You ask and I answer! In the Ask Me Anything series, I answer your questions about my own healing journey and/or anything trauma related in general, as best I can. Today’s question is:
I Struggle at Work with Interpersonal Relationships & Can’t Cope Like I Used To, Any Tips?
It is amazing how childhood trauma spills over into everything.
Into our families, our friendships, and yes – into the workplace. Childhood trauma affects our ability as survivors to form safe and secure attachment in relationships whether personal or professional. It also affects our ability to express and communicate boundaries, and it challenges our ability to advocate for ourselves.
All things that are important for us to do in life, because we deserve it!
It is also shocking to the mind and body how visceral awareness can feel as we heal, and most days, awareness holds no punches.
No Easy Answers
There are no easy answers in healing trauma wounds, or in navigating emotions, thoughts, boundaries, or relationships as we heal. I wish there was a practice mode we could use, but ultimately, we have to just do it.
So how do we do it?
Well, my ideas aren’t the end all be all for moving through healing in the workplace but here are some things I have done to help myself:
#1 Create a Support System
We need support, period.
Find people you can talk to about your work situation. A therapist, friend, coworker, family member – someone you trust who can be a sounding board for unpacking your thoughts and feelings about the situation(or person) at work that is in question.
Having someone to support you as you process will help you express the intense emotions and create space to explore them so that you feel more in control of what you are thinking and feeling about the situation.
This one isn’t for everyone but I always recommend it as a healing tool for processing. Writing out everything you are feeling, everything you want to say, and exploring your heightened responses will help you find some clarity. It will also help you determine your own wants and needs in the situation causing you stress.
For me, a good brain dump into my journal can oftentimes take the edge off of my racing thoughts, help put them in order, and allow me to find my True Self.
#3 Make a List & Practice Saying Your Boundaries Out Loud
If you need to have a conversation with a coworker or supervisor that is making you anxious, or if you are like me and you lose your voice (figuratively or maybe literally) in situations that feel activating make a bullet point list and practice.
For me personally, I can make my case in my head seamlessly, but saying things out loud that feel confrontation will cause me to trip over my own tongue like crazy so in situations that I know will be difficult for me, I make a list of the things I want to say – and then I practice them out loud to get comfortable hearing myself say it.
#4 Build Your Coping Tool Kit for Work
Have a tool kit of coping practices on the ready at work. Bring fidgets to your work space, play soft calming music if you can, have oils, stones/crystals, and lotions with you. You can also try the following practices/tools:
Safe Mental Space
Create a safe space in your mind that you can envision during times of heightened stress. This space can be anywhere and can have anything you want in it. Create a space that feels safe for you. When you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed pull your safe space to mind and imagine yourself there.
Safe Physical Space
Find a space in your place of work that you can go to when you need space. The bathroom, your car, a corner of the warehouse – somewhere that you can go for privacy when you need to breathe and allow your body to calm.
Inconspicuous Somatic Practices
Sometimes we can’t leave our station when at work, but we find ourselves activated and in the middle of everything. Use these somatic easy practices to help physically calm your body and no one will be the wiser (except you).
Breathing exercises like box breathing or 4 8 7 breathing can be powerful. Deep breathing signals the body’s parasympathetic nervous system to tell the anxious part of our brain that it is okay to calm down and relax. It helps us get back into our logical, thinking brain.
Emotional Freedom Tapping, or EFT, is also a physical practice that doesn’t draw a lot of attention in public spaces and that will help with calming emotions.
Bilateral tapping on your upper legs, or if you can manage it, cross your arms and lightly tape each shoulder.
With awareness, work with yourself to make the space for the response and reactions that you have and redirect your thoughts with the truth. Affirm yourself, to yourself. Tell yourself all the things you should have heard as a child: you are good enough, you are worthy of respect, you are allowed to have emotions and needs, you are allowed to express yourself.
Even if you know it but don’t feel it, keep practicing. You will slowly teach yourself how to validate yourself.
#5 Speak With Human Resources
If you are being treated unfairly, feel unsafe, or believe that a coworker or superior is targeting you and you don’t believe speaking with them directly will help – speak to a higher up. Go to HR. Ask for mediation or assistance in handling the situation.
Many of us survivors are used to being treated badly so when it happens in adulthood, especially from someone of authority (like a manager) we can revert to survival mode and freeze up. We can withdraw into our own heads and reason out the treatment to assume responsibility.
We deserve fair and respectful treatment in and out of the workplace. If you are not receiving it, then you are well within our rights to seek recourse and to speak your grievances.
If you decide to take this route, make sure you are clear with yourself first in what your objective is and how you hope to see the situation resolved so that you can communicate with HR how they can best provide assistance. See #1-4 if this feels challenging.
#6 Seek New Employment
I am not going to pretend that “finding a new job” is an easy task, however I will say unequivocally that no job is worth destroying your physical and/or mental wellbeing.
If you find yourself in a work situation that is continuously activating, if you feel like you are always in a heightened state of stress and reactivity and there is no sign from your company or management that they are interested in creating a safe working environment for everyone, then try to find a place that fits you and your needs better.
You don’t have to repair everything, some things aren’t repairable, and sometimes you will need to walk away for your own health and wellbeing.
Additionally, looking at the options available to you can help you regain a sense of control and personal empowerment in the situation.
#7 Trust Yourself to Know What is Best For You
You know what feels safe and unsafe in your body.
As we heal our childhood wounds, we are tasked with learning to trust our gut, to tune into our bodies and to acknowledge when things feel unsafe or activating. The more we listen to ourselves, make hard decisions, and lean into scary situations – the more we learn to trust ourselves and our ability to do hard things.
We survivors are walking around in bodies that hold years of historical records to reinforce the trauma responses we use for protection – healing is about providing new experiences and information to counter that historical record so that we can let go of our armor.
Present yourself with new experiences, even when they are tough; trust yourself to navigate what comes and to be able to cope – that is the personal empowerment of healing.
I hope this helps you create a plan for navigating difficult relationships in the workplace, and in other areas of your life. You deserve respect and you deserve peace.
Be patient with yourself, healing is often an uphill climb, but it is well worth it.
On goes the journey
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Ask me anything and then keep an eye out for my answer!
Looking for Ways to Connect With Other Survivors and/or Receive Support as You Heal?
Survivor’s Circle Peer Support Groups might be just what you need.
These small groups meet on alternating Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays via Zoom. In these groups, survivors connect, share, and support each other through the ebbs and flows of healing. Attend a session and experience the magical healing that happens when survivors connect and support each other through shit only we can understand.
You can also book individual 1:1 peer support sessions with Shanon for private support in a closed space. You deserve support as you heal, and I am here to help. You don’t have to heal alone.
I am a trauma informed, trained, and Certified Peer Support Specialist in the state of Wisconsin. I am also a survivor with years committed to my own trauma healing after being diagnosed with (C) PTSD due to childhood abuse. Additionally, I have a professional and personal history of community facilitation and peer work.
I specialize in helping survivors like you make connections between real time experiences and past trauma wounds, identify and communicate boundaries, create self-care plans that work, navigate big emotions and trauma responses, reparent your inner child, and embody your own self-worth through the healing process with confidence and personal empowerment.
These support groups and 1:1 peer support sessions should not replace professional therapy; they will however provide additional support and information.
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