On Leadership

A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.

Being a leader is difficult. It was so in the past, and it is arguably more so in these days. Why? Because we have more outlets of expression in the modern day than in the past.

In our grandparents generation, if you had something to say what would you do? You would sit down and take the time to compose a letter to a newspaper, write in in the most eloquent and thought-provoking way, and submit it to the letters section of the newspaper. Or you might call the radio station.

And over the years the speed of this voice would be hastened to the point where you could fax a letter in time for tomorrow’s paper.

In the modern day, you could do various things. Not only could you set up your own website and blog to air your own views, you could comment on the other blogs and websites you frequent and take part in their forum pages. But that’s not all, you could Tweet your comments and put them on social media such as Instagram. You can also text or tweet. The possibilities are endless. And you can air an opinion by call, letter, email, fax, phone chat, text.

But what has the difficulties of being a leader got to do with the increase and advancement of technology?

It is because every one has an opinion and an avenue to air it quickly.

Whatever you say, someone is going to second guess it. Whatever you do, there will be someone with an opposing view. Every one is entitled to their own view, yes. But the thing is every one wants to be giving an opinion, even when it has nothing to add to debate or discussion. And some people just want to add their two cents so that others will know they spoke. Even though, for example, in a forum discussion, someone may just write “well said”, their intention in doing so is not really to demonstrate their opinion, but to make others believe they have an opinion. It does not take long to type a short sentence, and it is the easiest way to comment and take part. And some people are contrarian just to have a chance to air their opinion.

So being a leader, demonstrating a willingness to think and act, is difficult because not only has a leader have to deal with opinion and judgement, he has to demonstrate strong will and character and hold on to his own opinion, even though there may be know it alls who doubt him just to have something to say. It is very easy to hang on the coat tails of someone intecllectual and ride their argument and say “I disagree” to them!

Finding Strength

When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.

There is no question that at various points in life we will find obstaclees placed in our path. What did you expect? Did you think that life would be one smooth travellator, where once you have got on from birth, it would just be a matter of coasting along?

The above analogy highlights an important thing. Life is not smooth. Things happen. This could be a career incident – being made redundant, or being fired. Or it could be something to do with relationships – a breakup. But because life is never smooth anyway, we can’t view these occurences as the disruption to the natural order of things. Instead we should view them as a part of a natural order of things.

You can find this change in mindset really helpful. When something goes wrong, don’t waste energy thinking “Why did it go wrong? Why is life so unfair?” Now, the severity of the bad thing may lead us down this path. But if we see obstacles as occurring naturally anyway, learning to deal with them could result in emotional growth. How we control our instant unbridled reactions, and instead focus on dealing with them, is what gives us emotional growth and a base to lay future foundations on.

Instead of wallowing in anger or pity – or perhaps allow yourself some opportunity to feel this way -focus your energies on what you can do and how you can dig yourself out of a poor situation. Sometimes, a healthy mindset helps. When a person loses a job for example, it is easy to panic at how you will manage for the next few months without a job. The higher the stakes, the higher the panic. But focus your energies into thinking how you can work things out financially, and drawing up contingency plans. This is a way of teaching yourself not to panic whenever something “bad” or unexpected happens. And the next time something like this happens again, you will have had the positive experience to deal with it again, instead of reinforcing it with a mixture of panic, guilt and fear.

Our natural reactions are to panic and let bad things destroy us. But we can learn to turn adversity into action and let it define us, and build our character.

What is really important is to realise that we have a choice. We of course don’t choose the bad things that happen to us, but we have a choice in deciding how we will react and respond. That we can control. When bad circumstances happen, often the initial feeling of fear and panic is developed from a lack of control over the happenings. We all feel calm when we have a measure of control than if we had not. So work on establishing and creating some form of control over situations. Choose how you feel. Choose how you react.


What does success mean to you? To different people success means different things. For some, the measure of success is how much money they earn. For others, being successful means being in charge. We often define success in terms either of wealth, control, power or status.

Perhaps an intersection point of all these is to define success as achieving what one has set out to do.

But achieving it is only part of the equation. Consider these points about success:

Don’t let others define you. Don’t let the past confine you. Take charge of your life with confidence and determination and there are no limits on what you can do or be.

The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.

Success is more permanent when you achieve it without destroying your principles.

Never give up on your dream…Perseverance is all important. If you don’t have the desire and the belief in yourself to keep trying after you’ve been told you should quit, you’ll never make it.

You get the common points among all four of the above quotes.

Sucess involves perserverance. The pursuit of one’s goals involves dogged determination and you have to keep believing in the pursuit of your goals. But perserverance and doggedness need to be correctly focussed. Speak to people and friends and gather their feedback. What is even better is if you can speak to a counsellor or someone neutral to get an unbiased point of view. Our friends, are often too keen to tell us what we want to hear and not what is objective. Get an independent view about the pursuit of your goals. Correctly focussed, that is perserverance. Wrongly focussed, it is delusion.

Success also involves a certain level of integrity. If we set out to be sucessful but achieve it without integrity, that success is fleeting and a stain on our character. For example, some people may consider being a millionaire as a mark of success. Some others may question that marker, but nevertheless, if you have achieved that financial target you set yourself then in your eyes you are successful. But if you achieved that target through deceit, through means that you should not have, that success is tainted.

A characteristic of successful people is trying to turn negatives into positives. The pursuit of goals involves obstacles and difficulties along the way. They may leave you disheartened. But if you have the outlook of trying to turn disaster into opportunity, trying to make good from negatives, then you are on your way to being successful. Life will always throw its fair share of problems, but if you can turn them into your advantage, then you will be successful!

Sliding doors

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so long regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.

– Alexander Graham Bell

In daily life we have to achieve some sort of balance between direction and opportunity. And just what exactly do I mean by that? We have to have a certain idea of how we would like our life to be – that is our direction. This gives us a certain focus and thing to aim for. Without one, we just end up being washed along by the tide of ambivalence, going along with what is determined for us. It is good to have ideas and focus, but these need to be revised along the journey in life. We might want certain things from life, but these are visions which we have to balance with opportunity and reality. Harsh reality, some might say.

For example, you may wish to be an engineer. You may undertake your undergraduate studies but midway a family crisis may mean you have to go out to work to provide for the family, and have to abandon your studies temporarily for that purpose. Or you harbour thoughts of being a fashion designer, but cannot raise the finances to train for that. In both cases, you cannot merely just bulldoze your way to achieve your dream. At least, not without causing great distress to the world around you. The pursuit of your dream, without balance, will only cause you great unhappiness once your initial drive has stalled.

When our expected view of life meets reality, often the change that is imposed on us causes on temporary unhappiness, when we realise that we have to make changes. But instead of dwelling on what could have been, it is better to focus the energy on what could be. After all, it could be argued that today’s world offers so much variety, that too much choice is only more confusing. When one door closes, look at it as life filtering out your choices so as to limit and focus them more finely. When one of your many doors closes, look at it as you not having to consider that option in future decisions. And the ones that remain become better options, that are gradually more in tune with your life journey.

So don’t regret the closure of the one door. Try to see which of those that remain become better future options.

Recognising trauma symptoms can help deal with trauma

To fully understand the impact of trauma and complex trauma, practitioners will need to familiarise themselves with the primary symptoms of trauma. While each survivor’s reactions to trauma are unique and will vary from person to person and depend on the type of trauma, age, the frequency and duration of the abuse, and the relationship to the abuser(s), there are a number of commonalities.

It is crucial that survivors are helped to recognise that the physical and psychological reactions to trauma are normal responses which serve to protect us, and are elicited outside of conscious awareness or control. These reactions are like an emotional immune system, which instead of fighting invading bacteria or viruses, fights to protect us from harm.

To help survivors understand their reactions to trauma, practitioners need to be able to convey the following information in a way that is easily understood by the client and that makes sense to them. This can be supported with directed reading or self-help books such as The Warrior Within (Sanderson, 2010c). Persistent re-experiencing of trauma can be triggered by both internal and external cues. This means that even if the survivor is currently not in actual external danger, inner feelings and sensations can trigger a range of PTSD reactions. Given that they may already be in an elevated state of anxiety, it is easy to set off an already highly sensitive alarm system on the basis of internal physiological arousal. This is potentially dangerous as it prevents the survivor from recognising actual external danger and makes it hard to assess objectively the degree of safety.

To help survivors understand the neurological and physiological responses to trauma it is helpful to explore their knowledge of how the body reacts to danger. When in the presence of danger primitive biological mechanisms such as the alarm system are activated to aid survival. As a result the brain releases a cascade of neuro-chemicals which start a complex chain of bodily reactions, all of which are designed to protect us from the harmful effects of trauma.

Although the alarm system does not stop the emotional pain, stress or trauma from happening, it does cushion the trauma and helps us to deal with it.

The alarm system acts as an emotional immune system, which like the physical immune system, is activated outside of conscious awareness and is therefore not under our control. It is vital that survivors understand that whatever their reactions during the trauma, these were outside of conscious control and therefore they are not to blame or at fault for how they responded. Recognising this can dramatically reduce any crippling feelings of shame, self-blame, or guilt.

When the body’s alarm system is tripped and goes on red alert it sends signals to the brain to prepare for fight, flight or freeze. This sets off two crucial biological defence systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system mobilises high level energy necessary for fight or flight, while the parasympathetic nervous system slows down the heart and metabolic rate which results in the freeze response.

The two structures in the brain that regulate the alarm system are both located in the limbic system, the amygdala and the hippocampus. The role of the amygdala is to detect threatening information through external senses such as touch, taste, sound, smell or vision. The amygdala is responsible for determining whether incoming stimuli are desirable, benign or dangerous.

To maximise survival, this evaluation is instantaneous but crude and primitive in that it does not use deeper analysis, reason or common sense. This is why it is often referred to as the ‘fast and dirty route’. If the stimulus is life threatening, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, which send messages through the nervous system to the muscles and internal organs to either attack, run or play dead.

The amygdala is highly sensitive to any danger and is easily activated to increase readiness to attack or defend (fight), run (flight) or submit (freeze). In contrast to the ‘fast and dirty’ route of the amygdala, the hippocampus is a much slower route in that it evaluates the external threat through deeper analysis using conscious thought, memory, prior knowledge, reason and logic. The hippocampus is also critical in laying down new memories and experiences. If the danger is truly life threatening, the hippocampus will send messages to continue with appropriate responses. If however the deeper analysis concludes that the stimuli are not dangerous it will send messages to deactivate the responses.

In most cases of threat these two structures work in harmony to balance appropriate responses to the situation. When the trauma is prolonged and repeated such as in complex trauma, the feedback loop that controls these two systems malfunctions and floods the body with high levels of stress hormones.

While these stress hormones are critical for survival, they are highly toxic and only designed to circulate for short periods of time so that the individual can get to a place of safety or remain safe until the threat is over. In the case of certain traumas such as CPA or CSA where the child cannot fight or run to safety, the only option is to freeze. This means that the stress hormones cannot be discharged and remain in the system, which can have a number of negative consequences, not least forcing the alarm system to remain on red alert, or ‘online’(Sanderson, 2010c).

Evidence shows that high levels of cortisol that are not discharged can lead to the destruction of brain cells which can affect the function and size of the amygdala and hippocampus (Gerhardt, 2004; Teicher, 2000). Such malfunction leads to increased arousal, fear and anger responses, as well as memory impairments. When the brain and body are flooded with chronic levels of stress hormones the hippocampus goes ‘offline’and is unable to accurately evaluate the degree of threat or danger. It is also not able to assess whether the danger is internal or external, or whether the traumatic incident is over or on-going, and cannot send the appropriate messages to the amygdala to deactivate the alarm system. This leads to the alarm system remaining on constant red alert and the continued release of stress hormones.

As a consequence the body responds as though the trauma is on-going, even after the threat is over. Over time the alarm system is reset on a default setting of ‘on’, with survivors feeling as though they are being repeatedly traumatised. This leads to a heightened or continuous state of danger, known as hyper-arousal.

This hyper-arousal forces stress hormones to continue to flood the body and brain, and the tyranny of post-traumatic stress responses. Since the hippocampus is not able to regulate the alarm setting, or halt the release of chronic levels of stress hormones, its ability to store new memories is reduced. This means that the trauma is not stored within context or time, making it seem as though it is continuous and never ending.

This in turn prevents the processing of the trauma keeping it ‘online’ with the same vividness and intensity as when the actual assault happened. Not being able to process the traumatic experience makes it harder for survivors to store it in memory or to recall it leading to amnesia, or incomplete or fragmented memories. A crucial goal in recovering from complex trauma is to bring the hippocampus back ‘online’ so that its function can be restored to regulate the alarm system to evaluate danger, and differentiate between internal and external threat.

Prolonged release of high levels of stress hormones impacts on physical well-being leading to a range of physical problems such as hypertension, physical exhaustion, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sleep impairment, and digestive, respiratory and endocrine problems. In addition, chronic fear reactions and high levels of adrenaline evoke waves of overwhelming anger which survivors cannot release for fear of consequences, thereby creating even further stress. Hyper-arousal also affects concentration and the ability to reflect on or process experiences, preventing survivors from making sense of their experiences.

While the alarm system can activate three alternative reactions – fight, flight or freeze – in most cases of complex trauma, especially when it occurs in childhood, there is only one option: to freeze. The freeze response is designed to conserve energy so that the individual can escape when the danger is over. Young children are not able to outrun or fight an adult effectively, and are thus left with no option but to freeze.

While the freeze response protects the individual from the greater threat of the consequences of fighting back or running away, it is often experienced as passive submission. This can make survivors feel as though they were weak in not fighting back or running away, which can lead to shame, self-blame and guilt. It is important to convey to survivors that realistically children are not able to escape, especially if the abuser is a significant figure in the child’s life such as a parent, relative or priest. In that moment they are both powerless and helpless.

However, the sense of submission can often haunt them and leave them feeling ashamed that they did not do more to prevent the abuse. This is also true for adults who are in thrall to an abuser who has power and authority over them. The freeze response also protects individuals from the full impact of the pain of the abuse.

As the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a sense of calmness descends on the brain, slowing everything down, and the body begins to feel numb in order to cushion the anticipated pain and the emotional terror of the trauma. Once the danger is over, these reactions fade and the stress hormones are discharged through movement.

Understanding the responses to trauma and conveying them to individuals suffering from them can help them recognise their own reactions and how to deal with them. This will empower them and give them the confidence to break free of the hold traumatic experiences have on them.