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  • Writer's pictureEmily Smith

A career after trauma - "Why does my job feel so hard?"

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Childhood hardship is a profoundly impactful experience that can shape so many aspects of a person's life, even the parts of our lives that seem totally unrelated. Often times, young people are leaving their family homes and exploring the world for the first time and really flexing their adulting skills. The catch? Those skills come from past experiences. We learned how to "do" relationship from somewhere. Not just romantic relationships or parent-child relationships, but professional ones too.

We all have experiences in various job settings across our lifespan where we've just really struggled with a boss or a coworker. However, sometimes it becomes a pattern. It becomes something that no matter the job or the setting, we can see coming from a mile away because we've been there so many times before. It starts to impact your finances. Your living situation. Maybe other relationships. Maybe you're the parent of a young person who has seen this pattern play out in your young adult's life but they haven't seen it yet. Maybe you are the young adult who is starting to realize that whatever this is, isn't working. But how could it all be connected? Why would it make sense that the struggles from our past experiences would crop up at work, of all places?

For many, there is difficulty working after trauma. There can be difficulty establishing a career and professional relationships that feel connective. One of the common impacts of complex childhood backgrounds is difficulty with trust, particularly in authority figures. If you experienced betrayal or neglect during your formative years, it might be challenging to trust your boss. It might challenging to depend on your coworkers. You might feel skeptical, apprehensive, or even avoidant of interacting with them or engaging in the T word (teamwork). Over time, this might become noticeable. Your boss doesn't understand, but they give you feedback about needing to be a "team player." Your work relationships are always surface level because everyone around you can feel the distance that you subconsciously create.

Adverse childhood experiences, especially when they've included emotional abuse or constant criticism, leave lasting scars. As a result, you may carry a heightened sensitivity to criticism or feedback at work. You might experience this if you receive feedback from your supervisor and your response in a defensive way, because there's something inside that's triggered a memory of the past. When this becomes consistent, it can make it difficult to grow professionally and has the potential to impact confidence, professional self-image, ability to believe in yourself and reach your full potential.

If you've lived a life with childhood hardship, boundaries are likely something that you don't incorporate in your every day life, you've tried and struggled with them, or you've had to work hard to practice effectively. If your boundaries were repeatedly violated as a child, asserting yourself in general may be tough, but certainly inside a workplace setting. Oftentimes those with complex childhood backgrounds gravitate toward their "trauma response" inside relationships where they want to do well. This might look like people pleasing, taking on more than you can handle, not taking on enough for fear of failure, not advocating for your needs, burnout, and resentment. In order to have healthy relationships across the board, and especially so in the workplace, we've got to have a healthy relationship with boundaries in our lives.

Early experiences of emotional suppression or a lack of open communication can affect how you express yourself. To your boss and coworkers, this may seem like a tricky balance to find. Do you share too much? Do you share not enough? A professional balance is a tough thing to strike and it can be difficult to convey your authentic thoughts and emotions effectively, without misunderstandings and frustration within your working relationships.

Strategies that you learned in childhood to get you through those tough, maybe even traumatic moments, can resurface at work. If you used avoidance or people-pleasing strategies to survive in your early years, these behaviors might impact your interactions with your boos or coworkers. Recognizing these patterns and developing healthier techniques can lead to personal and professional growth, as well as greater comfort and ease while you're on the job.

This might sound like you or someone you care about. For people who feel like they've been in a hamster-wheel of failed job after failed job, or dread going to work every day because they know that their relationships there are poor, it doesn't have to stay that way. You can heal from your past and pave the way for living a more full life - one that you love. If we want to have an integrated life, or one that is more whole, we can choose to look at the golden thread that goes between old relationships and new - childhood relationships and adult ones.

This journey requires self-compassion and support. Mental health professionals that specialize in early childhood attachments and the impact on relationships across your life can be an instrumental key to achieving your definition of success and living out your dreams.

You have the capacity for growth and transformation, regardless of the hurdles that your past through in your way.



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