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All human children develop coping mechanisms to deal with uncomfortable events. We create strategies that as children help us manage stress. Many of us subconsciously utilize these coping mechanisms into adulthood where they don’t serve us quite as well.

For me, my mom was very controlling. Don’t get me wrong, she was a great mom, yet I bristled against her control, and my strategy to rebel against her power was to act out… to punish her whenever I felt over-supervised. Rebelling against authority didn’t serve me well in adulthood. When teachers, professors, and bosses attempted to control, me… I’d act out. I’d try to punish them for being responsible.

The first step in my 12 step program began when my business coach dug into that behavior. When he had me realize the source of this coping mechanism and the irrationality of my auto-response.

Today, when I start getting that feeling…. when I feel the un-comfort, when I think someone is controlling me, I often (not always) catch myself and take a breath. My self-talk sounds something like this, “This control feeling is irrational. What the other party is doing is warranted so, chill out. Breathe… relax. You’re not under attack. Everything is okay.”

Often in coaching, I deal with the childhood developed coping mechanisms of my clients and it’s rewarding when we have a break-through.

And yet sometimes I run into:

Traumatic Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)

I’ve had clients and worked with business leaders who have actual self-destructive behavior that I can only attribute to traumatic adverse childhood experiences. As a coach… I’m:

  1. not qualified to deal with these and
  2. until the client seeks professional psychological help… coaching is like taking aspirin for a fever… it eases the symptoms but doesn’t cure the root cause of the fever.

I was reminded of this the other day while having lunch with a friend when the conversation turned to a former client and mutual acquaintance. Someone with whom I’ve spent a lot of time and was of little help as a coach.

His business is good… not great. It’s growing, but with avoidable hiccups and spurts.

What are the observable symptoms of his traumatic ACE?

  • He is paranoid… he reads evil intentions into typical behavior
  • He attributes everyday events, like not winning every deal to prejudice against him
  • He often fights with clients over perceived slights
  • He has frequent eruptions of unexplained anger
  • He micro-manages and browbeats senior members of his team
  • He has a tiny circle of trust… very small

He’s insecure, resentful and often angry. What are the outcomes of these behaviors? Frequent client and employee turnover. Unusually high turnover of sales and senior creative staff that is unsustainably high.

Now I have my theories of the source of this behavior, but I’m not a professionally trained psychologist. I know that there were multiple traumas in this mans life. I also know that this guy is one of the most well-intentioned and intelligent business owners with whom I’ve ever worked. It’s my opinion that his self-destructive behavior is the difference between a small $10 million a year business and a $100 million enterprise.

This leader is not alone. Unfortunately, this behavior is all too common.

Dealing with Adverse Childhood Experiences

The first step as in most issues to correcting destructive behavior stemming from Adverse Childhood Experiences is recognizing that there is an issue. Try this ACE Quiz by linking here. Check your score and please if the quiz indicates you could use help… get help.

If it’s just mild, and you’d like to try a coaching session. Press that little green button to schedule a no-obligation, complimentary coaching session. Let’s tackle behavior that’s holding you back from meeting your full potential.


I’m a business coach and not a psychoanalyst and yet, oftentimes, I catch behavior that sabotages a client’s success. This behavior is based on learned coping mechanisms that were helpful when a child but do not serve the client as an adult.

Do you avoid conflict? Do you feel like you are undervalued and require constant praise? Are you afraid of being wrong? Many of these issues and others can often be attributed to childhood programming.

There are few things more satisfying than a client recognizing the source of their self-destructive behavior empowering them to recognize the trigger, take a breath, and react more productively. Coaching can help you perform at a higher level.

Want to know what it feels like to recognize self-destructive triggers and react more effectively? Try a complimentary coaching session. Schedule it here: