For the first 25 years of my life, I lived through one traumatic event after another. However, I needed to support myself and my child. One of the recurring issues I had was being professional in the workplace after each traumatic event as well as during trauma responses.
Three main strategies helped me attain and maintain professionalism: being present, communication, and self-forgiveness.
I frequently found myself having trauma responses where I would relive the memories of each event. The sound of a supervisor's voice or the smell of a coworker's deodorant would cause me to have a trauma response. I couldn't control people, but I could find a way to control my response to their beliefs and actions.
I started being able to control my responses by learning, using active listening and note taking. Active listening allowed me to stop focusing on my internal narrative and absorb all of the information others were communicating in the conversation.
I would take notes in the moment, and I would spend five to ten minutes after the conversation filling them in with more detail. When I was experiencing the beginnings of a trauma response, I would focus on measured breathing and maintain eye contact with the person communicating, or with a nearby object if I was on the phone. Once I was alone, I would remind myself of the date and replay the conversation in my mind, noting everything down-- sometimes to the point of what they wore and what they smelled like. Helpful Tip 1: If you need to provide an opinion, but are experiencing a trauma response, simply say: "I would need to consider all the perspectives to give an informed opinion. Let me do a little more research and I'll follow up with you." Helpful Tip 2: Non-verbal cues are crucial to active listening. Providing non-verbal cues helps you be present by allowing you focus on the message a person is communicating. Practicing non-verbal cues also helps you control your physical response to outside stimuli.
While active listening is a tool of communication, deciding to communicate your trauma in the workplace can be tricky. I've done this multiple times and received a wide variety of responses, from retaliation to mentorship.
What I've had great success with is communicating boundaries instead of trauma. You can communicate this either in the moment or after an event. When I first started communicating my boundaries, I would do it after the moment to give me time to truly assess what happened and the correct boundary that would prevent it from happening again. After understanding the boundary, it was easier for me to communicate this to the person involved and enabled me to use it in-the-moment for future events. Helpful Tip: Journaling is an extension of note taking. Write everything you can remember about the moment a trauma response was triggered either during or immediately after the event. Review what you wrote when you are in a safe space. Keep a journal of all your trauma responses in a single location (notebook, cell phone texts to yourself, digital notepad). At the end of the event, write your analysis.
Every person makes mistakes when navigating the workplace after trauma, and you will too. Learning to forgive yourself for workplace mistakes will aid you in your recovery journey. My first step toward forgiveness was defining what forgiveness meant to me. The second step was understanding the mistake (how it happened and if I could have done anything differently). The third step was owning the mistake by accepting my part in it and creating a plan to correct it. Helpful Tip: We are not born having all of the knowledge in the world. As a result, mistakes are a part of life that gives you unique learning experiences. Each of the three strategies-- being present, communication, and forgiveness-- takes time to implement. Being present in order to focus on what's happening in the moment is a hurdle you can overcome with practice. Communicating your boundaries is a hurdle of understanding your needs and delivering the message to others with professional tact. Self-forgiveness is a personal and professional journey that only you can define; we are all unique individuals with unique life experiences that formulate who we are.
Please remember there is no shame in needing to talk to someone about your experiences.
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