Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: The Significance of Trauma in our Lives and our Recoveries

There are quite a few possible postings waiting, not so patiently in my mind, to be explored after writing my last posting about the visit by the church staff member. 

The two most pressing issues are:  trauma and continuity.  Both of which not only played a large part in what happened in my safe room that day but in my journey towards recovery.  

Of course, there are always perceptions and assumptions.  If you don't understand the role trauma plays in a person's entire life - in my case post workplace abuse - you simply will have no idea where the person is coming from, why they say the things they do and why they act the way they do.


 As I've said before, I love H. Norman Wright's book, Helping those Who Hurt:  Compassionate and Practical Ways to Offer Comfort, because he writes in language which everyone can understand.  Because he knows what he's talking about.  Because he doesn't preach.  He simply explains.  You don't have to by a psychologist or psychiatrist to understand what he is saying.  This particular book which I bought early on in what I now call Phase I of my recovery process - after the first episode of workplace where trauma ate at me like a cancer because it was undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated - has been invaluable in my recovery process.  I call it my "Bible".

So today, looking into trauma I will let Mr. Wright do most of the speaking.

H. Norman Wright writes:
Trauma has many effects.  It shatters our beliefs and assumptions about life, challenges our belief that we have the ability to handle life, and tears apart our belief that the world is a just and orderly place to live.  That's quite dramatic, isn't it?  Whether it's your friend or you, here is what to expect:   
Trauma leads to silence: I don't have the words to describe it.
Trauma leads to isolation:  No one seems to understand or enters into the experience I had.
Trauma leads to feelings of hopelessness:  There was no way to stop what happened or the memories of what happened.  (chapter 7, pg. 75).
And this is just for starters.

In chapter 6, pg. 70, he goes on to write under a subheading called "What's Trauma Like?"
What we used to see as a safe world is no longer safe.  What we used to see as a predictable world is no longer predictable.  
Before I make any comments about either of the two quotes above, I'm going to add one more which I feel is pertinent to understanding trauma and it's impact on the victim.
Perhaps not as obvious is the emotional wounding caused by trauma.  Our psyche can be so assaulted that our beliefs about ourselves, our life, our will to grow, our spirit, our dignity, and our sense of security are damaged.  ... In trauma they have difficulty bouncing back because they feel derealization (Is this really happening?) and depersonalization (I don't know what I really stand for anymore). (chapter 6, page 71).
Bingo.  Bingo.  And bingo.

All three of these quotes reverberate at the very core of my essence.

My beliefs and assumptions about life, especially about life being fair and orderly, were ripped apart in the workplace by four years of escalating bullying.  By four years of increasingly being put on the proverbial hot seat for everything I said or did.  Even my beliefs, i.e. being a Christian, were called into question and ridiculed.

At the end, my co-workers were running to the supervisor consistently with frivolous complaints such as saying hello to a co-worker (I kid you not, it really happened and I got grilled for two hours about that one), telling a co-worker who was standing in the middle of our small office, talking loudly and over me and waving her arms "I'm sorry, you hurt me.  I'm sorry.  Good-bye." As I then walked out of the office after my shift was done.  I got a phone call at 8:21 the next morning inquiring about that one.  By the time I walked into the workplace later that day, it had already gone to HR. (That resulted in my first stress breakdown.)  What?  And then there was the trainee who decided she didn't want to be trained and ran towards the supervisor's office because I had simply told her that we didn't do something she was doing.  The supervisor had already gone home for the day, but I knew how this was going to play out from previous experiences.  The supervisor felt that I was the problem.  I was in error.  She had already asked me such questions as:  "How do you think I feel when I come in to an email like this?" (referring to the email from the co-worker who was waving her arms and talking loudly.)

How does she, i.e. my supervisor, feel?  Is that really the question here, how she feels?

I don't think in hindsight that that was the real question here.  The better question would be how do I, the accused, feel about these complaints.  This consistent barrage?  How do I feel when a co-worker accuses me of disrespect when I say hello?  And, more importantly, why does she feel that she can do that?

My world, my beliefs, were shaken to the core by these events and many more.  My world was no longer a safe place.  Certainly, my work situation was not safe for me.  My subsequent actions, my thoughts, reflected that.

I had always felt that if you treated others respectfully, they would treat you respectfully.

Not true.  Not in this workplace.

And there is more.  Much more.

But for now, I will stop and let you chew on what I've written today.


Emotional trauma is real.  It's not like physical trauma where you can see the injuries, the blood, etc.  But it's there.  Hiding inside.  Invisible to the naked eye.  But there.  Real to the person who has experienced the trauma.  

Recovery from trauma takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes energy.  It takes people walking alongside you to hold up your leaning side.

Most of all, it takes knowledge about trauma and its affects/effects to be able to work through and walk through all the things trauma has thrown at you.

If only ... the staff member from my church had brushed up on what trauma is and what it does, she could have been more understanding, more empathetic and, most importantly, helpful.

Until tomorrow when we take another step ... or maybe even two ... on the journey home from workplace abuse.

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