Archive for May, 2013

Mostly Safe Workplace
15 May, 2013

My day job is in a professional, technical environment. One of the perks of this is that I am rarely exposed to the behaviors that made my childhood so miserable. Yet there are still times when people, unintentionally or intentionally, trigger my survival instincts.

Some weeks ago, a buddy and I were having a laugh at one of my well-meaning but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to collaborate with someone. In honest bonhomie he reached out to pat me on the shoulder. Literally before I consciously realized what was happening I had taken a half-step backward to put me out of range. We both realized it at the same time and the look of hurt on his face really bothered me. I forced myself to step forward under his still-outstretched hand so he could complete the pat. But it bothered me so much that a few days later I felt compelled to explain to him that my reaction was a result of previous abuse, not of anything he had done.

A month ago I had an entirely different kind of interaction with another coworker. I caught him trying to sabotage me with my manager and had to confront him. Because in my experience all conflict leads to combat, I purposefully adopted a calm tone and body language. Nonetheless, he quite literally turned on me, spinning around, and started yelling at me. My treadmill workouts get my heart rate up and I have been in some pretty hairy situations, but I have never felt my heart beating behind my sternum like I did then. I had no fear of physical harm from him but I did fear that my heart would fail. Even though I eventually managed to get him to stop shouting, the experience really rattled me. It was probably a fortnight before I could be in the building with him without going into red alert. While he has since apologized, I know the potential for a repeat attack remains.

I struggle with how much of my past to share with my coworkers. The vast majority of the time it has no bearing on my professional interactions with my colleagues. However, every once in a while something happens where the difference between normal experiences and my own is salient. I have no desire to be defined by my past but neither can I ignore it.