Everyone typically has at least one work horror story – a boss who doesn’t pay taxes, a company shut down overnight, a person from top management who resigns for no known reason or a coworker or client who goes out of his way to make life more difficult.  But what if you have a history of unpleasant work experiences, some of which have caused such severe anxiety that it’s affected your sleep, your personal life and created consistent feelings of dread? What if you were so fearful of being monitored, interrogated, or verbally attacked by a coworker, supervisor, or client that you found it challenging to let your guard down, communicate openly or even concentrate? At what point would you pull the plug, especially knowing that work has always been such a significant stressor in your life?

All jobs come with some sort of stress – personalities, environments, deadlines, challenges, etc.  And as a newcomer it is impossible to anticipate everything that goes on behind the scenes or flies beneath the radar during an interview or even the first few months on the job. Yet, had you considered that perhaps – as a survivor of childhood trauma – some types of stress may indeed place your nervous system on overload? That depending on the type of abuse or trauma you endured, having a certain kind of supervisor or work environment or customer base may consistently trigger you to the point that you are unable to function optimally and certainly not long-term?

When I worked as a vocational consultant, the cognitive and emotional demands of a job were always evaluated when placing a client with a psychological impairment in employment. Certain factors were considered such as: Is the workplace quiet or noisy? Is the workload self-paced or timed? Is it uniform or varied? How about the shifts – are they uniform or varied? Because all these things could potentially “trigger” a trauma response and ultimately impact the placement outcome. And knowing my client, not just on paper, but personally helped me pre-screen jobs or careers for the most compatible, satisfying, and successful opportunities for both my client and the employer. Yet, unless you are considered significantly disabled, these kinds of resources and supports just simply don’t exist.

Fast forward to my work as a hypnotist, of the clients who spent years or decades in therapy trying to overcome childhood trauma, their history of employment turbulence was rarely explored. They spent time processing the past, delving into relationship patterns with family and spouses, but their work patterns were somehow not considered relevant. And yet in my role, it became abundantly clear that many adult survivors of childhood trauma or any kind of trauma struggled more than most in finding consistently satisfying, stable and “emotionally safe” work environments. Strangely, THIS was almost never the presenting issue that brought folks to my chair. However, when we dove deeper into the cause of their symptoms, workplace stress triggers almost always came up and with further exploration, these triggers were in some way related to the kind of turmoil experienced in childhood.

One client came to me for anxiety and panic attacks related to throughway driving. She hadn’t yet pieced together that the bulk of her highway driving was to and from a work environment that felt physically and emotionally unsafe. The car was simply the place where she could safely process her stress and essentially have her private, scheduled “break-downs.” Thus, her anxiety was related to work, not driving.  She was in a position where she had to defend the limitations of her role and resources to her clients who were in desperate circumstances. Being consistently berated and sometimes even bullied by her clients reminded her of her mother who was bipolar and often verbally and physically aggressive.

Another client sought help to manage autoimmune symptoms and chronic pain. She later realized that her symptoms worsened after she took a high paying corporate job where her supervisor micromanaged her work and frequently interrogated her. This type of work environment triggered a fight or flight response, created insomnia and provoked high anxiety such that she could not focus or concentrate. She wondered how someone like her who was always prepared and at the top of her game could be treated so disrespectfully. Once she realized her father had the same abrasive style of parenting, she understood how work had become a trigger for her physical symptoms.

What can a person with a history of childhood trauma do to reduce the probability of ending up in an emotionally intolerable work situation?

First, in the words of ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, “Know thyself….” And if I may add some of my own wisdom, it would include the importance of being honest with yourself regarding your own limitations and recovery progress. Understand how your trauma creates specific vulnerabilities within yourself and which types of relationship dynamics or work environments continue to create a fight or flight response. For example, if you were raised by a narcissistic, demanding and emotionally ungrounded parent, you may not want to work with clients in potentially emotionally charged/front end customer service positions. If you grew up in household that struggled to provide basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, it may be stressful to work as a case manager with low-income families, particularly knowing that you may not have the authority or resources to address every crisis. Moreover, this level of stress may spill over into your personal life making it difficult for you to emotionally toggle between your professional life and personal life.

Secondly, research the company of interest for potential stress triggers – specific to you, of course, which can increase the likelihood of successful work outcomes.

Some of the most common work stress triggers, particularly for those with a history of childhood trauma include:

An Authoritative or Autocratic Management Style: This may not be a good idea for a person who grew up in an emotionally abusive household. The boss who is quick to anger, talks over you, or whose moods fluctuates can “trigger” childhood trauma and create nervous system overload.

Working in the Front Lines with Disgruntled or Angry Clients/Customers: Staying emotionally grounded enough to communicate calmly, clearly, and professionally may be challenging for those with trauma histories. Knowing when or how to create healthy boundaries may also create anxiety, particularly if this practice was neither modeled nor encouraged during one’s formative years and is not a skill one acquired in adulthood.

Noisy/Chaotic Workplace with Very Little Alone Time to Process/Filter: Survivors of childhood Trauma may easily experience sensory overload. The inability to retreat to a safe, quiet place throughout the workday or at home can severely impact one’s ability to focus or cope at work or unwind during non-work hours.

To Many Unknown Factors: Changing roles/positions/assignments; unscheduled overtime; varied shifts/schedules. Considering the kind of upheaval that may have occurred while growing up in a household with mental illness or drug/alcohol abuse, too much change or certain kinds of change may trigger an anxiety response or create high levels of stress as one struggles to adapt.

Some of these details are difficult to uncover in an interview; thus, conducting further research, reading company reviews, and talking to previous or current employees or contractors can certainly shed more light on whether a company or a specific role is a good fit for you.

If you recognize a pattern of choosing high stress positions that create nervous system overload, hypnosis can help you develop greater emotional resiliency. This is achieved by resolving unconscious conflicts from the past, learning to managing trauma triggers and improving communication.  Not every person, even with similar childhood traumas will have the same triggers – and ideally a person may be able to work through some of their trauma such that old triggers no longer produce the same heightened response patterns.

How would you even know if your stress triggers are the cause of your symptoms?  Understanding the symptoms of nervous system overload (AKA, Emotional Dysregulation) will help, such as increased anxiety, depression, insomnia, mood lability, “too much” behavior (alcohol, sugar/food, gambling, spending, smoking, etc.), lack of motivation and general malaise. Hypnosis can help you sort out whether the root cause is due to work stress triggers or something occurring in your personal life – or both. Combining Hypnosis with Advanced Energy Healing Techniques can help dismantle the fight or flight response and provide tools to manage and redirect unwanted behavioral patterns.

Would you like to utilize Hypnosis for Stress Related Conditions or Illnesses? Click here to schedule a free consultation: Sensorium Hypnosis, LLC (timetap.com)

To learn more about how trauma affects weight gain, click here: WEIGHT GAIN, HOW TRAUMA, STRESS AND UNCONSCIOUS CONFLICTS ARE KEEPING YOU STUCK YouTube – YouTube

Click here to learn how hypnotherapy works: https://sensoriumhypnosis.com/hypnosis/

Amy Marohn
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