, you know, some type of terrible incident in the world. but really to me, when I look ahead in my work over the years in the last 20 years working in, in, you know, I look at it as human services. So I’ve, I’ve serviced to humans, you know, for all ages and all walks and trauma’s much different because trauma’s very personal. So I look at trauma as, something that, , is an abrupt separation from self that creates pain, suffering and grief. And for many people that could be lots of different things, depending on, it could be dependent upon social economic status. It can be dependent on life experience. It can be dependent on genetics. There’s lots of different things that we can take into consideration when we think about trauma, when we look at it from a more holistic lens.

April Qureshi (02:19):
Yeah. And so you said separation, so trauma is a separation from self. I, I’ve never heard it spoken that way before, so that’s really curious. And so, you know, when we think of leadership and, you know, being that person who stands up for others, if we’re, if we’re experiencing trauma ourselves as a leader, you know, how does that affect our leadership and, what might we be able to do about it?

Loretta Cella (02:43):
So I think sometimes we think about leaders as a position. And I look at leadership is not a position. Leadership is a way of being, and so it’s a way of showing up in the world. And so we humans experience life, right. And life sometimes has, lots of times has trauma. We all go through traumas. And, and so when we are experiencing, or in a state of trauma, like much of the world is right now, reorganizing itself, what I’m looking at. It’s reorganizing itself. there are a lot of people in leadership positions who are in a state of trauma right there, all of a sudden there’s abrupt separation of self. What do I do? How do I show up? Who needs me? How do they need me? And there’s just this hamster wheel that’s going on for them. And, so how, you know, how, how do they manage that? Well, I think everybody manages it differently and I think the very first step is about, you know, what, what is the experience that you’re having right now and landing in that for just a moment before actually taking action.

April Qureshi (03:52):
So connecting with the trauma itself, is that what you’re saying?

Loretta Cella (03:57):
I wanna backtrack just a little bit. So I think I talked a little bit about, you know, the, the need to look at trauma differently, and first the need to actually look at self. So if you, we are in a state of trauma and we need to show up for other people, it’s actually impossible for us to show up fully, right? Because we are in ourselves, in a wheelhouse thinking about how are we going to manage, what are we experiencing? And then showing up for other people, there’s, there’s a, a disconnect. So the first thing I tell people, whenever they’re in a state of trauma or in a state of, if you don’t like the word trauma, some people don’t, but if you’re in a state of, , disorientation or distraction or disruption is stop. Don’t take action. Because what happens is, is that we’re ending up in fight, flight, or freeze mode.

Loretta Cella (04:44):
And so if we’re in fight, flight or freeze, we’re not actually using our full brain. If we’re not using our full brain, we actually are not, we’re gonna end up with more consequences and ramifications afterwards. And so the very first thing I ask people to do, if I’m coaching them, if they’re in that state, which is normally when I get the calls, normally I get the calls when people are like panicking, because things are going on for them, is, is just stop for a moment. What are you experiencing right now? Okay. So whatever the emotion is, whatever the trauma, whatever the experience, whatever the financial, whatever it is, that’s showing up. Stop for a moment, be present to it. And then what do they need?

Loretta Cella (05:24):
And then once they know what they need, then they can take action to create some fullness within themselves. So really like self care for those that self care and then take action. That is not a natural thing for most natural leaders to do. The first thing is how do I help? And they jump out versus being present to themselves. So what I’ve seen a really interesting in this, in this pandemic, in this state of our world, right now, there are three ways that people have been showing up.

Loretta Cella (05:51):
The very first thing is the, is the fight flight or freeze, where is like, okay, what do I need? And what do I, how do I get it now? Like, they’re just like, like taking in whatever they can. There was like a hoarding type of, right. We all, we saw that all over the place. Mm-hmm right. Toilet, paper, water, you know, all those, like the, everybody gasoline, everybody’s just like grabbing it all.

Loretta Cella (06:10):
The second way. People show up in a state of trauma that I’ve been seeing, or that I’ve seen that I’ve read a lot about lately is the need to go out and help other people. So the first thing they do is like, how do I help you? What do I need to do? And they’re just like, and there’s no sense of self. So they’re jumping to the rescue of everybody else. And then they hit. And that’s when I got the call for my breathwork sessions for coaching session. And then they dove and then they started to feel the fatigue and the overwhelm, the depression, everything else that started to set in.

Loretta Cella (06:41):
And then the other group of people that I’ve been seeing and I’m generalizing. Some people have been dancing throughout these. The other group of people are the ones that have to stop. Hold on a second. I’m not, well, I’m not in my wellness. I don’t feel centered. I don’t feel mentally clear. I don’t feel in a state that I can just be present. And so what do I need to fill my cup? As I was just saying, mm-hmm and then what can I manageably take on? And who do I need to help to support me? So that’s when I get the calls, when people, and say, Loretta, I’m not feeling full, I need to feel full because I have people that I need to support, whether it’s my family, right. Whether it is, my, my, , employees, whether it’s my neighbors, whatever it is, just stopping for a moment being present, filling their cup, and then intentionally deciding about how they versus reactionary.

April Qureshi (07:33):
Mm-hmm I like what you said about intentionally there. So what you’re saying, what I heard you say is that like, when we’re experiencing experiencing trauma, we’re separate from ourselves. So what you’re saying is to get back into, reconnect with ourselves, just stop, reconnect, and intentionally, rather than just taking random action, you know, intentionally setting up, what do I need to do next? Yeah, yeah.

Loretta Cella (07:59):
Right. Because when we’re in our full mind, we can see full solution, full possibilities. We can problem solve. We can critically think because our mind is working, but when we’re in fight, flight or freeze, and we’re in that state of being, we don’t have access to those internal resources. Mm-hmm . And so what happens is we’re actually working on wounds. So when I say wounds, what means is like any traumas that we have had in their li in our lives, we’ll start to show up. I worked with, , with somebody who was a lead of, of a company. And they said, you know, it was really interesting for them. They had all these employees that they had to, support and what they were noticing is that their trauma for when they were a child, when there was no food in the house was showing up for them. And so they were more worried about how to put food in the cupboard, even though they had lots of it. Right then. And so you can’t, when you’re in that state, there’s no possible way that you can actually be a full service to those who you are serving.

April Qureshi (08:58):
Mm-hmm mm-hmm . And so I’m curious how your personal journey has, you know, has, has your experiences, how does that affect, how you lead and how you show up, you know, with this, this, this work of transformation, this work of trauma. So how has, how have your personal experiences, led you to this place?

Loretta Cella (09:23):
Oh, there’s a whole array of them. , you know, oh gosh, it’s a, it’s a long story. And I see that, so I can get the, the Coles notes for you. I started off as a child and youth care counselor. So I started working with, with individuals who were in high trauma. And, that originated my career choice, starting down the helping field. And this was 20 years ago, is because I grew up with a great separation of self. So I grew up in, in a, in a world where my culture, which I’m Italian background was all about, oh, we, how do we as community? There was no real sense of I, how do I show up that didn’t exist? So it’s like what we need to do for us. But I grew up in a world in north America in one of the suburbs outside of Vancouver, that where most of everybody around me was I, how do I show up?

Loretta Cella (10:17):
What do I need? How do I, and so, right, from a very young age, I felt a separation of the we and that way, and it’s a pull and in life we need both of those. You know, I learned through education, through therapy, through all kinds of things that we actually do need both, but when they are distinct entities, we create a lot of disruption and we see that in our world, right? So when I work in, you know, what led me from there led me to creating a charity, which I created, in 2007 and, called at that time, it was called passion foundation. The idea is that if passion was the foundation of everything that we did, incredible things would happen, and that’s now morphed into the passion to lead society. But when I created that, the reason why I created that is because what I noticed around me is there was so much need for young people to understand the difference in the interconnectedness of the I and the we.

Loretta Cella (11:14):
And so I created a leadership program called the elements of success. And, that program is a 14 hour program that kids take is still to this day of our, our taking we’ve expanded to 15 countries around the world, in partnerships with other organizations, over the years. And, it was really that leadership program is about bringing the I and the we together to create effective leadership and the possibilities that can be created when we understand the power of I from a values based place. And we join together with other values, like individuals in order to create something powerful in our community. And in that process, they do healing and unwinding and all kinds of powerful things.

April Qureshi (11:59):

Loretta Cella (12:00):
And that’s where the journey started. And it’s just evolved from there.

April Qureshi (12:03):
Yeah. That’s an amazing, that’s amazing that you created these two foundations, so helping young leaders, , through connecting through values based and, and bringing together the I and the we, and so if you’ve been doing this since 2007, I’m curious if you’ve followed along with anybody and, you know, so if they were a young person at the time, you know, have you followed along with anybody, have you had that opportunity to stay connected and find out how they’re doing, in their, in their continued leadership now?

Loretta Cella (12:37):
Yeah. We’ve, I mean, we’ve seen some really amazing stuff over the years. You know, it’s hard when we work in developing nations to stay in contact, obviously because of technology because of a number of different things, but, you know, in Indian Bangalore, in the Vivar area, we, we saw girls graduate high school being the first of their family and in that’s a big deal. we’ve seen them take other jobs outside of domestic work, which is a really big deal. we’ve seen them take the information and give it to others, which is a really big deal. So this is the, I think that’s really powerful when we educate, you know, when we educate, those and develop nations and help them to work through their traumas and their experiences and help them to raise the I because there is no, we, sorry, there is no, I there’s only we right.

Loretta Cella (13:30):
And we help them to see the possibilities. The first thing that they wanna do is share it. So the sped, the spread and the span is just remarkable. And so when you’re helping to raise the I and we community, and works through the traumas and be value based and create projects, amazing things happen. And in north American cultures or eye cultures, and I’m just generalizing again, right. when you inject the we, and we show a different type of we and different possibilities, and you work through that together and create community and connection, amazing things start to happen. And it’s all about that really. It starts about how we integrate from the foundational place.

April Qureshi (14:09):
Yeah. And I, I like the way, you shared with, with me in a, a small group a few weeks ago, the, at the very beginning of the pandemic before there was the lockdown, you, you shared a trauma triangle. and, and it, and it summarizes really distinctly for me when, when you shared it with us, it was like, oh, okay. So, and it, it’s just a nice summary of how, how, the, the transformation of trauma helps us, you know, like you said, with these young women in, in India, become leaders themselves and start sharing all this, creating that ripple effect, , in, in, across the world. And so, can you just share with us briefly that, that trauma triangle, so we can get a sense of the stages that someone goes through from being a victim, to being, you know, one of those people that can actually lead and begin to share, to share these gifts with, with the world.

Loretta Cella (15:05):
thank you. Yeah. So, , as I mentioned, when I, I, I have come to Des describe or to, look at trauma as an abrupt separation himself, that creates grief, pain, and suffering and some of some sort sadness of some sort. And that could be lots of different things when we experience that trauma and we become a victim, right? And so if you look at the triangle, the triangles in three layers, and so when our basic need food, shelter, water, safety, belonging, whatever it is, think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right? When that basic level gets pulled from us in one form shape or another, we become a victim. We go, every single human being goes through this in different degrees in their entire life. When we experience that, that victimization, we then, and we replace the basic need. We then move into a state of survival.

Loretta Cella (16:04):
So you often hear people say, I am surviving, I’m surviving this, I’m surviving that whatever it is, they move into survival mode. So all that’s difference between victimization and survival is the replacement of that basic need, food, shelter, water, safety, belonging, connection, love, whatever it is. However, there’s still the trauma that exists within that. So what happens is, is that people cycle, so I might one day feel a, be in a state of, let’s say, I, I lose my job. I lose my job. And this is what a lot of people are experiencing right now. So let’s make this relevant. I lose my job. I become a victim. My sense of safety and security has taken from me. Let’s say that I, find basic income. Okay. So let’s, well, let’s look at the, the CEBA, right? So we get our basic income.

Loretta Cella (16:55):
Okay. That puts us in survival mode. It does not put us into a state of thriving, which is the next layer. All it does is it moves us into a survival mode. Right. And we still have the stories of what happened that took that job away from us attached to the CEBA, the CEBA. right. So the, so the, the financial support that we’re receiving here in Canada right now, so, or some of us are, I know I’m not, but some of us, some people are. And so what happens is that we move into a state of, of that place, the, the trauma still there, when that money goes away and the job for whatever reason may end or whatever else might happen, we’re gonna cycle back into a state of victimization. And this is, I believe going to be true for a lot of people because the story and the issues of our world are not going to change overnight.

Loretta Cella (17:53):
And so we’re gonna see a lot of people that are gonna be cycling between this. However, there are gonna be a, a portion of people who will choose something different, so they will be cycling over and over and over again. And maybe this will be something this experience in our world will go, hold on, full stop. I want something different in my life. I wasn’t even happy in my job before. I didn’t like this. I didn’t like that. I didn’t feel whole, I, you know, what I realized in being still that 50 hours a week, that I was pulling as a leader in my job, I can’t do that anymore. This time with my family. So important to me, my time, planting my garden, my time walking in nature, my time, you know, whatever it is, people’s reorganization of values will then start to go, oh, hold on a second.

Loretta Cella (18:44):
What do I want? And this is where, how we move into a thriving state. So the last model for the triangle is the thriving state and how we move into a thriving state is changing the story, right? So we go from victim to thrive or victim to thrive or victim to thrive, or until the story changes, when the story changes, we then start to thrive and we start to reorganize our way of being. We look at our core values. We look at our direction in life. This is where I get people saying, Loret okay, I’m done. Like, there’ll be, you know, a number of like seven, eight different contacts with me. And then all of a sudden, a year later I’ll get, okay, Loretta, I’m done. Like, I am ready. Can we do some work please? You know, I have people in my breathwork classes, I just started teaching the breathwork classes online as my way of thriving in the world.

Loretta Cella (19:31):
Like, what can I do with this? So I took my breathwork classes online and, I had somebody contact me last week and said, you know, and she had, you know, been dancing around coaching with me and she’s an incredible leader in the community. And then she just, and she took one of my breathwork classes and she goes, I’m taking this every week. Like I’m coming back every week. Cuz I am so ready not to be in the state that I was in anymore. Right. And that is where possibly that doesn’t mean it gets super easy, but it does get more aligned and more powerful when we go there. And then how we show up in the world is, I mean, it just lights everything on fire. And it’s really amazing in a positive way, in a positive way.

April Qureshi (20:12):
So, you know, you said that trauma is a gift in disguise. And so what you’re speaking of really, really says that, right? So we can take this, we could call it an opportunity. you know, being in this pandemic, being in lockdown and, and having our, our life basically, thrown up in the air and, and who knows where the pieces may, may fall. And so you’re seeing trauma as a gift in disguise. And, , there’s a beauty in that. There’s like a freedom in that. And so I’m curious if there was something that you want, our leader, our leaders, and our listeners to walk away with today, what would be that one thing

Loretta Cella (20:59):
You have choice. It may not feel like it, right? So there’s a lot of people that are in the world right now that are feeling like their choice has been taken away from them. And I listen to this, given the work that I’ve do in the world. And I tell you, it’s not, it’s not, there is a really powerful choice that we have right now as individuals to connect to our own wellness in a different way. So if you are watching this and you are in a state where going, what’s next? I don’t know, like this is just terrible and the world is falling apart and whatever it is that you may be thinking, and that’s influenced by media, there’s so many different influences that are influencing you right now, whether you realize it or not, is that you have choice. Sit down with yourself. You have the time, sit down with yourself, make a cup of tea, drink a glass of water, have a coffee, try to avoid the cocktail, right. And sit down and just go, what is it that I want to create for myself, for my employees, for my company, for my customers, for, my future customers, what is it that I wanna create? And how do I do that?

April Qureshi (22:20):
Does that mean changing the story? Like you talked about story, right? So, you know, we know that everything that we’ve done is our story is our past got us to this place here. So basically you’re saying that we can change our story and make different choices in life.

Loretta Cella (22:35):
Change the tape. I once worked with an artist about seven years ago, at a Whistler BC, and she had a poster series in this art installation. And it was, she had an, , an eating disorder. And so she wrote the internal dialogue that had and created art with it. And it was, , it was amazing. And I said, can I turn this into a poster series for her school? And one of the words, and I, there was some profanity in there, but one of them was just like, I’m just not enough. I can’t figure this out. Why am I always here? I, and then the bottom was the affirmation. I need to change the tape.

April Qureshi (23:11):

Loretta Cella (23:12):
And I love that. So I turned it into a series that I handed out to schools everywhere, because that’s all that it takes. And it’s, it’s the hardest thing to do. I know that I fully recognize it is the hardest thing to do. And so this is why people like us come around to help, to support people, to navigate, changing that, take, to do it at a step by step, easy process so that you can have a different story so that you can create a different outcome. So that those things that you’re yearning and desiring to be and to lead with in the world can start to show up.

April Qureshi (23:44):
That’s beautiful message. Yeah. And Loretta, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your insights on how, trauma and transformation affects our leadership. Thank you so much, April. You’re welcome.

April Qureshi (24:00):
Thank you for tuning in to the leader lounge community podcast. If you enjoyed this episode today, be sure to hit, follow and share with your friends and community. Until next time. I’m April Qureshi. Bye for now.