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How to cultivate fierce inner leadership after relational trauma

Updated: 5 days ago

I want to live in a world with braver, bolder leaders.~Brene Brown, Dare to Lead

When the authority you trusted is a fraud...

Relational trauma is highly effective at severing one's connection to their own inner authority. Sometimes it is intentional and calculated, aimed at manipulating a person, and sometimes it is unintentional due to the inability of a person disconnected from their own power to guide others in finding theirs.

In this article, I'm going to cover a framework that addresses what happens when we follow leadership or authority that ultimately leads us astray.

In my discussion, I will touch on the developmental roots of this issue by looking at the examples of problematic child/parent dynamics that lead children to grow up feeling disconnected from their own source of knowing and power. And finally, I will begin the examination of the process of liberating oneself from such toxic leadership and learning to be Self-led.


The problematic origins

A strong leader is not threatened by the genuine power (inner authority, inner agency) of others. Instead, they excel in the presence of such individuals, relishing the powerful potential of collaborating with those who are fully self-aware and self-responsible.

Good leaders help others, who do not yet know how to possess this kind of inner leadership, learn the ways of self-empowerement. They understand that nothing good is to be gained from being the only one with power. They know that only those who possess a healthy relationship with their own inner voice can create a truly thriving and peaceful world, full of individuals living repsecfully and creatively.

Parents, who are the first examples of leadership we're exposed to, dictate much of what we learn about authority, leadership, and the use of power.

Good parenting, similar to effective leadership, is meant to support children in their journey of self-discovery, assisting and steering them towards learning how to tune into and trust their inner wisdom. Such parents' motivation is not driven by personal gains but rather by the desire to help the child establish a solid ground for living a fulfilling and meaningful life.

It takes a mature emotional capacity to hold the complex needs and the immaturity (developing capacity) of a growing being. Parents who themselves are disconnected from their inner voice and inner authority, who feel chronically insecure, inferior or fragile, consciously and unconsciously block their children's natural growth, damaging their children's relationship to their own inner voice.

Children are inherently immature. This doesn't mean they are incomplete or inferior. It simply indicates that they are still evolving, learning to connect with who they are (their inner voice). It also suggests that their ability to comprehend the intricacies of life is constrained by their physiological (brain development) and psychological (developing ego) factors. Maturation is a gradual process that unfolds over time. It cannot be hurried or accelerated.

When the parental system lacks maturity, it finds it challenging to meet the requirements of a growing individual. An immature parental system inadvertently forces a child to conform only to what the system is capable of handling. As a result of this dynamic, children begin the process of adaptation, gauging what they can or cannot express depending on their parents' capacity to tolerate. Children adjust by self-censoring or restricting themselves to prevent burdening the parental system, modifying their behavior to align with acceptable limits in order to preserve vital connections.

Within such a system, a child does not learn to embrace their individuality and express themselves freely; instead, they are taught to feel ashamed of their real voice, leading them to hide and feel embarrassed about their gifts and abilities. Such toxic systems cause the child to feel that their very essence is bad, so it's better to hide it, hold it in, not express it.


A child will protect their parent's goodness at the expense of their own in order to survive.

When a parent cannot accept or support a child's natural state of immaturity, the parent expects the child to perform developmentally at a level the child is not yet ready for. As the child grows and begins to surpass the emotional immaturity of the parent, the same parent parent, unable to cope with this level of maturity, may risk neglecting the child's continued growth. Depending on the extent of the parent's immaturity, they may resort to shaming or discouraging the child and their progress in order to prevent the child from advancing too quickly or outpacing the parent.

To attempt to develop fully in an under-developed system is a painful proposition. At first, it will force you to grow before you're ready, and then it will stifle your natural growth.

Although in such systems a child is essentially psychologically and emotionally maimed, they do not see their parents as wrong or harmful. They simply see themselves as flawed.

This sets up a toxic inner schema whereby a child internalizes their own wrongness and badness, disavowing the gifts of their inner knowing, judgment and authority. At a young age, a child is conditioned to blindly trust their parents' judgment simply because they are adults. This behavior is later extended to other figures in authority who may have questionable leadership qualities, or projected onto partners whose desires and choices are automatically placed above their own.

When a child is forced to act more mature than they're naturally capable of, a harmful split happens whereby a person learns to appear more competent outwardly than they truly believe themselves to be inside. Unaddressed, this emotional vulnerability will persist into adulthood. An adult who presents as competent and functional externally but harbors profound feelings of insecurity or shame (feeling inadequate) is frequently on the edge of either collapsing into deeper shame or exploding into defensiveness/anger/rage.


Signs of emotional immaturity in adults:

(Please, note that these signs are always on the continuum, meaning an individual can display a mild or an extreme form of any of these manifestations)

  • Emotionally armored, bracing and tense. Working hard to keep up a capable exterior while holding internal immaturity/lack of capacity at bay

  • Holds little complexity or cannot hold complexity at all

  • Reflexive, not self-reflective

  • Reactive, not responsive

  • Self-absorbed and self-referential

  • Needs to be centered at all times and is intolerant of others having the spotlight

  • Avoids reality as it feels too intense. Deceives to avoid reality.

  • Sees differences as dangerous (another manifestation of the inability to hold complexity).

  • Wants sameness as a way to manufacture closeness.

  • Emotionally fragile/insecure

  • Needs to be dominant/right in order to preserve superiority or,

  • Acts younger/inferior in order to protect themselves from being further harmed by those in power


Breaking free: A psychological approach

I make a distinction between learned immaturity as a survival adaptation and toxic immaturity as something that has been integrated into one's personality structure.

In the case of a former, a person typically feels plagued by their own smallness/youngness. They carry a lot of shame and confusion about their place in the world. This person has some awareness of the discrepancy between their chronological age and their psychological and emotional stuntedness, but they often either can't put their finger on what is going on or don't know how to "fix" what is happening.

In the case of the latter, there is a tendency to act from the place of disavowed/split off shame. The person is cut off from their sense of inadequacy and smallness, and instead of being in touch with the pain or confusion, their focus becomes on maintaining their powerful facade at all costs. They need a constant supply of recognition to keep themselves at a bearable level of esteem. Without such supply, they cannot esteem themselves healthily on their own, but unaware of this, they proceed in ways that seek to exploit others to enhance their own sense of worth.

One who has been conditioned to remain young in order to maintain a connection with an attachment figure, but who can see and recognize that their youngness is not only unnatural, but that it’s causing them much suffering and pain, can learn to become right-sized. Learned immaturity is a survival mechanism that teaches a child to match their parent’s developmental level to preserve the attachment bond.


You may have noticed just how challenging and painful it can be to have relationships with adults who hide their immaturity. In such relationships, you are more likely to find yourself:

  • Censoring and editing yourself frequently

  • Holding tension in anticipation of and during the interaction

  • Doubting your reality, second-guessing yourself or wondering if you're doing something wrong

  • Becoming smaller and smaller to accommodate whatever little capacity there is

  • Routinely prioritizing others' comfort instead of representing what you're truthfully feeling or thinking

  • Finding yourself growing bored or uninspired by the connection until eventually your natural desire for that connection dries up

  • Dreading the interactions as they felt stressful or painful

Breaking free requires the non-negotiable willingness to work towards demoting the authority you do not trust while continuing to cultivate and strengthen the connection with your inner voice.

Begin by pinpointing the gaps and the aspects where your personal development has been hindered, resulting in stagnation. Reflect on what has been difficult or notably challenging. By exploring the areas of life that you have consistently avoided engaging in, you can gain valuable insights into where growth may be necessary. Pay attention to activities, routines, or areas of your life where you have encountered significant resistance. Resistance could be a direct indication that something about that area of life or that activity is particularly difficult for you. It can also indicate an area where you are blocked. Working with resistance can be very fruitful as it can start to address the blocks, that would otherwise continue to remain unconscious.

This journey of breaking free is not merely about rebellion; it is about the radical act of self-love, the willingness to pursue the growth that has not been allowed and developing an intimate relationship with YOUR inner voice, a source of deep wisdom and guidance.

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